Saturday, 26 September 2009

What Should They Teach Professional Accountants?

Where I live, in order to become a Chartered Accountant (the Canadian equivalent of a CPA), you need the following:

Courses Hours

Financial accounting 15
(introductory, intermediate and advanced)

Cost & management accounting 6

Advanced accounting elective 3

Auditing 9

Taxation 6

Business information systems 3

Finance/financial management 3

Economics 3

Law 3

Total credit hours 51

What do you think? Is the above enough? What skills seem to be lacking in the young accountants work with?

Here's my wish list:

Communications - how to explain financial information to non financial people, how to present clearly, making a clear case for action, how to organize the lines on a financial statement, how to analyze data so that the analysis leads to a clear course of action.

Working With Data - how to select, filter, sort and present data. How to build a spreadsheet model. How to use a report generator.

Project Accounting - I don't know why we teach cost accounting but not project accounting. Most of my clients have had some form of project work.

Business Ethics - These days, I think that is self-explanatory. If you don't start when you are a student, when will you have time for this subject?

Additional Topics Statistics, Interest calculations (discounting, annuities, mortgages) and risk management (including insurance).

What would you add?

The Worst of Both Worlds

Small companies are nimble and respond quickly to their customers' needs. Big companies can take on large projects and provide a wide range of products. But what happens when a big company downsizes to become a small company? Does it regain its nimbleness or does it end up as the worst of both worlds?

Having been through several downsizings, I have to say that it's a little like lovers trying to go back to being "just good friends". It's not impossible, but it takes a complete change of mindset.

It isn't enough to look at the budget constraints and downsize until the gap between revenues and expenses has been closed. You have to have a new vision for the resulting company and ensure that you have the right team in place to carry out that vision. Although it involves a lot of pain for everyone involved, the right long term answer might be to cut deeper than you have to in order to give yourself room to bring on the new people you need to move ahead.

As we move forward into uncertain economic times, the possibility of increasing inflation and taxes, accountants will be called upon to raise difficult questions of corporate sustainability. Courage!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Travel Heavy

Yes, yes, I know. ALL of the travel tips tell you to travel light. Pack one bag. Make it small enough to be carry on. That way you can take your laptop and your suitcase on the plane with you. They don't get lost. You don't have to wait to get your luggage at your destination. You can just waltz through to get to the front of the taxi / rental car line.

I used to be like that too. That system works well for the occasional over night or short trip, but when I was spending months commuting on the first plane out Monday morning and returning on the last flight Friday night, traveling light lost its lustre. I don't like eating alone. I don't like watching TV. I wanted to feel like I was accomplishing more than just logging another 40 hours on my client's account. I wanted to do something for me while I was away.

If you feel that way, then try taking a little of your personal life with you on your journey. In my case, it was my trumpet. Wait, before you freak at the thought that the guy in the hotel room next to yours might suddenly start wailing away in the middle of the night, I was using Yamaha's Silent Brass system, which completely deadens the sound and lets you hear yourself through earphones. In all my years of traveling, I never got any calls about noise. So yes, I packed my trumpet in my suitcase and found some sanity in my crazy life as a road warrior.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Boomers are Coming - Part 2

With the pending retirement of the Baby boom generation, we are about to lose a lot of hard won experience. Many of the Boomers are retiring early. They have the money they need. Why stay in the daily grind if you don't need to? But let's not write them off too quickly. We need to find ways to use their knowledge to help the next generation.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was in a meeting with some bright young web developers. They were struggling with a client's requirements. Their problem was that a limitation in their web tools was forcing them to do a lot of customization for the client, customization that the client didn't want to pay for. Of course, the original deadline for the project had passed. There was a lot of tension in the room. The team lead wanted to scrap the work already done and go with a new tool. Recognizing that they shared some responsibility for the project, he was recommending that the costs of going back to square one be shared equally with the client. It was turning into a lose/lose situation.

Someone with years of development experience would recognize that this situation was actually normal. The software tool looks like a good fit during the initial phases of the project, but when you find out more about the client's needs and how the software works, inevitably you find some requirements that don't fit. Faced with this dilemma, a normal human reaction is to look to the newest software thinking that it will fix the problem. The risk is that the new system will have other areas where it won't meet the client requirements.

A seasoned project manager might make these recommendations:

  1. Talk to the current web tools developer - is this a known issue? Are they already working on it? Are there known work arounds?
  2. Talk to the client - is this issue major or minor for them? Are they willing to defer this requirement? Can they change their processes to do this work another way?
You will notice that the project manager does not have to be a whiz with this software in order to make these recommendations. All (s)he needs is experience.

Let's not let the experience of a whole generation go to waste. If you know a seasoned executive who is retiring, do your best to connect them with someone young. Too many of us go through our careers without a mentor and that's a shame.

The Boomers are Coming - Part 1

Modern day Paul Reveres are shouting, "The Boomers are coming!" from every digital rooftop. Magazines proclaim the changes to healthcare, investments, retirement homes etc. etc. that will accompany the retirement of the Baby boom generation. While there is a lot of hype surrounding this issue, there is a real opportunity for the accounting profession we need to address.

Have you tried to find a volunteer treasurer for a charity recently? Maybe they are plentiful in your area, but in mine they are scarce. Need someone to do a volunteer audit? They're even harder to find. Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse. Increasing professional liability insurance premiums combined with more stringent regulations make it more difficult to be a non-profit auditor.

We, the members of the accounting profession, need to put our heads together and come up with a way for retired professional accountants to volunteer their services to charities.

Good For Accountants

Many retired people are looking for work that is inspirational. They want to use their skills to make a change in the world. What better way than to find a charity in an area that is meaningful, using the skills developed over a lifetime?

Good for Charities

Time was when having a seat on a volunteer Board or giving a significant amount of time to a charity was an accepted use of an executive / professional's time. Currently there just seems to be less time for additional activities during the work day. Family time in two career households can be similarly squeezed. Charities need the time, skills and experienced that retired volunteers can bring.

Changing the Profession

What can we do to make it easier for retired accountants to:
* Stay current on professional development?
* Maintain an appropriate level of Errors & Omissions insurance?
* Keep their license to practice?

Could we establish a limited license that would allow the accountant to perform audits on a voluntary basis only, providing a certain level of professional development and peer review was maintained? Could professional practice firms set up a way for retired members to contribute their skills to charity?

What do you think we should do? Please put your ideas in the comments.