Saving money on 2013 taxes, health care reform and hiring best practices are among the topics featured in November’s Insights articles


Kevin Franczkowski, Client advisor, SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, Inc.Akron/Canton
Business Insurance
SeibertKeck: How the wealthy can prevent coverage gaps in their personal insurance
Kevin Franczkowski, Client advisor



Floyd-Trouten-Director-Tax-SS&GAkron/Canton
Accounting & Consulting
SS&G: How wealthy families can centrally manage assets through family offices
Floyd Trouten, Director, Tax



Tim-Dixon-SBA-program-manager-senior-vice-president-FirstMerit-BankAkron/Canton/Cleveland
Banking & Finance
FirstMerit Bank: How business owners can profit from expanded, enhanced SBA lending
Tim Dixon, SBA program manager, senior vice president



Karen-C-Lefton-Partner-Labor-&-Employment-practice-group-Brouse-McDowellAkron/Canton/Cleveland
Legal Affairs
Brouse McDowell: How to vet a job candidate and reduce legal risk
Karen C. Lefton, Partner, Labor & Employment practice group



William-F-Hutter-CEO-SequentAkron/Canton/Columbus/Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky/Indianapolis
HR Outsourcing
Sequent: How dropping health insurance benefits may not save you money
William F. Hutter, CEO



Mike Spickard, CEO, Chief Actuary, Tegrit GroupAkron/Canton/Columbus
Retirement Planning Services
Tegrit Group: How to prepare for, survive and thrive after a retirement audit
Mike Spickard, CEO, Chief Actuary



James-P-Martin-Managing-director-Cendrowski-Corporate-Advisors-LLCChicago
Accounting
Cendrowski Corporate Advisors: How an operational assessment can help an organization identify risk
James P. Martin, CMA, CIA, CFE, Managing director



Eric N. Macey, Partner, Novack and MaceyChicago

Legal Affairs
Novack and Macey: How understanding damages is critical in commercial litigation
Eric N. Macey, Partner



Stephanie-Martinez-PHR-Director-HR-Services-Benefitdecisions-Inc.Chicago

Employee Benefits
Benefitdecisions: How the DOMA ruling has changed benefit plans
Stephanie Martinez, PHR, Director, HR Services



Mark-Haegele-Director-sales-and-account-management-HealthLinkChicago/St. Louis
Health Care
HealthLink: How to fulfill your Affordable Care Act responsibilities
Mark Haegele, Director, sales and account management



Randy Jones, Senior vice president, TPA Operations, CompManagementCincinnati/Northern Kentucky/Cleveland/Columbus
Workers' Compensation
CompManagement: How to get workers' compensation discounts for things you already do
Randy Jones, Senior vice president, TPA Operations




Jayce-Stewart-MBA-Commercial-Risk-Consultant-RiskSOURCE-Clark-ThedersCincinnati/Northern Kentucky
Business Insurance
RiskSOURCE Clark-Theders: How to protect your company against cyberthreats
Jayce Stewart, MBA, Commercial Risk Consultant



Amit Mathur, CPA Director WTP AdvisorsCleveland
Tax Incentives
WTP Advisors: Distributors, software firms, architects, others missing tax savings
Amit Mathur, CPA, Director



John S. Zanghi, Partner, Fay Sharpe LLPCleveland
Legal Affairs
Fay Sharpe LLP: Why your U.S. patent won’t help you overseas
John S. Zanghi, Partner



Steve Gross, CPA Partner Skoda MinottiCleveland
Accounting & Consulting
Skoda Minotti: Moves you can make now to save money on your 2013 tax return
Steve Gross, CPA, Partner


Mariah Webinger, Ph.D., Assistant professor of accountancy, John Carroll UniversityCleveland
Executive Education
John Carroll University: How to react when you suspect an employee of fraud
Mariah Webinger, Ph.D., Assistant professor of accountancy



Derek M. Hoch President  Leverity Insurance GroupCleveland
Business Insurance
Leverity Insurance Group: How to rebuild your business in the event of a catastrophe
Derek M. Hoch, President



Eliot Kijewski, SIOR, Senior vice president, CRESCOJudy L. Simon, CPM, Assistant vice president, Continental RealtyCleveland
Real Estate:
CRESCO: How to get the most from your property management services
Eliot Kijewski, SIOR, Senior vice president, CRESCO
Judy L. Simon, CPM, Assistant vice president, Continental Realty


Christopher E. Axene, CPA, Principal, Tax Services, Rea & AssociatesColumbus
Accounting
Rea & Associates: How your business can get tax benefits from research activities
Christopher E. Axene, CPA, Principal, Tax Services



Jeff Nein, Associate, Kegler, Brown, Hill & RitterColumbus
Legal Affairs
Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter: How to deal with cybersquatters and other domain name issues
Jeff Nein, Associate



Alex Desberg, Sales and marketing director, Ohio.netColumbus/Cleveland
Telecommunications
Ohio.net: How to implement cutting-edge VoIP technologies with a dash of caution
Alex Desberg, Sales and marketing director



