Why Now is the Time to Take Action on Transitioning to the New Revenue Recognition Accounting Standard – Essential Client Considerations

By Beckie Reilly

There’s currently a lot of industry attention focused on the impending New Revenue Recognition Accounting Standard. It reminds me a bit of the build-up leading to the Year 2000 (Y2K) conversion of computer software calendar code for the new millennium.  There was a sense that chaos would ensue if proper plans and procedures were left undone or done incorrectly. So, businesses and governments alike took heed to prepare for when the clock struck twelve on January 1, 2000.

As I recall at 12:01, governments did not dissolve into anarchy, the stock market didn’t crash, and traffic lights continued to change on schedule. Was the threat over-hyped? Or was calamity avoided because the hype prompted action?

Skilled planning and adequate time to execute certainly played a critical role in the smooth technical transition to the new millennium. I’d argue the same approach should be taken for transitioning to the new standard. A certain sense of urgency is now upon the profession. The time for engaging and consulting with management at your clients has arrived (if you haven’t already started).

To help you begin to navigate the transition, we’re sharing a great resource by Ralph Nach, CPA, Senior Faculty and Technical Advisor for 20-20 Services. He is also a Principal, with Epstein+Nach LLC. The white paper titled Transitioning to the New Revenue Accounting Standard – Essential Client Considerations presents pertinent facts and practical advice to help you assess the urgency for taking prompt implementation action. We hope you find it useful.

Read the white paper here.

As always, thanks for reading. We welcome your feedback.

 

Beckie Reilly is the EVP, Sales for 20-20 Services. Through her work, she is plugged into the challenges facing the public accounting profession. Her passion is bringing learning and professional development solutions to firms so they can rise to the challenges with the highest level of competency and confidence. 

Image of person checking email

Open me, please.

How Getting Personal With Email Helps Boost Engagement

I live in a large neighborhood with a very active community email list serve that exists primarily to share information. A mere glance at an email subject line is all I need to determine one thing: does it matter to me? Much of what is shared there has no bearing on my day to day life, so I simply hit “delete” and move on. But occasionally, something pops up that resonates. Like the time an enterprising teen posted “Pet Sitting Services”, just as I was pondering what to do with our bulldog Sophie while we planned a last-minute weekend get-away. The timing of that message was key, and it prompted an action coveted by marketers like myself – the almighty email “open”.  That simple act of taking a look inside is akin to raising a hand and nodding “yes” when asked, “are you interested?” So how do you get someone to make that split-second decision to open an email and grant you a deeper level of attention?

Timing Is Important, But…

It’s surprising how often businesses seem to over complicate marketing. I am not suggesting marketing is easy. On the contrary, today it is a fusion of many complex things, including technology, psychology, artistry and science, among others.  But the overarching goal of marketing, specifically email marketing, is pretty simple:  to elicit a behavior (in this case, opening an email) that occurs when the right message crafted for the right person is delivered at the right time. That, friends, is the sweet spot, your foot in the door. What happens after that is inconsequential if the door is never opened.

On the surface, it may seem that the perfect subject line is the magic bullet. Not so fast. Your subject line may be Pulitzer-prize worthy, but if it does not portend content perceived helpful to the recipient, then it’s just some clever writing. At 20-20 Services, we spend a great deal of time and effort on database maintenance and what I refer to as “list hygiene”. It is a big job and one we consider critical to our business. We segment our lists based on a number of important criteria, including personas. B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee defines a marketing persona as a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.

One Size Does Not Fit All

At 20-20 we’ve created composites of several distinct types of people we either do business with or would like to do business with based on what we know about them – their job roles, their companies, their locations and other demographics. Then, we use this information to develop content and messaging targeted specifically to them. For example, we work with both the managing partner and chief learning officer within the accounting firm. These may be two people who work at the same place, but what’s important to each of them from a day to day operational standpoint is quite different. Is the managing partner interested in knowing the specific dates and locations of 20-20’s upcoming New Hire public training classes? Perhaps not. But this information may be exactly what the CLO responsible for ensuring staff gets appropriate training needs to know.  It’s a more personal approach to customer and prospect engagement and we’re finding it makes a big difference. Since we’ve employed list segmentation and targeting we’ve seen a 7% increase in our email open rates (we’ve seen a significant bump in click-thru rates, too, but that’s another blog post!).

