The Improv Is No Joke Podcast

Welcome to the Improv Is No Joke podcast hosted by Peter Margaritis, AKA The Accidental Accountant and author of the book 'Improve Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. This podcast series is also available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Staying Ahead of Technology: Trends You Need to Know & What You Can Do to Protect Yourself with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP

www.istockphoto.com

Just like so many other instances in life, sometimes IT security comes down to trusting your gut. 

That’s one of the biggest lessons we took away from our session with Byron Patrick, CPA, CITP. He’s brilliant when it comes to keeping your business safe and secure from attempted security breaches, which are, of course, becoming ever more prevalent in today’s world. 

“Seventy-five percent of data breaches occur because of the human element,” Byron said.

Whether you run a large business, or you’re just interested in internet security for your personal use, the same principles apply. 

First, according to Byron, you’ve got to listen to your gut. If you get a suspicious email that you already feel like you need to forward onto the IT department to see if it’s a hacking attempt or something malicious, then you probably already know the answer! Go ahead and delete it. 

Second, if something is trying to inspire urgency or fear when you read it, that’s likely a malicious attempt, too. 

Sometimes, employees need a little practice in making these decisions — click or delete can maybe feel a little like “fight or flight,” so it’s all about honing that instinct. 

“We do security tests where we send phishing emails to our clients and see who clicks,” Byron said. “We’re helping to teach them what to look for, and put the fear of God that they’re going to fail the test and get in trouble with the boss, which protects them. … The other benefit is it enrolls them in a short 5- to 10-minute training that they then have to complete because they failed the test.” 

Plenty of these phishing attempts are getting more sophisticated as technology evolves. However, it’s not just your business; you have to worry about: It’s also essential to think about IT security when you’re at home. 

Who else owns some device — like an Amazon Alexa or a baby monitor — that hooks up to your home WiFi? These devices are incredibly popular, but unfortunately, we’re still not sure about how secure they are.

“There have been stories of crooks gaining unauthorized access to things such as baby monitors, watching the home, and learning the behaviors and activities, and they can figure out when the home is empty and go right in,” Byron said. “So that’s where you need to make sure that devices you’re putting on the WiFi network are segregated, isolated, and they require additional authentication. You want to make sure it requires additional authentication, passwords, or something.” 

In this day and age, there’s plenty of these conversations to be had: the risk vs. reward of convenience vs. giving up a certain level of security. 

However, as long as you’re using extra authentication, and protecting yourself against the human element of phishing attempts (training your employees to make sure they understand what *not* to click), Byron talked a lot about the benefits of running your business in the cloud. 

Cloud-based systems are enormous right now — this is where you don’t have to log in to multiple apps on your local computers. Instead, everything is browser-based, so your workforce can work outside of the office. 

“Organizations are now adopting all of these browser-based applications,” Byron said. “They’re adding multiple logins to all their staff. They’ve got data all over the place. Also, talking about how to gain control of that browser-based computing platform for your business, and how to do it efficiently, effectively, and securely.” 

So what are a few must-have apps that Byron suggests every CPA have to run their business? 

  • Some form of online accounting, whether this is Quickbooks or something else
  • Zoom (for communication with remote employees)
  • Office Lines (for taking photos and converting them into different file types, like a PDF or JPEG)

However, remember: The convenience of all these apps comes with an inherent risk. That’s why it’s essential to stay up to date on security risks. Above all, train your employees on how to minimize that risk and work safely and securely. Also, that’s exactly what Byron encourages through his work. 

“It is an ever-changing world,” he said. “And, you know, we’re trying to pivot and stay up to date to make sure that we can keep bringing that value to the industry and keep everybody relevant.” 

Listen to the full podcast episode by clicking here.

Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer

If your firm or department has struggled with employee turnover, my latest podcast will be of particular interest.

My guest, Cara Silletto, whose mother was actually a corporate accountant, is now a workforce retention guru. Her company, Crescendo Strategies, works with companies to reduce their employee turnover, and to bridge the generational gap within the workplace. (You can listen to our full conversation here (https://petermargaritis.com/s2e7/).

The hot topics Cara deals with certainly appear in our segment of the world: Accounting firms and corporate finance departments alike all deal with some of these same issues: Gaps in understanding between the millennial generation and Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Constant turnover within their workforce. A judgment of millennials for not being “loyal” enough. The list goes on and on.

So how do managers in the finance world fix this? A little flexibility goes a long way. Gone are the days when employees were content with mandatory Saturday hours: Instead, employers are finding ways to empower their staff to make their own schedules.

“It’s not that they’re expecting any less out of their people, but they’re giving them the flexibility to bill those hours any time during the week,” Cara said. “If they want to pull later days, or come in on Sunday or Saturday night, work from home, wherever they can hit those billable hours, they can still do it. But they’re not requiring people to come in from nine to noon every Saturday morning anymore because you don’t have to do that.”

As a retention strategist, Cara gets plenty of calls from various companies: But the most common type of accounting firm or finance department she hears from are those who are “set in their ways,” who have policies that they haven’t revisited in years. They are the ones who call Cara and say, “We can’t recruit anybody.”

Put simply, the old way of doing things isn’t working any longer: Times have changed, and the next generation of workers isn’t loyal to a company, just for the sake of being loyal. Today’s workers stay in jobs where they feel appreciated, have scheduling flexibility, and see multiple avenues of promotion.

