Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

3 Questions

Thomas Grass is the senior consultant in Towers Watson’s Southern California offices in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. He has assisted clients in the design, implementation, communications and administration of managed health care programs, flexible compensation programs, 401(k) plans, and the design and installation of administrative software.

Q. If a business doesn’t already consult with an outside human resources firm, why might it consider doing so now?

The questions I would ask an employer who isn’t using an outside service right now is, ‘Are you too close to your situation? How well do you have the ability to step back and look at your business, people and needs from an objective standpoint? Do you have the ability and the capacity to really put the effort into doing those kinds of things that need to be done?’ There are some great businesspeople out there who know their businesses inside and out, but they’re not human resources people.

Q. Is it now more of a challenge to keep employees focused and motivated?

In some ways, it is, and in some ways, it isn’t. I’m a manager, and one thing I’ve noticed over the last year, not that we have a lot of this, but there’s a lot less complaining about whether there are the right kind of sodas in the soda machine. People do recognize there is an economic downturn, and while I would never go to anybody and say, ‘You should just be happy you have a job,’ I think a lot of people are recognizing they should just be happy they have a job.

Q. Might loyalty to the company actually be higher now, after rounds of layoffs, among employees who remain?

I do believe we’re seeing a major shift in what loyalty means. I think the loyalty for a lot of folks has shifted from ‘I’m committed until I retire’ to ‘I’m committed as long as this meets your and my needs.’ And I think the economic downturn has created an environment where a lot of workers are getting a good idea of what their needs and their loyalty really are.

Published in National
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

3 Questions

Andrea Cranfill joined with Krista Skidmore to found FlashPoint in 2002 with a desire to help organizations improve their human resources functions and their overall business processes and strategies. Cranfill, who serves as the company’s vice president, combines her experience as a human resources practitioner and a consultant to build products and services that are practical yet innovative, proven yet forward-thinking.

Q. Is it now more of a challenge to keep employees focused and motivated?

For organizations that have articulated where they’re going, what they’re focusing on and been able to connect people to that, I don’t know that it’s a challenge (to keep) people focused on the right things. For organizations that are stagnant, that have made lots of cuts, that have not really set a future direction, yes, absolutely, it’s a challenge to keep employees focused and motivated.

Q. Is office restructuring and redistribution of responsibilities perceived as more of a hindrance or as a possible road to promotion?

If companies just pile on stuff and don’t pay attention to what that means and support the remaining employees, it’s more of a negative. If it could be structured appropriately, it could be a real opportunity for somebody to have a greater contribution and develop new skills. You just have to make sure that there’s not that disconnect, because just piling on work is a path to burnout, not promotion.

Q. If a business doesn’t already consult with an outside human resources firm, why might it consider doing so now?

The small and medium businesses don’t often have the deep expertise in a lot of these areas to really take a look at the business and develop some creative alternatives. Small businesses might have no HR employee; they might have one HR employee. The other reason is a lack of time. There are a lot of other initiatives on the plates of business owners or their HR departments. It’s usually one or both of those things. Companies either don’t have the expertise, don’t have the time, or they want someone who has a lot of experience with a lot of different organizations doing this type of work. And there can be great value in that.

Published in Indianapolis
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

3 Questions

Jeff Leonard is the managing director of Buck Consultant LLC’s U.S. Central region as well as a consulting actuary and Cincinnati market leader. He consults with clients on strategic retirement financial management and plan design issues. As a solution architect for his clients, he helps develop executive retirement and deferred compensation plans.

Q. If a business doesn’t already consult with an outside human resources firm, why might it consider doing so now?

There are opportunities to create efficiency within organizations, and a lot of times, there is a positive return on that investment. Also, you don’t want to be caught flat-footed on changes, not only for health care reform but also looking at possible hires and company structure. You should look for an organization that doesn’t just have a sense of what the options are from only a benefits perspective or a compensation perspective but really look for someone who can help align an appropriate HR program tailored to that situation.

Q. Is it now more of a challenge to keep employees focused and motivated?

What’s happened is there aren’t a lot of jobs out there, so people are distracted for different reasons. They’re distracted because they have a lot of anxiety about whether they’re going to keep their job. Their pay might have been cut, so there’s anxiety about how that affects home life. People are distracted for different reasons than they were four or five years ago and for different reasons than they will be 18 months from now when jobs are available again. I think it’s key our clients keep the people they want from being distracted by other jobs.