Marc McTeague, President, SeibertKeck, BestHoovler McTeagueColumbus
Business Insurance
SeibertKeck: How the wealthy can prevent coverage gaps in their personal insurance
Marc McTeague, President



Wayne-Williams-Crowe-HorwathDallas

Accounting
Crowe Horwath: How to apply accounting rules for related-party transactions
Wayne Williams, Partner

 

Eugene-Lovell-President-and-CEO-First-State-BankDetroit
Banking & Finance
First State Bank: How local banks offer better service and drive your hometown economy
Eugene Lovell, President and CEO



Trish-Fritsche-WeaverHouston/Dallas

Accounting
Weaver: How forensic accountants and the public sector combat fraud
Trish Fritsche, CPA, CFF, CITP, CGMA, Senior manager, Forensics and Litigation Services


Kimaili-Ken-Davis-Momentous-Insurance-BrokerageLos Angeles
Business Insurance
Momentous Insurance Brokerage: How to achieve cost savings by managing workers’ comp claims
Kimaili “Ken” Davis, ARM, Assistant vice president


Kenneth-Jones-Vice-presiden-for-finance-and-administration-CFO-Woodbury-UniversityLos Angeles/Orange County
Executive Education
Woodbury University: How non-profit financial practices can boost for-profit businesses
Kenneth Jones, Vice president for finance and administration, CFO


Jan-Mitrovich-Manager-Treasury-Management-Merchant-Services-California-Bank-TrustLos Angeles/Orange County/Northern California
Banking & Finance
California Bank & Trust: How to enhance sales with merchant services
Jan Mitrovich, Manager, Treasury Management, Merchant Services



Michael-T-Ohira-Partner-Ropers-Majeski-Kohn-&-Bentley-PCLos Angeles
Legal Affairs
Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC: How to weigh the pros and cons of SIRs vs. deductibles
Michael T. Ohira, Partner



Tobias Kennedy, Executive vice president, Montage Insurance SolutionsLos Angeles
Business Insurance
Montage Insurance: Unlocking health care reform: A look at the individual mandate
Tobias Kennedy, Executive vice president



Mary-Oslin-Manager-Talent-Acquisition-TriNet-Inc.Northern California
Human Resources Outsourcing
TriNet: How the process of attracting and hiring employees has changed
Mary Oslin, Manager, Talent Acquisition


Bryan Cartwright, Financial services assurance partner, Moss Adams LLPNorthern California
Accounting & Consulting
Moss Adams LLP: How fair value reporting is hitting your company’s books
Bryan Cartwright, Financial services assurance partner



Sinan Goktan-Ph.D.-Assistant-professor-of-finance-College-of-Business-and-Economics-California-State-University-East-BayNorthern California
Executive Education
California State University, East Bay: How more market oversight delivers better investment in private equity
Sinan Goktan, Ph.D., Assistant professor of finance, College of Business and Economics



Bill-Norwalk-Tax-partner-in-charge-Sensiba-San-Filippo LLPNorthern California
Accounting
Sensiba San Filippo: How health care reform demands a strategic approach from businesses
Bill Norwalk, Tax partner-in-charge



Ricci-M-Victorio-Managing-partner-Mosaic-Family-Business-CenterNorthern California
Wealth Management & Finance
Mosaic Financial Partners: How personality styles affect performance and team synergy
Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, CPCC, ACC, Managing partner


Brock-R-Lyle-Partner-Ropers-Majeski-Kohn-&-Bentley-PCNorthern California
Legal Affairs
Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC: How civil cases can be settled with alternative dispute resolution
Brock R. Lyle, Partner


Gloria-Ferguson-Senior-vice-president-market-manager-Corporate-Banking-Division-Bridge-BankNorthern California
Banking & Finance
Bridge Bank: How to discover resources available to California businesses
Gloria Ferguson, Senior vice president, market manager, Corporate Banking Division


Mark-L.-Skaist-Shareholder-co-chair-Corporate-and-Securities-Stradling-Yocca-Carlson-RauthOrange County
Legal Affairs
Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth: How the JOBS Act makes it easier for companies to raise money
Mark L. Skaist, Shareholder, co-chair, Corporate and Securities



Matthew-R-Huttlin-Vice-president-Employee-Benefits-Division-ECBMPhiladelphia
Risk Management
ECBM: Transparency in purchasing benefits, the time has come
Matthew R. Huttlin, Vice president, Employee Benefits Division



Kevin-Conmy-Regional-vice-president-Business-Services-Comcast-BusinessPhiladelphia
Telecommunications
Comcast Business: How Ethernet helps businesses realize cloud computing potential
Kevin Conmy, Regional vice president, Business Services


Peter-J-Smith-Member-Semanoff-Ormsby-Greenberg-&-Torchia-LLCPhiladelphia
Legal Affairs
Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia: How letters of intent provide a road map for business transactions
Peter J. Smith, Member