Flexibility is advancement is one lesson the accounting world can take to heart, maybe even more so than the others: Today’s employees aren’t necessarily going to stay at a firm for years on end, waiting for the day they’re promoted to partner. That’s why we have to be flexible with creating multiple avenues of advancement. Sometimes that means taking into account employees’ unique abilities and creating a position around those talents.

“I love when organizations create multiple paths for advancement,” Cara said. “You hear a title like senior advisor or something like that, which tells me that person is so good at what they do, but they probably shouldn’t be managing people, and that’s fine because they can still be promoted, and they can be a mentor or advisor for somebody else, or for a team, but they don’t have the direct responsibility of leading and managing others.”

Even for more entry-level employees further down the food chain, it’s important employers offer robust training opportunities. Today’s workforce won’t tolerate taking a job and then not being appropriately trained for it.

And important to remember, too: When you invest in your employees (whether that’s training, hiring, or retention efforts), you’re investing in your firm or department as a whole, too.

 

How Accountants Can Be More Future-Forward In an Evolving World

Trying to keep up with innovations in technology is a challenge in any industry—but maybe even more so in the accounting world. It’s a very formulaic business, with (traditionally) little wiggle room when it comes to trying new things.

That’s why talking with Amy Vetter was such an eye-opener. She’s a CPA, a certified information technology professional, certified Global Management Accountant, a yoga studio owner, and the author of two books. She also is an expert when it comes to helping the accounting industry look toward the future, and find ways to fortify itself against any technological changes.

Change is certainly coming. AI, machine learning, and Cloud Accounting are all evolving and shaping the future of the industry.

“Anything like accounting that’s as structured as it is, AI machine learning can enter because there’s a structure to program into a system,” Amy said. “What artificial intelligence is basically taking our own business intelligence and trying to program that into a computer so that the computer can start figuring out those things.”

The most helpful thing for accountants to remember? Despite increasing technology that can seemingly do your job for you, AI and machine learning don’t have one crucial piece: They’re not human beings, and can’t provide the relationship that accountants can.

Accountants don’t just have to be numbers whizzes (a quality that can be replaced by a computer). They should realize their status as “cherished advisor,” as Amy puts it. There’s value outside of simple number-crunching.

“What you want to strive for is to be cherished – that your clients can’t imagine not having you as part of their business because you are providing so much value,” she said. “That the money is not the issue. It’s like you’re an integral part of their business.”

Contrary to popular belief, artificial intelligence can actually be helpful to accountants—not just something that’s going to steal their jobs.

“It actually frees up our time so we can spend more time with our clients,” Amy said. “It doesn’t bring our value down. What it does is give us the information quicker so that we can start analyzing it.”

Seeing all the technological changes within the accounting industry as a positive can be difficult. That’s true for anyone — but especially accountants.

“When we are given a standard or regulation, we’re really good at changing,” Amy said. “But when we’re given like, ‘This is where the future is going,’ but there’s not necessarily a standard or a checklist of how to get there, we drag our feet a bit in this profession.”

The solution? Remembering the standard that doesn’t have to be written down: Keep building relationships with clients. Be a human, not a computer. And learn how to become the “cherished advisor” that every accountant has the power to be.

To listen to the full interview, click here

 

There’s An App For That

Open notebook, digital tablet and smart phoneWhether you work from the same office every day, travel occasionally or, like me, work remotely much of the time, staying connected, informed and efficient is important.  Need to share large files or maintain internet access or actually see the person you are meeting with even when they are across the country? No problem, there’s an app for that!

Here are a few tools that work really well for me:

Dropbox –This file sharing tool is easy to use. Just open an account and load your files. Then click the share button and add the recipient’s email. They will receive an email from Dropbox with a link to your shared folder. Recipients see only those files and folders you have selected to share with them.

Evernote – This one takes some practice but only because there is so much offered. Organize files, maintain journals, store photos and graphics – it’s all there. Evernote syncs with all your devices so add something on your phone and your laptop has it too.

Skitch – A partner with Evernote, Skitch is a great tool for saving web pages and documents. Not the links (you can do that with just about every app) but you can open the doc or page, do a Screen Snap, add comments and save to Evernote or email it.

TripIt – For all of us frequent flyers, keeping track of flight itineraries can be a bit of a hassle. Send your confirmation emails to TripIt and the app organizes it all. You can receive flight information and travel alerts through the app, too.  No more hunting for emails! If you travel exclusively with one carrier, get their app – it will do the same thing plus you can check in, get seats and get your boarding pass.

Skype – I usually use FaceTime when I want a one-on-one face-to-face conversation, like with my family, but Skype is great for group meetings. Like other apps, they let you have group video calls and screen sharing, which can be pretty helpful.

What app helps you stay  productive?

Faster Meetings Mean Better Meetings

37072Who among us loves long, drawn-out meetings? No one. Yet somehow the people managing meetings seem to think that longer must mean more productive. I am on the side of less is more.  Here are my tips on how to make meetings shorter and get better results, and they center around the planning process.

Have a specific agenda that includes key discussion points.

•  Send out the agenda in advance so attendees know what to expect.

• Start on time, end on time. It’s really just another discipline.

• Anything off topic is discussed later.

• Anything that is does not involve all meeting attendees is discussed later.

• If appropriate, ask subject experts to provide necessary information to the group.

• Set a timeframe for each discussion point.

• Allow a specific time for Q&A. Any topics that cannot be answered are passed on to whoever can give the answer.

This article offers 6 Ways to Make Meetings Go Faster. Personnally, I like the last way: don’t schedule a meeting at all!  Time is so valuable that without a specific purpose, meetings can be more habit than productive.