Q. Is office restructure and redistribution of responsibilities perceived as more of a hindrance or as a possible road to promotion?

Five or 10 years ago, a lot of people would have seen that as a road to opportunity. But the last two years have been so unsettling that people are just kind of hanging on. People are motivated not for the next opportunity as much as they are just to keep their job.

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film Tomorrow Never Dies, James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it also was able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints. And pick locks with a stylized antenna. And fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little more than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that means VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”



Make technology work for you

Just what makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, yes, available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say, you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier, to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high – normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary from case to case – but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s Find Me Follow Me, where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade, but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“For me, personally, the biggest benefit is probably unified communications, where I have access to my e-mail and voicemail wherever I am, whether it’s on my phone, on my Blackberry, on my PC, I’m always connected,” says Tim Hinson, vice president of Cox Business, Orange County. “The unified communications, and the speed of the unified communications as compare to what it was when it initially came out, is probably the biggest time saver for me and the biggest tool that I use. I think companies have benefited from everybody’s improved productivity.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work, and sound, as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their workforce, or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

“VoIP phones are able to take advantage of a lot of newer features that were either not available or were very expensive in a TDM phone environment,” Hinson says.




Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might smack initially of some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touchtone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize the new features.

“Nothing’s ever simple, but the way the process works is, when you come aboard, there is some level of knowledge you need to have in order to learn, and you need to be willing to learn,” says Rich Klepacz, senior product manager for core voice and broadband services, Cbeyond. “For the most part, it is fairly simple. Once it’s turned on, it’s almost a matter of plug and play.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send, or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network, or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“Over the years, I’ve seen that the small business owner is becoming a lot more technically savvy,” Klepacz says. “They really are becoming smarter users.”

Published in Orange County
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”

Make technology work for you

What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high — normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case — but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“I have an application that runs on my computer that, wherever I am in the world, as long as I have broadband Internet, everybody else in the corporation can see where I am — if I’m working remotely in Washington, D.C., if I’m in a meeting in Albany or Dallas — and then I’m available to communicate in multiple ways with my colleagues,” says Stephen Brown, vice president of U.S. Systems Engineering, Mitel. “They can instant message me across the network, they can click to call me, which will route the call to the soft phone on my computer or a desk phone where I’ve logged in.

“It really reduces a lot of the complexities from a communications perspective.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might initially seem like some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize use of the new features.

“It’s a matter of just working in concert as the installation is happening, transferring knowledge over on how those systems work, how the quality of service is deployed,” Brown says. “It really depends on the customer. They can take on as much or as little of that training as they want.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“Everybody wants to have a phone at home now, or they want to be on the road and be able to plug in and be connected,” says Dennis Parker, vice president, Unique Communications. “We’re getting a lot more requests right now.

“Everybody is going to go to VoIP, one way or another. These systems that are coming out now are all geared for VoIP.”

Published in Florida
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”

Make technology work for you

What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high — normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case — but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“I have an application that runs on my computer that, wherever I am in the world, as long as I have broadband Internet, everybody else in the corporation can see where I am — if I’m working remotely in Washington, D.C., if I’m in a meeting in Albany or Dallas — and then I’m available to communicate in multiple ways with my colleagues,” says Stephen Brown, vice president of U.S. Systems Engineering, Mitel. “They can instant message me across the network, they can click to call me, which will route the call to the soft phone on my computer or a desk phone where I’ve logged in.

“It really reduces a lot of the complexities from a communications perspective.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might initially seem like some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees on how to maximize use of the new features.

“To use VoIP, yeah, there is some additional training, but people come up to speed very quickly, it’s pretty straightforward,” says David Montierth, president of commercial services, West Region, Time Warner Cable. “In the early days of switching telecom providers, the whole numbering process was a little challenging, but it’s pretty seamless today.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“The cost of voice is so low anymore,” Montierth says. “It’s unbelievable how far it’s come over the last 10 years. So, for my business, I want to make sure I have as clear a conversation as possible at the other end.”