At 20-20 we market to public accounting firms, rather people within public accounting firms.  Who are you marketing to? More important, how are you marketing to them? Do you cast the net wide with your messaging and content and hope something sticks? Or are you conscious and deliberate with your efforts and deliver true value as defined by your customers?

Marketers are often credited (or charged) with “working their marketing magic”. I’d like to say I am among a select breed who possess mystical powers and can produce fantastic results with the wave of a wand. But the truth is, there are methods to what we do that can be learned and implemented with great success, even by non-marketers. Email marketing, still a mainstay in any comprehensive marketing strategy, can be an extremely powerful tool for connecting with your customer and prospect base, if you truly understand who you are marketing to, what’s important to them, and making the information accessible to them when they need or want it.

Mary Beth Albertini is the director of marketing for 20-20 Services LLC. Marketing allows her to explore her fascination with human behavior and learn about what makes people tick.

 

Back to Battery- Surviving Partner Work Ethic, cont.

by Bo Fitzpatrick, President, 20-20 Services

Most of us use smart phones. I currently have the iPhone 6S. We use these devices for almost everything from emails, to surfing the web, to weather, to tracking how many steps we’ve taken today. And, we all probably know that when we open an app or a website, they will continue to run in the background, hidden until we may want to call it up again. Well, these items running in the background sap the battery life of the phone, and when away from an outlet we see our little battery icon getting smaller and smaller. One action we can take to conserve the battery is to double-click the home button. This shows all of the apps running in the background and, with a swipe of our thumb on those apps, we can turn off the ones we aren’t using. So ask yourself, “How many “apps” do I have running in my head at any one time during the day that I don’t need to have running”? Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed I will visualize swiping my open apps off (really) – and it works.

Morning Emails

I started morning mediation over ten years ago. I was consumed with work and life when a friend introduced me to meditation, and I have been doing it ever since. I get up around 5 a.m. most days and do my meditation practice. The funny thing though is that not all meditations are created equal. Some mornings, I couldn’t get to that peaceful place. Then I noticed a pattern. If I checked my emails before I began, the quality of the meditation time was poor. By checking my emails first (just in case there was an important email that couldn’t wait at 5 a.m.), I effectively turned on that app in my body, and my mind would want to respond to the client or colleague. Then, while trying to meditate, those emails would be running in the background. So, I stopped checking my phone in the morning until after my meditation, taking the dog out, and getting something to eat. By the way, this typically takes only 45 minutes each morning. It also allows me to be present for my wife (and kids when they were younger) as I begin each day. I learned it was better to give myself time in the morning and to break the habit of checking emails until I was in a good place. By doing this, my battery would last much longer each day and I would smile more.

A quick story. My father was a navy man, a submariner. His first sub was a diesel. Diesel subs relied on battery power for most things, primarily to clean the air so they could keep breathing (a minor necessity). They would be out to sea for months, meaning the batteries would need to be recharged periodically. In order to recharge the battery, they needed fresh air, so they would surface or get to a depth where they could raise a snorkel to bring in the air. The issue – a submarine on or near the surface is a sitting duck. As such, they had to be careful and get this done as quickly as possible. Yet, it was a necessary pause so they could re-charge and continue on their mission. As soon as they had brought in enough air to re-charge the battery the call would go out, “Back to battery, Captain”, followed by, “dive, dive, dive”. They were safe.

So, when do you pause to get “back to battery”? We can’t just go, go, go without paying the price. My previous posts also talked about self-care. It’s the theme to surviving the partners’ work ethic.