Tyler A. Ridgeway, Director, Human Capital ResourcesPhiladelphia
Accounting & Consulting
Kreischer Miller: How business owners are paying key employees for performance
Tyler A. Ridgeway, Director, Human Capital Resources


Megan-A-White-Vice-President-Regional-Manager-First-Commonwealth-BankPittsburgh
Wealth Management
First Commonwealth Bank: Business development in a male dominated energy industry
Megan A. White, Vice President, Regional Manager


Kelly-Colamarino-Interior-designer-SMC-Consulting-LLCPittsburgh
Facilities
SMC Consulting: How design firms add certainty, cost efficiency to office furniture selection
Kelly Colamarino, Interior designer


Ron Carmassi-Sales executive-JRG-Advisors-the-management-arm-of-ChamberChoicePittsburgh
Employee Benefits
ChamberChoice: How to create flexible, employee-centric benefits that reduce overhead
Ron Carmassi, Sales executive



Dr. Marc Manley, M.P.H. Vice president, Population Health Management, UPMC Insurance Services Division UPMC Health PlanPittsburgh
Health Care
UPMC Health Plan: How population health management delivers better, lower cost outcomes
Dr. Marc Manley, M.P.H., Vice president, Population Health Management, UPMC Insurance Services Division



Cathy Goldsticker, CPA Partner, Tax Services Brown Smith WallaceSt. Louis
Accounting
Brown Smith Wallace: How the ACA and the end of Bush-era cuts affect tax strategy
Cathy Goldsticker, CPA, Partner, Tax Services

 

 

Published in National
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:27

How to manage excess liquidity

A company’s liquidity and cash needs are like a river. The short-term immediate needs flow pretty fast as cash moves in and out of the business. But the further you go down in the water — down to cash that’s only needed for a rainy day — the slower it moves. In fact, it can be too idle.

“Often, there is this big pool of excess cash for the off chance they need liquidity,” says John Whiting, CFP, principal at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors. “But what they give up in that scenario, by keeping that money highly liquid, is less yield and return on those dollars. It can grow to be a fairly significant amount of money that potentially, year-after-year, is pooling up in unproductive ways.”

Smart Business spoke with Whiting about maximizing your business’s treasury management to make assets as productive as possible.

Why is treasury management critical?

Treasury management is the strategic management of a company’s working capital and excess liquidity. By maximizing this, given the specific business needs, the company is more competitive with better earning potential through properly deployed assets.

Today, businesses have accumulated a lot of cash and may not deploy those assets with the economic uncertainty. Even in this low-yield environment, companies that have built cash over the past three to five years could be getting an extra 20 to 30 basis points. And by deploying excess liquidity, you not only can get an extra return, but also, with low interest rates, can use working capital lines to address unexpected needs.

Why do treasury functions not get the same scrutiny as inventory control, capital budgeting and accounts receivable?

It can be an afterthought, as it may initially start so small it doesn’t feel like it warrants a lot of attention. Typically, a controller or CFO is charged with making sure the liquid assets are positioned, but there isn’t anything defining the objective.

What’s a better approach?

You need to be disciplined, looking out over the horizon and anticipating company cash needs to a better extent.

The business should have a written investment policy statement that defines expectations and is used to segment liquid assets into different buckets based on the time horizon for the business’s needs. The statement also would say exactly what investments are appropriate for each bucket, including the necessary credit quality.

Further, the investment policy statement should help set up controls to monitor risk.

How should the guidelines for how funds are invested be structured?

Start with assessing the risk and the needs of the company. Then, look at the next business cycle or more to see possible cash flow needs. You can time assets to ensure the liquidity is there when you need it.

Let’s say, a business is sitting on $10 million in liquid assets and is anticipating either an acquisition or significant capital improvements that might take $3 million or $4 million of that in 18 months or two years. Understanding that allows you to position the assets by buying municipal bonds or high-quality corporate fixed income that would mature three months before the assets might be needed. Now, you’re getting the best and highest yield possible, given that expected need.

What’s important to know about monitoring these treasury functions?

It’s important to understand the real return on investments by having a reporting mechanism, which then determines your success. For example, many CFOs or controllers use multiple financial institutions in order to mitigate risk. However, they need to aggregate all of the information to really assess and score the overall management process.

The cost of management is not terribly opaque, even with the effort to create more transparency. With fixed income, you need an understanding of who is negotiating on your behalf and how are they going about procuring that fixed income for you.

Half the battle is asking the questions and getting straight answers. An outside adviser is often the best management choice, but be sure to have an open discussion about the fee structure and associated costs. In fact, it can be a line item on your investment report because understanding the real cost of managing assets is key.

John Whiting, CFP® is a principal at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors. Reach him at (707) 535-4167 or john.whiting@mossadams.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Moss Adams LLP.

Published in Northern California

Without question, entrepreneurship is the hottest thing going today. Rarely will you pick up a paper or magazine that does not either feature a fabulously successful entrepreneur or talk about some of the literally hundreds of programs or courses being offered to help you become that entrepreneur.