Published in Los Angeles
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

3 Questions

Brian D. Malthouse has almost three decades of experience in the accounting industry, including almost 20 years with VonLehman & Co. Inc., where he specializes in working with closely held, middle-market companies with revenue between $3 million and $90 million. He was promoted to president of the firm in October.

Q. In a struggling economy, how can a business get the most from its relationship with an accountant?

Your accountant can only help you if you share the good and the bad and they know what’s going on in your business. They have a very broad perspective because they see so many different clients in so many different industries. What you’re trying to get out of your accountant are best practices, what he or she sees from their clients. In order to get the most out of the relationship, you have to invest the time, and you have to keep your accountant up to date and informed as often as possible.

Q. How can an accountant save money for a company?

You have to figure out what key statistics drive the business, then measure those statistics as often as you can. You don’t have to look at a million different things. Most businesses have two or three key drivers that indicate whether you’re going to be successful. Figure those out and measure them as often as you can.

Q. How might a company be able to save money when it comes to accounting costs?

It is in our best interest to keep the cost down as much as possible for compliance work. What I generally tell my clients is to take pride in their financial statements and make sure they can really document every number on their balance sheet, then store all the documents that support your balance sheet. The more pride people take in their financial statements and the more prepared they are at year-end, that’s where you really save that money. Accountants always end up helping people get their financial statements where they need to be. The more you can eliminate that step, the more money you can save.

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Dollars and sense

You might not think of your accountant as some sort of bean counter, better suited for the Dark Ages than for the Age of Information. Most folks, after all, recognized the error of that thought years ago.

You also might not think of that same accountant as a trusted business adviser. But you should.

Gone are the days when your accountant would just sit down with the company ledger and crunch numbers. An accountant is able to offer so much more now, especially in this economic state.

Need to evaluate your inventory turnover, to analyze what is selling, what is not and why? An accountant can do that.

What about an examination to make certain that all available credit lines are being used or that capital needs are being met? An accountant can do that, too.

And, of course, there are taxes, an area where there has been so much evolution that one industry expert says he estimates the number of allowable tax incentives and minimization techniques has more than doubled during the quarter of a century since he analyzed his first set of financial reports. Another expert says the number has more than tripled during that period. Whatever the actual amount of exponential growth, there is no doubt that accounting is more complicated, and more important, than ever.

“An accountant with a lot of experience can help the company take some of the best practices and apply them to their business,” says Joe Mazza, managing director of Los Angeles offices, RSM McGladrey. “An accountant can help a company prepare financial projections, assist the company with its banking relationships, look at the company’s costs and help them find ways to streamline costs.

“An accountant can just add value in so many different areas.”

Talk with your accountant

The key to bringing your accountant into your proverbial inner circle is communication. Nothing is more important, just ask an accountant.

“You cannot develop a relationship if all you’re doing is meeting with your accountants once a year when it’s time to prepare financial statements or file your tax return or put out a wild, raging fire, metaphorically speaking,” says AndrĂ© Schnabl, managing partner, Atlanta office, Grant Thornton LLP. “A meaningful relationship is built over time because trust is only built over time.”

Without some level of constant and consistent communication, your accountant cannot know the full spectrum of activity within your company and, in turn, might be unable to offer constructive criticism and potentially prosperous ideas and suggestions.

Many industry experts recommend you plan to get together with your accountant for at least three or four formal meetings per year, though multiple variables might swing that number higher or lower, including the size of your business, the challenges you are facing now and expect to face during the course of the next year, and the strengths and weaknesses of your internal financial team. Others recommend more casual meetings or phone calls in order to communicate on a regular basis.

Whether you meet around the boardroom table or over beers at your favorite bar, take advantage of that time to ask your accountant important questions, like how can you best utilize your accountant? What should you do internally? Externally? And what are your priorities for the next year?

A high level of communication with your accountant can also lead to you becoming more comfortable around each other. Your accountant should be familiar with the folks on your upper management team, and you should be familiar with the folks who play top roles for the firm.

“It’s key that the business owner, the CEO, the CFO, is not just in a relationship where the accountant is going through the motions, providing compliance services without giving any kind of feedback,” says John M. Yanak, managing partner, Grossman Yanak & Ford LLP, Pittsburgh. “The accountant should give feedback on things like what the company’s performance is like relative to their peers, what other companies are doing in this environment and what savings opportunities are available.”