Content, Preparation & Planning: The Trifecta for Effective Live Group Training

Tips for How to Support Your In-house Trainers

This time of year marks a transition from development and consultation to live group training here at 20-20 Services. For most of our clients, this is a time of transition as well. Tax returns have been filed, audit binders locked down, and quarterly reviews and June year-end planning are on the docket. But after a few deep breaths following tax season, most firms begin another important part of their year – the training season! Many of our clients take the opportunity between deadlines to schedule some of their first trainings of the year. At 20-20 Services, we start a bit earlier, by getting our team of instructors ready to hit the road delivering training programs around the country.

In addition to hosting 20-20’s live group training programs, many of our clients also lead their own training programs. Some clients license our course material to teach using their own professionals, while others develop programs internally. Anyone who has been involved in delivering in-house training programs knows that these can be highly effective and valuable sessions… when they are done right! You may also have experienced training sessions that have not had the desired impact.

In this edition of the 20-20 blog we will explore three key components of strong live group training programs and how your firm can support your in-house training instructors.

Content
Do you develop your own training material internally? Do you license content from another provider? Wherever your material comes from, the quality of the material is a key criterion for delivering successful programs. What should you look for in training material?

  • Clearly defined training objectives
  • Clear and easy to read material
  • Opportunities for participant engagement
  • Practice exercises or activities
  • Leader’s notes or guidance

When identifying group training sessions, it’s important to consider the quality of the training content that will be delivered. Clearly defined objectives are not only important for the learner but also help the instructor stay on task during a training session and set priorities. The look and feel of the material is important as well. PowerPoint slides, handouts and other material should be well organized, easy to read, concise and help the learner meet the learning objectives.

At 20-20 Services, we believe that no training session can be effective without participant engagement and opportunities to practice the skills learned. NASBA (the body that oversees CPE Sponsors in the United States) agrees and has incorporated participant engagement into their requirements to receive CPE credit under their new standards effective this year. Ideally, course materials provide a high level of participant engagement through various instructional methods designed to engage learners with different learning styles and preferences. Changing teaching modality, opportunities for group discussion, case studies, role plays and exercises that encourage movement and energy, are all key parts of quality training curriculum.

Lastly, robust leader’s guidance helps an instructor deliver a strong class and provides a quality control for consistency in delivery between different instructors. If you’ll be delivering a training program more than once, the investment in leader’s guidance is invaluable for saving time and improving quality.

Preparation
One of the most common concerns we hear from instructors is finding the preparation time needed to get ready for a class. The challenge of fitting in preparation time amidst a demanding schedule and client commitments is a valid concern. Supporting your instructors by allowing dedicated preparation is a worthwhile investment that results in better programs. There is no magic formula as to how much preparation time one should require. The experience of the presenter in both delivering training and in the subject matter will drive their needs. Preparation may include reviewing the content and leader’s guidance, but it typically includes a lot more, including:

  • Exploring additional depth in the subject matter
  • Planning for classroom interactions and participant questions
  • Learning the flow and design of the content
  • Adjusting the content to fit the instructor’s and participants’ styles
  • Coordinating logistical details

The payoff for proper preparation is a better training experience for all involved.

Practice
There is no substitute for good old fashioned practice when it comes to delivering training programs. The more you get up in front of a group, the more comfortable you will become. Receiving feedback is a key part of the practice process. Presenters are encouraged to practice their delivery alone or to a small group many times before presenting. Presenters should solicit feedback from their audience and work with a mentor to help improve their skills. Videotaping a practice session and watching it back is a great way to identify areas for improvement when you don’t have an audience to provide feedback.

In conclusion, firms that deliver successful in-house training invest in their programs via strong content and experienced, prepared instructors. Developing experienced instructors within your firm is a valuable resource that has many advantages in addition to improved internal trainings. These presenters are often top choices for speaking at client events, conferences and industry meetings. They bring these skills to proposals, board meetings and networking events and often emerge as leaders at the firm.