But, what is it really? In part the interest is a reaction to today’s younger generation – 75 percent of high school seniors do not want to work for a large organization. This is a reaction to the re-engineering of American business that has taken place during the past 20 years. These young people have seen the impact on their immediate families and they want to do something that will afford them more control of their lives.

Educational institutions, ever mindful of changing demographics, have jumped on the band wagon. The Internet revolution and the many successful IPOs of Web-based entrepreneurial firms have heightened the visibility of entrepreneurship. There is an increasing interest in entrepreneurship among the general population, but particularly among younger adults. As a result, colleges with formal Entrepreneurship centers have grown from a handful in 1990 to more than 200 today.

Smart Business spoke with Mark Hauserman, director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship, about common myths about entrepreneurship and what traits are common in successful entrepreneurs.

Are entrepreneurs necessarily young men and women?

You may be surprised to learn that a recent Kauffman Foundation research study revealed that the average age of the founders of technology companies in the U.S. is a surprisingly high 39 — with twice as many over age 50 as under age 25. With the average life span increasing and more ‘necessity entrepreneurs,’ those who start businesses because of the scarcity of job availability at existing companies, being created every day, this number will probably increase.

When you gain experience, you probably know a lot about a lot of things. If youth is the answer, why are so many venture capitalists over 50? And most of the better ones are over 60. Don’t short change your experience. Investors get a lot more comfortable if they know you have been around the block a couple of times.

How is entrepreneurship learned?

The best start for an entrepreneur is to gain experience. This often means working for a company that may not have the biggest buildings on the block, but has an entrepreneurial attitude and will challenge you to spread your wings and continually take on new tasks.

While all jobs consist of ‘things you must do,’ the better businesses are also continually looking for better ways to serve their customers and markets. Every business owner responds to ideas that will make the company more money. You may not think you are an important cog, but the owner will sit up and take notice when you offer better solutions to the existing business strategy.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I have heard Edward Crawford, Chairman of Park Ohio and self-made entrepreneur, say that the common denominator in entrepreneurship is failure. Not every idea you have will be a winner, but people will respect you if you get up after being knocked down and get back in the game.

The younger entrepreneurs get it. A healthy 44 percent of young entrepreneurs feel that business failure is perceived as a learning opportunity.

How will you know when you have arrived?

In most cases, there was no ‘grand plan.’ The entrepreneur just started working and as they solved more and more problems, work became fun. The classic sign of an entrepreneur is they cannot let it go. Unlike the idea in the popular culture that they are looking for the big score, they love what they do.

I played golf with a guy a couple of years ago who had just been offered $8 million in cash for his company. I am afraid I jinxed the deal when I asked him what he was going to do in a month after a long vacation and a shopping spree; no answer and ultimately no deal. He was only 42 at the time, so he will eventually sell, but it was way early and he was having too much fun.

Mark Hauserman is director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship. Reach him at (216) 397-4572 or mhauserman@jcu.edu.

To learn more about the Muldoon Center and our programs, visit: www.jcu.edu/Muldoon.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

Summer time is best spent outdoors. Jumping in the pool. Taking the boat out. Getting away for a road trip on your motorcycle. However, it is easier to enjoy the great weather when you know your summer “toys” are properly insured.

“The season of summer usually conjures up feelings of fun, especially vacations, swimming, boating, fishing, picnics and other outdoor activities, but along with the fun comes responsibility,” says Kevin Franczkowski, client advisor at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Franczkowski about how to handle insurance for these extra items.

What is personal lines insurance?

Personal lines insurance is a layer of protection that provides coverage for you and your assets, such as your home, car and possessions, against damage, theft and other potential risks.

When it comes to boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, summer cars, pools, etc., what insurance should you have?

Watercraft, such as boats or jet skis, are placed under a marine policy. These annual policies would provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage. Bodily injury is any injury that you caused to someone else’s body, while property damage is damage caused to the boat.

Recreational vehicles (RVs), motorcycles and summer cars require an auto policy separate from your everyday auto policy that is specialized for unique autos. In some cases, a company will be able to add the watercraft and/or special vehicle to your current home policy as an endorsement.

While pools typically are covered under your homeowner’s policy, there are specific requirements to ensure safety. These include, but are not limited to, the depth of the water with diving boards, slides and fence specifications, such as height, area around the pool, self-closing and self-latching gates. Be sure to check with your agent for specific rules and regulations for your pool.

How can you make sure these items are insured to value, and what kind of cost could you be looking at?

While it is important to insure all of your summer toys, it is even more important that they are insured properly and to value; this is critical at a time of loss. The value of the item is best determined by using the year, make, model, value and any customized additions. These details are often reviewed at the annual renewal of your policy for updates and additions.

Premiums also will vary based on many factors. A stand-alone marine policy for a pontoon-style boat valued at $10,000 could have an annual premium of anywhere from $500 to $750, but this is all contingent on the individual’s underwriting information such as insurance score and loss history. Also, some companies provide credits if you package all your insurance, meaning you place your boat with your home and auto. This would also apply to an RV or motorcycle.

Are there ways to save on the premium upfront without jeopardizing important coverage?