Take advantage of financial opportunities

The reason so many accountants prefer to be so involved is because the more information they know about you and your company, the more areas they will be able to explore in order to save dollars and cents. And saving dollars makes sense.

“If CFOs or controllers are in constant contact with their CPAs or their firm, that really provides an avenue for the exchange of information and savings that can be generated,” Yanak says.

But the burden of trimming the budget lies not only with your accountant — you need to do your part, too. So be organized, be prepared, be proactive and be accessible.

Just consider the average audit. If your files are scattered around your office, stacked in piles that are toppling over, an audit performed by your accountant might last far longer than it should. In order to avoid a heftier bill, keep your internal financial team on a schedule to update your books regularly, perhaps even every day. Exorbitant costs for an audit — or even just a review or a compilation financial statement — are normally only incurred when you are not organized and prepared.

“Preparation is important, but planning is just as important,” Schnabl says. “Plan a series of discussions between client and auditor to have a full understanding as to how to build a plan that is efficient and taps into the client’s knowledge of the business and the auditor’s knowledge of auditing. Those conversations drive down the cost of auditing.”

If you are particularly strapped, you might even consider consulting with your accountant and other business advisers to consider altering the end of your fiscal year from the end of the calendar year to the end of another quarter. That would allow your accountant to work with you less during the peak months of January through April and more during the off months, when rates are far less expensive. And though such a shift is filled with internal and federal paperwork, the potential savings of such proactive measures can reach more than 20 to 30 percent.

There are even extreme situations where you might be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because you and your accountant are both accessible and open to conversation.

Several years ago, one industry expert was working with a client who had installed defective materials in a sewer and storm drain system, and the client lost thousands of dollars. Though the client was able to file a claim against the manufacturer, the expert was also able to find a case law that allowed for the property loss to carry back 10 years, a far longer retroactive period than the standard two or three years. The result? The client received $500,000 in large part because the expert had been involved in the situation from the start and because the two sides were accessible to each other.

“Accountants need to make themselves available for their clients,” Mazza says. “My wife used to say that there is no such thing as an accounting emergency, that you’re not a brain surgeon. But if there’s a transaction going on and there are millions of dollars at stake, where the client is concerned, it is just as important as brain surgery.”

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Dollars and sense

You might not think of your accountant as some sort of bean counter, better suited for the Dark Ages than for the Age of Information. Most folks, after all, recognized the error of that thought years ago.

You also might not think of that same accountant as a trusted business adviser. But you should.

Gone are the days when your accountant would just sit down with the company ledger and crunch numbers. An accountant is able to offer so much more now, especially in this economic state.

Need to evaluate your inventory turnover, to analyze what is selling, what is not and why? An accountant can do that.

What about an examination to make certain that all available credit lines are being used or that capital needs are being met? An accountant can do that, too.

And, of course, there are taxes, an area where there has been so much evolution that one industry expert says he estimates the number of allowable tax incentives and minimization techniques has more than doubled during the quarter of a century since he analyzed his first set of financial reports. Another expert says the number has more than tripled during that period. Whatever the actual amount of exponential growth, there is no doubt that accounting is more complicated, and more important, than ever.

“This is a very tough economic time,” says Rob Lucenti, managing partner of the Orange County offices, Deloitte. “Businesses are struggling for resources because they’re controlling costs and they have their eye on the bottom line now more than ever. When that happens, it puts a strain on resources. Companies can utilize their relationships with their accountants because that’s what we do. People are our business. People are our inventory, our biggest asset.”

Talk with your accountant

The key to bringing your accountant into your proverbial inner circle is communication. Nothing is more important, just ask an accountant.

“The stronger that relationship between the business and the accountant, the better both parties will be,” Lucenti says. “I always suggest that the more face-to-face time we can get with our clients, the better. It helps strengthen the relationship, it helps us to get to know the company and what they’re faced with better, and it helps the company to get to know us and our culture and how we work.”

Without some level of constant and consistent communication, your accountant cannot know the full spectrum of activity within your company and, in turn, might be unable to offer constructive criticism and potentially prosperous ideas and suggestions. The more communication between you and your accountant, the more opportunity and the higher the possibility you will receive a far more favorable result.