At 20-20 Services, we offer a “Presentation, Instruction and Facilitation Skills” (“PIFS”) course that helps professionals hone their skills in delivering training sessions and provides real-life practice opportunities with live feedback. Participants in the PIFS courses leave with practical ideas, concrete action items for improvement and more confidence in their ability to instruct a training program.

It takes all three components – content, preparation and practice – to achieve the best outcomes of your in-house training programs. If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your professionals to teach their best training sessions and other public speaking skills, give us a call.

Written by Jessica Sacchetti,  EVP of Learning at 20-20 Services LLC. In addition to developing course content, Jessica is a seasoned 20-20 training road warrior who delivers audit and personal development programs to firms and classrooms around the US.

Have Millennials Been Dealt a “Bad Hand”?…

By: Beckie Reilly, 20-20 Services, SVP Sales

At 20-20, we often talk about Millennials. Why? A large percentage of the training programs we offer are attended by Millennials. We need to ensure that we know a lot about them – especially how to engage them in our classrooms. Engagement and active participation are two key design elements of every one of our training programs.

Who are Millennials?

A Google search for the definition of a “Millennial” yields quite an interesting array of characterizations for those born roughly between the years of 1980 to 2000. From a somewhat humorous yet searing definition offered by the Urban Dictionary, to the more just-the-facts definition provided by Wikipedia, there is no shortage of commentary on this generation. The following data provides a telling snapshot of the Millennial:

  • Numbering nearly 77 million, millennials make up nearly one-fourth of the US population (Nielsen)
  • One-third of older millennials (ages 26-33) have earned at least a four-year college degree, making them the best educated group of young adults in US history (Pew Research Center)
  • More than 85% of millennials in the US own smart phones (Nielsen) and touch their smart phones 45 times a day (SDL)
  • 87% of online adults in the US age 18-29 use Facebook, with 53% on Instagram, 37% on Twitter, and 34% on Twitter (Pew Research Center)
  • The top five favorite brands of millennials in the US are Nike, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Walmart (Moosylvania)
  • Just 26% 0f millennials in the US are married, compared with 36% of Gen X, 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the Silent Generation of the same age (Pew Research Center)

Millennials are Important to 20-20

As most of you know, 20-20’s most popular courses are our core level staff training programs for both audit and tax professionals. The participants in these programs are – you guessed it: Millennials. Our entry level courses are developed for those coming right out of college and into the workforce. We offer programs that map to their career progression into roles of Manager and Experienced Manager and ultimately into Leadership Development programs developed for both Directors and Partners.

It is very important that we understand the Millennial generation for our business. We develop training programs with the ultimate goal of keeping our audiences focused, engaged, actively participating and learning! But let’s face it, this is no small feat when our participants are accustomed to virtually uninterrupted connection to their mobile phones, social media sites and email accounts (personal and professional), texts and the evergrowing list of apps available to them on their handheld devices or tablets. This issue is one of the greatest challenges we face when developing our interactive programs.

Millennials In The Workplace

Several weeks ago, I came across this YouTube video titled, “Millennials in the Workplace”, featuring, British/American author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek. It caught my attention because it was getting heavy social media traction, so I tuned in. Sinek delves deeply into some prevailing ideas about the millennial mindset and their behaviors. To date, the video has been viewed nearly 5 million times. You can view it in its entirety here.

I watched the video several times. I was intrigued from both a business and a personal standpoint, as I am the parent of a teenager and a tween. I think there is little disagreement that obsession with our handheld devices is changing nearly every aspect of our lives, some for the better – and some not so much. Sleeping with our cell phones next to our beds is common place, banning cell phones at family dinner tables at home (often heavily protested and disregarded by both children and adults), ignoring people in in our immediate company so we can text with those who may be hundreds of miles away (or sadly, across the room), occurs regularly. Texting while driving occurs all too often –  and can lead to the saddest of consequences.