Premium savings on ‘toys’ are similar to savings on your current insurance program. Your insurance score, loss history, location, age and marital status will influence the rates applied. The better your insurance score, the lower your premium — just as a high claims history will result in higher premiums.

What else do you need to know about this kind of coverage?

When making a claim, the first step is to contact the proper authorities to help if someone is injured. Then, you will need to call your insurance agent with the details of the event and secure the contact information needed from all parties. Taking photos and obtaining contact information from witnesses is highly encouraged. Your claims adjustor will assist in the entire process.

Surprisingly, most homeowner’s insurance does not cover summer toys for your kids, such as mini-electric cars and scooters. Considered a toy, these are often overlooked but have the potential to be harmful.

When purchasing ‘toys’ it is best to advise your insurance agent immediately. He or she will make sure they are properly insured to value and be able to offer some safety tips to ensure you have a safe and fun summer.

Kevin Franczkowski is a client advisor at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, Inc. Reach him at (330) 867-3140 or franke@seibertkeck.com.

To keep up with the latest insurance news and how your company could be impacted, sign up to receive our newsletter at www.seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Published in Akron/Canton

Summer time is best spent outdoors. Jumping in the pool. Taking the boat out. Getting away for a road trip on your motorcycle. However, it is easier to enjoy the great weather when you know your summer “toys” are properly insured.

“The season of summer usually conjures up feelings of fun, especially vacations, swimming, boating, fishing, picnics and other outdoor activities, but along with the fun comes responsibility,” says Cliff Baseler, vice president at Best Hoovler Insurance Services Inc., a SeibertKeck company.

Smart Business spoke with Baseler about how to handle insurance for these extra items.

What is personal lines insurance?

Personal lines insurance is a layer of protection that provides coverage for you and your assets, such as your home, car and possessions, against damage, theft and other potential risks.

When it comes to boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, summer cars, pools, etc., what insurance should you have?

Watercraft, such as boats or jet skis, are placed under a marine policy. These annual policies would provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage. Bodily injury is any injury that you caused to someone else’s body, while property damage is damage caused to the boat.

Recreational vehicles (RVs), motorcycles and summer cars require an auto policy separate from your everyday auto policy that is specialized for unique autos. In some cases, a company will be able to add the watercraft and/or special vehicle to your current home policy as an endorsement.

While pools typically are covered under your homeowner’s policy, there are specific requirements to ensure safety. These include, but are not limited to, the depth of the water with diving boards, slides and fence specifications, such as height, area around the pool, self-closing and self-latching gates. Be sure to check with your agent for specific rules and regulations for your pool.

How can you make sure these items are insured to value, and what kind of cost could you be looking at?

While it is important to insure all of your summer toys, it is even more important that they are insured properly and to value; this is critical at a time of loss. The value of the item is best determined by using the year, make, model, value and any customized additions. These details are often reviewed at the annual renewal of your policy for updates and additions.

Premiums also will vary based on many factors. A stand-alone marine policy for a pontoon-style boat valued at $10,000 could have an annual premium of anywhere from $500 to $750, but this is all contingent on the individual’s underwriting information such as insurance score and loss history. Also, some companies provide credits if you package all your insurance, meaning you place your boat with your home and auto. This would also apply to an RV or motorcycle.

Are there ways to save on the premium upfront without jeopardizing important coverage?

Premium savings on ‘toys’ are similar to savings on your current insurance program. Your insurance score, loss history, location, age and marital status will influence the rates applied. The better your insurance score, the lower your premium — just as a high claims history will result in higher premiums.

What else do you need to know about this kind of coverage?

When making a claim, the first step is to contact the proper authorities to help if someone is injured. Then, you will need to call your insurance agent with the details of the event and secure the contact information needed from all parties. Taking photos and obtaining contact information from witnesses is highly encouraged. Your claims adjustor will assist in the entire process.

Surprisingly, most homeowner’s insurance does not cover summer toys for your kids, such as mini-electric cars and scooters. Considered a toy, these are often overlooked but have the potential to be harmful.

When purchasing ‘toys’ it is best to advise your insurance agent immediately. He or she will make sure they are properly insured to value and be able to offer some safety tips to ensure you have a safe and fun summer.

Cliff Baseler is vice president at Best Hoovler Insurance Services Inc., a SeibertKeck company. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or cbaseler@bhmins.com.

To keep up with the latest insurance news and how your company could be impacted, sign up to receive our newsletter at www.seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Published in Columbus

Even in this recovering economy, businesses are trying to do more with less. While managing existing processes can enable flexibility for the ups and downs of business, incorporating software could alleviate pain points, improve productivity and save money.

“The big question is, ‘How do I improve what I do with my customers, my vendors or my employees?’” says Curtis Verhoff, systems integrations and applications manager at Blue Technologies. “Those are the big three, and every organization is like that — whether it’s somebody who sells widgets, provides professional services or is trying to find donors and support.”

Smart Business spoke with Verhoff about utilizing software to improve a range of business functions.