Many industry experts recommend you plan to get together with your accountant for at least three or four formal meetings per year, though multiple variables might swing that number higher or lower, including the size of your business, the challenges you are facing now and expect to face during the course of the next year, and the strengths and weaknesses of your internal financial team. Others recommend more casual meetings or phone calls in order to communicate on a regular basis.

Whether you meet around the boardroom table or over beers at your favorite bar, take advantage of that time to ask your accountant important questions, like how can you best utilize your accountant? What should you do internally? Externally? And what are your priorities for the next year?

A high level of communication with your accountant can also lead to you becoming more comfortable around each other. Your accountant should be familiar with many of the folks on your upper management team, and you should be familiar with many of the folks who play top roles for the firm.

“To function most effectively, a professional services provider must have a clear understanding of a company’s strategy, business imperatives and issues,” says John Belli, office managing partner, Ernst & Young LLP. “Executives should meet with their accountants as often as necessary, especially in these volatile times.”

Take advantage of financial opportunities

The reason so many accountants prefer to be so involved is because the more information they know about you and your company, the more areas they will be able to explore in order to save dollars and cents. And saving dollars makes sense.

“The more the accountant knows about the company, the more value they can add on important business issues,” Belli says.

But the burden of trimming the budget lies not only with your accountant — you need to do your part, too. So be organized, be prepared, be proactive and be accessible.

Just consider the average audit. If your files are scattered around your office, stacked in piles that are toppling over, an audit performed by your accountant might last far longer than it should. In order to avoid a heftier bill, keep your internal financial team on a schedule to update your books regularly, perhaps even every day. Exorbitant costs for an audit — or even just a review or a compilation financial statement — are normally only incurred when you are not organized and prepared.

“A comprehensive financial statement close process is very important,” Belli says. “Businesses should take the time to close their books properly and review their accounts for accuracy and integrity. The company’s executive team should meet with the auditor early in the planning session and ask for a comprehensive assistance guide to fully understand what’s needed by the auditor, and in preparing for the audit, the company should identify the need to apply new accounting standards and conduct research, gather facts and prepare a memo proposing recommendations.”

If you are particularly strapped, you might even consider consulting with your accountant and other business advisers to consider altering the end of your fiscal year from the end of the calendar year to the end of another quarter. That would allow your accountant to work with you less during the peak months of January through April and more during the off months, when rates are far less expensive. And though such a shift is filled with internal and federal paperwork, the potential savings of such proactive measures can reach more than 20 to 30 percent.

There are even extreme situations where you might be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because you and your accountant are both accessible and open to conversation.

Several years ago, Glenn M. Gelman, managing director of Glenn M. Gelman & Associates, was working with a client who had installed defective materials in a sewer and storm drain system, and the client lost thousands of dollars. Though the client was able to file a claim against the manufacturer, Gelman was also able to find a case law that allowed for the property loss to carry back 10 years, a far longer retroactive period than the standard two or three years. The result? The client received $500,000, in large part because Gelman had been involved in the situation from the start and because the two sides were accessible to each other.

“There are a lot of options for the use of net operating losses,” Gelman says. “And what people forget is that, even in times when you’r e losing money, your accountant’s creativity can still be a tremendous asset.”

Published in Orange County
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Dollars and sense

You might not think of your accountant as some sort of bean counter, better suited for the Dark Ages than for the Age of Information. Most folks, after all, recognized the error of that thought years ago.

You also might not think of that same accountant as a trusted business adviser. But you should.

Gone are the days when your accountant would just sit down with the company ledger and crunch numbers. An accountant is able to offer so much more now, especially in this economic state.

Need to evaluate your inventory turnover, to analyze what is selling, what is not and why? An accountant can do that.

What about an examination to make certain that all available credit lines are being used or that capital needs are being met? An accountant can do that, too.

And, of course, there are taxes, an area where there has been so much evolution that one industry expert says he estimates the number of allowable tax incentives and minimization techniques has more than doubled during the quarter of a century since he analyzed his first set of financial reports. Another expert says the number has more than tripled during that period. Whatever the actual amount of exponential growth, there is no doubt that accounting is more complicated, and more important, than ever.