In the video, Sinek explains how the dopamine release within our brains when we interact with our devices mimics the release that occurs when we use and /or abuse alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The most notable difference is, we impose legal age restrictions on these substances to prevent them from effecting young minds, but this not the case with cell phones. There are many cell-phone carrying thirteen-year-olds.

Has the Millennial Generation Been Dealt a “Bad Hand”?

In an effort to explain the Millennial, Sinek suggests that the Millennial generation may have been dealt a “bad hand”, resulting from four primary factors:

  • Parenting – and / or Failed Parenting Strategies, i.e., everyone gets a participation medal,
  • Technology – and the Facebook and Instagram world, thus filtering emotions and pretending to always be happy,
  • Impatience – largely due to the instant gratification world we live in, and
  •  Environment <— one area where we may be able to help – When Millennials enter the workforce…

You may draw your own conclusions from the video. A key take away for me is that this “issue”- our fascination and possible addiction to our handheld devices, affects more than Millennials. It likely impacts all of us who have one. I’ve witnessed addictive-like behavior from  toddler-aged children through septuagenarians!

So, What Do We Do?

From a corporate perspective, I am not certain how “we” attempt to manage the use of digital devices in the workplace – or if we should even attempt to at all. I do believe and agree with Sinek when he says that “…we need to help Millennials to overcome instant gratification and teach them the joys, impact and fulfillment of working hard for something over a long period of time.” We (corporate America) can play a role in providing Millennials a resource of Leaders and the respective positive influence that leaders can and should attempt to spread throughout the workplace. Millennials will follow our lead, they will emulate us, if they trust us – similar to the way children trust and value their parent’s traits, both positive and negative.

Conclusion

The conclusion I have come to is that I believe we should all consider taking a step back to pause and reflect on our own use of our digital devices and consider what our behavior is modeling to our co-workers and our families. What does it say when we check our phones on our nightstand in the morning before even saying “Good Morning” to those we love? What does it say when we are attending a meeting and we choose to focus on our mobile device rather than those who sitting among us? These are things to consider. Should we consider reevaluating our own habits?

At 20-20, we’ll continue to assess our core level training programs, especially how we can best design and develop our programs to resonate with the Millennial generation. We are always interested in your thoughts on matters such as these. If you have instituted policies and or procedures specifically around character traits of the Millennials that you employ, please let me know. And, if there are specific training programs that you need in this area, we’d be happy to talk with you further to see if we may be able to develop a program for you.

Only time will tell if our habits change, and if they do – what that means to society and our future generations. The world needs a thriving generation of Millennials and we all work in an environment where we can positively influence their behavior and their future success!

 

Into Action

by Bo Fitzpatrick, CPA

There is not much I look forward to receiving in the mail these days. Lots of junk mail, catalogs (especially this time of year) and bills are really all that come. Back in high school and college, I did look forward to receiving one particular magazine in the mail – Sports Illustrated. Back then we didn’t have all the information at our fingertips like we do today with the ability to search and find on the internet or social media just about anything we want to know. The writers for SI were the best and I was one of the many completely taken by George Plimpton’s April article about the baseball phenom, “Sid Finch” in the mid-80s. Today, I have a new magazine I eagerly await receiving.  It is called, “EXPERIENCE L!FE”, a monthly magazine put out by Life Time Fitness, a national chain of fitness centers. Each issue discusses topics I find interesting and inspiring, reminding me of what is important. And, it comes in the mail.

My last post, Partner Work Ethic – How to Survive It, discussed how hard public accounting professionals work and the toll it takes on the person. I raised the question, “How do we take care of ourselves and not crater because our body and spirit have had enough”? The magazine, EXPERIENCE L!FE, is dedicated to helping all of us stay healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Give it a read.