What are some examples of optimizing your software resources?

These software solutions often deal with enterprise content or customer relationship management, but they also can be transactional, such as helping handle invoices, statements, packing slips or the documents you use daily to communicate with customers. One business recently optimized its existing systems to reduce raw postage costs, saving anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000, or 20 percent, each month.

Two other organizations increased productivity by improving payment management. By adding to its software and adjusting existing systems, one company took better advantage of pricing discounts by paying vendors earlier. The other business tweaked the integration of its current system, getting its elite group of customers to pay on average five to seven days faster, which improved cash flow.

What can maximizing your software integration mean for your business?

In this economy, it’s critical to look at the level of success you’re having integrating your current software products. All businesses have to work harder to maintain their current customer loyalty, while trying to attract new customers. You must be more productive with the same or fewer employees.

Your competitors are already working to be productive and more customer friendly — you don’t want to be left behind. You need to provide advantages to your customers to separate yourself. Highlighting your software solutions through marketing can give your customers an indication of how it will make doing business with you more pleasant and reliable.

How can you discover if you have problems with existing software?

What complaints do you hear from your current staff about being more productive, servicing customers better or doing day-to-day activities more efficiently? Is each department running at peak efficiency? Where is your business not functioning at optimal capacity? If you’ve integrated certain solutions, then what’s the ROI and are you happy with that?

If you’re not hearing about problems, check with your managers. Some managers don’t take problems to the top until they reach critical mass.

Once you’ve spotted the pain, what’s next?

First, identify and pull together people to discuss the fine details of the problem. You don’t need to connect all the dots, just get a solid understanding. Develop a game plan that focuses on the most painful areas that, if resolved, can produce the biggest gain.

Many companies put together a laundry list, and then don’t move forward, fearing the cost and scope. However, if you prioritize the most critical items, you might be able to resolve the few problems that are causing most of the pain.

Then, reach out to a provider with the skills and abilities, as well as the offerings, to help you overcome your top challenges. It’s important for all parties to keep the larger list in mind because it could affect the software solution decision. Each resolution is a piece of the puzzle, and you want to avoid having to revisit it later once you’ve moved on.

Curtis Verhoff is a systems integrations and applications manager at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800, ext. 2251 or cverhoff@BTOhio.com.

Save the date: Discover how your office technology can connect your business at our Aug. 20 Synergy Showcase. Meet us at the Q to see for yourself. Visit http://bit.ly/12PbQOd for details.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies

Published in Akron/Canton

Many retirement plan sponsors don’t realize the significance of breaching their fiduciary responsibilities.

“Being a plan sponsor should not be taken lightly, and being a fiduciary especially should not be taken lightly. There can be, and have been, severe consequences for breach of fiduciary obligations,” says Rob Martin, ERPA, QPA, Senior Team Manager at Tegrit Group. “So, take them seriously and find sound professionals and service providers to guide you.”

Even though the company is sponsoring the plan, a fiduciary is a named individual. Therefore, with very egregious errors, the personal assets of the individual fiduciary could be at risk.

Smart Business spoke with Martin about handling fiduciary obligations.

What fiduciary obligations are retirement plan sponsors responsible for?

The fiduciary obligations are to look out for the best interests of the plan participants and to put their needs before any personal or employer needs. The plan sponsor must have a written investment policy statement that includes how the selection of fund offerings and service providers are made.

If one of the funds has a bad year, it doesn’t necessarily mean the sponsor didn’t do its job. As long as the process is in place to select that fund beforehand — a process that compares past history with benchmarks and other funds in that same category — then there will be no problems from a Department of Labor (DOL) standpoint.

What can happen if sponsors fail to meet their fiduciary obligations?

The DOL has made a point of emphasizing fiduciary obligations when it comes to auditing retirement plans. The DOL audits can occur randomly or if there’s been a complaint against the company.

If a DOL audit finds problems, the sponsor will need to correct them quickly. For egregious errors, the DOL will hold the fiduciary in violation and go through the legal system. Even if a fiduciary is found in good standing, it takes extra work and time, including possibly paying service providers, to find needed items.

Civil lawsuits are another danger if you’re not following DOL guidelines.

How should these obligations be managed?

One of the best places to find information is on the DOL’s Web page: Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibility, www.dol.gov/ebsa/publications/fiduciaryresponsibility.html. Plan sponsors should call third-party investment administrators or investment advisors for further assistance.

Sponsors need to answer participant questions in a timely manner. Otherwise, participants may file a DOL complaint and/or lawsuit. Once a suit is filed, fiduciaries will have legal fees and face the consequences of the case’s outcome.

Plan sponsors should also have a default account, known as a Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA). A QDIA protects the fiduciaries from participants who do not make an investment election or who fall short in making a full investment election.

What is the biggest hot button area to keep an eye on, as a fiduciary?

The hot button area right now is fees. Part of being a fiduciary is to provide the new fee disclosure notice to the participants. This started in 2012 and now must be provided annually or quarterly to the participants, depending on what’s being disclosed.