“An accountant with a lot of experience has worked with many different companies, has seen best practices in other companies, and can help the company take some of those best practices and apply them to their business,” says Joe Mazza, managing director of Los Angeles offices, RSM McGladrey. “An accountant can help people and companies prepare financial projections, assist the company with its banking relationships, look at the company’s costs and help them find ways to streamline costs.

“An accountant can just add value in so many different areas.”

Talk with your accountant

The key to bringing your accountant into your proverbial inner circle is communication. Nothing is more important, just ask an accountant.

“Communication should be frequent,” Mazza says. “Because if you want your accountant to add value to your business, they must know what’s going on.”

Without some level of constant and consistent communication, your accountant cannot know the full spectrum of activity within your company and, in turn, might be unable to offer constructive criticism and potentially prosperous ideas and suggestions. The more communication between you and your accountant, the more opportunity and the higher the possibility you will receive a far more favorable result.

Many industry experts recommend you plan to get together with your accountant for at least three or four formal meetings per year, though multiple variables might swing that number higher or lower, including the size of your business, the challenges you are facing now and expect to face during the course of the next year, and the strengths and weaknesses of your internal financial team. Others recommend more casual meetings or phone calls in order to communicate on a regular basis.

Whether you meet around the boardroom table or over beers at your favorite bar, take advantage of that time to ask your accountant important questions, like how can you best utilize your accountant? What should you do internally? Externally? And what are your priorities for the next year?

A high level of communication with your accountant can also lead to you becoming more comfortable around each other. Your accountant should be familiar with many of the folks on your upper management team, and you should be familiar with many of the folks who play top roles for the firm.

“To function most effectively, a professional services provider must have a clear understanding of a company’s strategy, business imperatives and issues,” says Bill Browning, office managing partner, Los Angeles, Ernst & Young. “Executives should meet with their accountants as often as necessary, especially in these volatile times.”

Take advantage of financial opportunities

The reason so many accountants prefer to be so involved is because the more information they know about you and your company, the more areas they will be able to explore in order to save dollars and cents. And saving dollars makes sense.

“The more the accountant knows about the company, the more value they can add on important business issues,” Browning says.

But the burden of trimming the budget lies not only with your accountant — you need to do your part, too. So be organized, be prepared, be proactive and be accessible.

Just consider the average audit. If your files are scattered around your office, stacked in piles that are toppling over, an audit performed by your accountant might last far longer than it should. In order to avoid a heftier bill, keep your internal financial team on a schedule to update your books regularly, perhaps even every day. Exorbitant costs for an audit — or even just a review or a compilation financial statement — are normally only incurred when you are not organized and prepared.

“A comprehensive financial statement close process is very important,” Browning says. “Businesses should take the time to close their books properly and review their accounts for accuracy and integrity. The company’s executive team should meet with the auditor early in the planning session and ask for a comprehensive assistance guide to fully understand what’s needed by the auditor, and in preparing for the audit, the company should identify the need to apply new accounting standards and conduct research, gather facts and prepare a memo proposing recommendations.”

If you are particularly strapped, you might even consider consulting with your accountant and other business advisers to consider altering the end of your fiscal year from the end of the calendar year to the end of another quarter. That would allow your accountant to work with you less during the peak months of January through April and more during the off months, when rates are far less expensive. And though such a shift is filled with internal and federal paperwork, the potential savings of such proactive measures can reach more than 20 to 30 percent.

There are even extreme situations where you might be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because you and your accountant are both accessible and open to conversation.

Several years ago, one industry expert was working with a client who had installed defective materials in a sewer and storm drain system, and the client lost thousands of dollars. Though the client was able to file a claim against the manufacturer, the expert was also able to find a case law that allowed for the property loss to carry back 10 years, a far longer retroactive period than the standard two or three years. The result? The client received $500,000 in large part because the expert had been involved in the situation from the start and because the two sides were accessible to each other.

“Accountants need to make themselves available for their clients,” Mazza says. “My wife used to say that there is no such thing as an accounting emergency, that you’re not a brain surgeon. But if there’s a transaction going on and there are millions of dollars at stake, where the client is concerned, it is just as important as brain surgery.”

Published in Los Angeles