So, how do we maintain our health while working those insane hours? A short story. A couple years ago, I decided that since I was now into my 50s, I should go get my heart checked out. My blood pressure was a bit high, but otherwise, my heart and arteries were fine. The doctor comes in and says things look good. Of course, you have two risk factors. (What?! My mind screamed…two risk factors!) The first is, you are over 50. (Okay, guess I have to accept that one.) The second is you are overweight. (Again, What!? Sure I have a belly, but I don’t feel overweight.) He went on to say that the chart says at 5’9” I should weigh between 165 – 172lbs and you weigh 186lbs. (PS – I haven’t weighed 165lbs since senior year in high school.) Thank you, doctor. I walked out committed to getting down to one risk factor.

Long story short, I now weigh around 175lbs and my blood pressure is good. More importantly, I feel grounded in my life. Not every day, but most days. So, for those of you that read my previous post, here is what I do to try and ensure I will stay around this earth for a bit longer:

•    Physical capacity – eat properly; limit one cup of coffee per day; exercise at the gym 3 times a week; walk 1.5 miles 5 times a week; drink lots of water; and avoid excesses of any form.

•    Emotional capacity – start most mornings (before looking at emails or anything else) with 30 – 45 minutes of quiet time, including  10 – 15 minutes of meditation; daily inspirational readings; love my family; be positive and happy at work; take time to “smell the roses”.

None of the above is really anything special. It is the “steady wins the race” concept. We all know what we need to do. The irony is, the more time we take to be good to ourselves, the better we will be at our jobs. Of course, it is incredibly hard getting started. But with another busy season right around the corner, maybe start today. Commit. Go for a walk. Right now. Just get up and do it.

Accountant working

Partner Work Ethic – How to Survive It

by Bo Fitzpatrick, CPA

I am constantly amazed at how hard the majority of professionals within public accounting work. At 20-20, we deliver group-live programs for such professionals. So, we usually get the classes started at 8:30 and go to about 5:00, on average. We are physically and mentally drained and ready for a break, be it exercise or dinner or quiet time. But what do our participants (you) typically do? They immediately check email as they head back to their office to deal with client issues, deadlines, and staff needs. I don’t know how much longer into the evening they work, but I ask myself, “How do they do it?”

For good or bad, whether you are a tax, audit or consulting professional, public accounting has demands that are difficult to maintain. The various deadlines imposed by clients, banks, the SEC or IRS, creates stressful conditions. That is just a fact. Yet, studies have shown, it’s not stress that is harmful to us, but rather how we view the stress and what we do with the stress. A long-time favorite book of mine and foundation for this posting is “The Power of Full Engagement”, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The authors’ premise is “managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal recovery”. NFL football players during summer camp typically have two, 2-hour practices and additional time in the film room, maybe 2-3 hours. So their workday is about 7-8 hours during their “busy-season” to prepare themselves to compete at the highest level. (During the season practice and film is reduced even more.) The other 7-8 wakeful hours are spent icing sore muscles, eating, napping, playing cards, being with loved ones – basically quieting and resting the mind from their primary job. Then they sleep for 7-8+ hours. They, and all professional athletes, know they must replenish themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This is what the authors call “The Performance Pyramid”. So, if professional athletes performing at the highest level need renewal to perform at their best, it would seem you would too. (Harvard Business Review published a synopsis of the book by Loehr and Schwartz titled, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete” – worth a read).

What is the day in the life of most partners in public accounting like? What is your day like? Based on being around the profession for over 30 years and working with partners from firms around the country, I know what it is like. It consists of a minimum of 10-12 hour days (bump that up to 12-15+ hours during busy season, filing deadlines or special projects like IPO filings). Meals are hard to come by, demands on us are relentless, and we can catch ourselves hunched over staring at screens for hours on end. We work continuously throughout the day/night with minimal breaks. It is almost an impossible pace to keep, yet you do. To be fair, I was guilty of this too when I was in public accounting. It is so hard to break the chain.
So what do we do? We all probably know the answer, but to keep these discussions brief, I will discuss in 20-20’s next posting. Until then, remember, we perform our best when we are rested, full, happy and content.