Another important fiduciary responsibility is making sure plans have reasonable plan expenses. The plan sponsor should have a process, as part of the investment policy statement, to examine service providers and see whether it pays reasonable plan expenses, by utilizing professionals who provide benchmarks for comparison.

Do late deposits remain a concern?

The DOL is still pursing this. These typically apply to making timely participant contributions and loan repayments — not employer contribution deposits. More specifically, for plans with fewer than 100 participants, the DOL considers timely to be within seven business days.

With all fiduciary obligations, the key is choosing professionals with a good understanding of the requirements, which can be investment advisors, third-party administrators or record keepers.

Rob Martin, ERPA, QPA is a Senior Team Manager at Tegrit Group. Reach him at (614) 458-2023 or rob.martin@tegritgroup.com.

For additional retirement planning tips, visit Tegrit’s Advisor Resource Center at www.tegritgroup.com/arc.

Insights Retirement Planning Services is brought to you by Tegrit Group

Published in Akron/Canton

The use of cloud computing is surging in the business world. Against such a backdrop it only makes sense that companies would want to emulate this model with their phone services — that is, make themselves available no matter their location. While traditional phone services have been slow to respond to the requests, VoIP providers are jumping at the opportunity.

“Telecommunications is a 100-year-old technology,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “Things have changed, and now it’s more important than ever for customers to get through to businesses quickly and effectively.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about how innovation is reshaping the telecommunications landscape and why it’s so important to always be available to customers.

How is innovation changing the telecommunications landscape?

Businesses are looking for different characteristics associated with their phone system that will help set themselves apart from their competitors. This goes beyond just having a business phone system designed to answer calls or put people in voice mail. In terms of innovation, these can be simple changes or complex changes — it depends on what the business is looking for.

How are companies integrating their telecommunication features into their business model?

Cloud computing is becoming very popular. People are pushing their data away from their facility so it is available anywhere. However, they haven’t done this with their phone system because of traditional phone service capabilities. This is starting to change. Now, instead of being subject to the capabilities of a phone system, businesses are dictating how they want to communicate with their customers.

Why is it so important to be readily accessible to customers?

Customers have short attention spans, and they want to be served quickly. They don’t have the time to leave a voice mail message and wait for someone to respond a half-day later or the next business day.

Much like the traditional way of finding a business in the Yellow Pages, if the first company didn’t answer, you’d simply call another one. A lot of consumers are doing that now because time is money. If they can’t immediately reach the person that they want to talk to, they will move on. You don’t want that to happen to your business.

How is VoIP helping incubated businesses that are not as moveable as they might think?

Business incubators are starting to crop up all over the place. Such entities support the development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. When the companies grow and need to move out of the incubator, they realize that they can’t easily take the phone number that they’ve been using to conduct their business transactions.

Now VoIP providers are working with incubators to provide VoIP services that can be moved quickly and easily with a business when it’s ready to graduate from an incubator and expand its footprint.

Why is reducing system duplication becoming such a big trend?

Reducing system duplication is particularly popular with businesses that have multiple locations. When such businesses start pushing data out to the cloud and they are remotely accessing the information, they realize that every facility they own doesn’t need a server or duplication of other resources like phone systems.

It makes sense for these businesses to have centralized communications. Everyone accessing the phone system can share centralized voice mail and four-digit dialing between locations. Not only does this make sense economically, but also from a unity standpoint in terms of a single telecommunications presence.

Alex Desberg is ales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

To find out more about Ohio.net’s VoIP solutions, visit www.ohio.net.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

Published in Cleveland

The Ohio safety council rebate program created by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) rewards employers for their active participation in a local safety council. It also provides an additional performance bonus rebate for reducing the frequency or severity of workers’ compensation claims.

“With the number of safety councils available across the state with a focus on a variety of industries, employers are able to not only receive information on new safety techniques, products and services to assist their businesses, but also reduce their premium for simply attending these helpful meetings throughout the year,” says Russ Hocutt, vice president at CompManagement, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Hocutt about how this rebate program works.

How much of a rebate can be earned?

Currently the incentive program enables employers to receive a rebate of 2 percent of their annual workers’ compensation premium through program participation and an additional 2 percent performance bonus based on the reduction of the frequency or severity of claims.

How can a local safety council be found?

BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene sponsors more than 80 safety councils across the state, organized through chambers of commerce, trade and manufacturing associations, American Red Cross chapters or other local, safety-minded organizations. A list is available at www.ohiobwc.com.

What are the requirements for the participation rebate portion?

An employer must enroll in a local safety council by July 31. Once enrolled, an employer must attend 10 meetings or events between July 1 and June 30. Two of the 10 meetings may be external educational options such as BWC Safety & Hygiene training courses or industry-specific training. The chief executive officer must attend at least one safety council-sponsored function or meeting. Semiannual reports must be submitted for the calendar year to document attendance. The documentation must be an official certificate of attendance or transcript. Only employers that meet the participation eligibility requirements will be eligible for an additional 2 percent performance bonus.

How is the performance bonus calculated?

Employers that reduce their frequency or severity of claims by 10 percent or more compared to the previous year’s frequency or severity, or employers that maintain both frequency and severity at zero, will receive an additional 2 percent refund of their annual premium, assuming the participation portion of the safety council program is met.

BWC calculates frequency by multiplying the total number of claims reported in the measurement year by 1 million and dividing by the employer’s total reported payroll for that year. Severity is determined by multiplying the total number of days absent during the measurement year by 1 million and then dividing by the employer’s total reported payroll for that year. The measurement period for private employers is claims and payroll reported between July 1 and June 30 compared to the previous year. For public employers, the measurement period is between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

What impact would the program have on a midsize company’s premium?

Assuming the participation requirements are met and the employer was able to reduce the frequency or severity of claims as indicated above, a midsize service company could expect the following in annual premium savings, assuming the employer is participating in no other alternative rating programs:

  • Payroll — $3,990,000.
  • Individual discount — 16 percent.
  • Individual premium — $14,683.
  • 2 percent safety council participation rebate —  $200*.
  • 2 percent safety council performance rebate — $200*.

*Based on pure premium which does not include assessments for DWRF and administrative costs for operation of BWC/IC

Savings reflected above do not include the additional savings that can be realized by also participating in programs compatible with the safety council program such as Destination Excellence, Drug Free safety Program, Group Rating (performance bonus only), Group Retrospective Rating (participation bonus only), Large/Small Deductible, Individual Retrospective Rating, or One Claim Program. Always have your third-party administrator conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the best savings options available for your organization.

Russ Hocutt is vice president at CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext. 65619 or russ.hocutt@sedgwickcms.com.

Save The Date: Safety council enrollment ends July 31 for the 2013 policy year.

Insights Workers’ Compensation is brought to you by CompManagement, Inc.

Published in Cincinnati

Patent trolls can be huge, single-minded licensing companies. These nonpracticing entities purchase patents from small inventors who don’t have the desire or funding to create what they’ve patented and threaten potential infringers to get money through licensing fees or lawsuits. Business owners of small and midsize companies can be caught off guard when they receive the letter claiming their product infringes an existing patent, and often don’t know what to do.

“Fighting the alleged infringement usually costs more than the licensing fee the troll is seeking,” says Christian Drago, a patent attorney at Fay Sharpe LLP.

This can make a business owner feel trapped. However, he says patent trolls often cast a wide net, sending letters to companies that may not be infringing. That’s why it’s important to know how to respond.

Smart Business spoke with Drago about how to deal with patent trolls.

Who is most at risk of being the victim of a patent troll?

Generally, infringement claims are a lot more successful when made against small to midsize businesses because they don’t have the capital to fight an infringement suit, so they often opt to pay the license fee.

A patent troll is not going to pick a company out of the clear, blue sky. It will buy a company’s products and reverse engineer them, or scrutinize its marketing collateral for product descriptions. It’s important for companies with patents to be careful what they post on their website. Market your company, but don’t give too much away because you could be giving ammunition to a troll.

If you receive a letter from a nonpracticing entity, what do you do?

First, don’t panic. The entity is soliciting a licensing fee and its track record in litigation is not great. Contact a patent attorney and have him or her review the claim and your product to find out if you’re actually infringing. Don’t use your in-house or general practice attorney; courts want outside independent review.

If it’s discovered that you’re not infringing, get a non-infringement opinion by outside counsel. That can be used to offset damages and show you acted in good faith by procuring the assistance of an attorney.

The attorney will compose a letter that says your company had outside counsel review the claim and determined you are not infringing. Now the troll has to do its cost/benefit analysis and decide whether it wants to pursue this any further. The troll may just move on.

However, if willful infringement is discovered, meaning you continue to infringe after you’re made aware of the infringement, the penalty can be upped by a judge. That’s why it’s important to show you acted on the well-reasoned opinion of counsel as soon as possible.

How can you protect yourself?

If you’re going to file for a patent, you want to file as soon as is practical. Bring an attorney onboard while the product is in development, not when you join the market. Have a patent attorney conduct a patentability search and get a freedom to operate opinion. This gives you the best idea of what patents are out there.

If the attorney finds similar, existing patents, he or she can show them to your engineers, and the engineers can innovate around current designs. This could give you a competitive edge and allow you to go after competitors when they infringe on you. The process also focuses the company on what it’s doing in the market.

If you have to backpedal because you failed to do your due diligence, your R&D costs could double because of scrapping a project and going back to the drawing board.

However, keep in mind patent searches aren’t exhaustive because, at the time of the search, there may be applications that are being reviewed but have not published. Patents issue from three to five years after they’re filed and they’re published 18 months after filing. That leaves a gap.

That’s why, it’s important to take these letters seriously and get counsel involved right away. You need to quickly determine the best course of action based on the facts, not the claims.

Christian Drago is a patent attorney at Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach him at (216) 363-9000 or cdrago@faysharpe.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Fay Sharpe LLP

Published in Cleveland
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