September 21, 2018

Small Business

millennials accounting firms

Accounting Firm Partners Impressed by Millennials Not Acting Millennialish

Sure, these millennials look like they aren’t doing anything. But these are just stock photos. They aren’t real life. In this column at CPA Practice Advisor, accounting firm consultant Marc Rosenberg writes about putting a bunch of partners into a room with a couple of millennial accountants and hilarity ensues when they all break out […]

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The Number of Female Audit Partners Is Terrible

A new study shows that women are drastically underrepresented as audit firm partners, averaging only around 16 percent for audit partners with U.S. audit clients. In some cities such as Washington, D.C. and San Jose, California, the percentage of female partners was around 10 percent. Yikes. The Big 4 firms performed a little better than […]

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The AICPA Is Trying to Innovate You Right Out of a Job

As we are all painfully aware, the accounting industry isn’t exactly known for its groundbreaking commitment to early adoption and innovation. Despite its over 150-year history of being reactive and clinging desperately to the way things have always been, the AICPA announced this week a new initiative that hopes to fund important accounting startups. The […]

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Exposure Drafts: The Stuff That Keeps CPAs Up at Night

Exposure Drafts appears every other Wednesday. Send suggestions to [email protected]

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Here’s a Photo of Barry Melancon After He Got Lei’d

There are countless photos out there of AICPA CEO, President, and ham radio operator Barry Melancon (aka “Bean Picker”) gesturing excitedly this way and that as he explains the future of the CPA profession for captive audiences everywhere. Yet for all the snaps of the benevolent overlord of the world’s most powerful accounting biker gang, […]

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A Non-Exhaustive List of What You Should Be Doing Now That Busy Season is Over

Certain accounting publications which are not Going Concern have all kinds of suggestions for how you should be spending your life post-busy season, sadly the majority of said suggestions involve everything but decompressing from the worst months of your miserable life to date. Now is not the time for introspection. It is not the time […]

mid-market accounting firm

Consider a Mid-Market Accounting Firm Before Taking a Job in Industry

“Two years here [a Big 4 firm] to get that on my resume, then on to private industry.” That, in a nutshell, is how lots of Big 4 associates talk about their career. For some of them, it’s a fine plan. In a way, it’s an extension of what many accounting students believe: get into […]

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Accounting News Roundup: Vault Accounting Firm Rankings and Marijuana Businesses | 04.20.17

Vault accounting firm rankings In general, I don’t get as excited about rankings like I used to, but I’d be remiss not to mention that Vault’s Accounting 50 came out the other day. For the most part, it’s you would expect. The Big 4 occupy the first four spots, but there’s quite a bit of […]

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Everyone Suffering from Busy Season Depression: Grab Some Bubble Wrap, Stat

Is there anything better than popping bubble wrap? No. No there is not. The Los Angeles office of Cohn Reznick seems aware of that fact, as they spent part of the day yesterday de-stressing with a little contest: #fun #video, contest to #pop #bubblewrap – a great day with a “pop” theme for #stressrelief during […]

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How to Say No in Public Accounting Without Killing Your Career

It’s the thick of busy season, you are swamped, and one of your managers comes by your desk to ask, “Can you pick up this job for me? It should only take 10 hours.” What should you say? You are already stressed out but you want to be seen as a team player and a […]

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How Should You Handle a Partner’s Facebook Friend Request?

Ding. It’s a friend request. You’re so popular. One problem. It’s from one of your engagement partners. Awkward. Now you have a dilemma. Are you obligated to say yes? Or, maybe, you let it sit in the unanswered request pile for eternity and pretend you never saw it. Weigh the options careful and may the […]

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5 Ways to Steal Some Time Back This Busy Season

Ugh, busy season. 8 hours of sleep? Try 5-6 — on a good day. And, to add insult to injury, we are mocked by the fact that we are losing another precious hour this weekend (daylight savings time starts on Sunday, March 12). If sleep deprivation makes you want to cry, I tracked down some ways you […]

Here’s a Photo of AICPA CEO Barry Melancon Having the Most Interesting Conversation of His Life

I have no idea what AICPA CEO, President and street taco eating champion Barry Melancon is thinking in the above photo, but he couldn’t be more rapt with what this woman has to say. The caption from the Wyoming Society of CPAs website reads: “Break-time Alexandra Wilkinson explaining a case to Barry Melancon.” And sure, […]

Accounting News Roundup: Branding and Billionaires | 02.22.17

Branding Historically, naming an accounting firm hasn’t been difficult. You look at the people sitting with you at the table where you’re planning world domination and get everyone’s last name. Then you shuffle those 2 or 3 or 4 names into an order that sounds most pleasant. Perhaps you add “& Co.” or “CPAs” on […]

Fighting Complacency in Accounting: A Conversation with Joey Havens, Managing Partner of Horne, LLP

The following conversation is sponsored by Horne, an Accountingfly Firm Partner. Last month, Horne Managing Partner Joey Havens wrote a post on how the “trusted advisor” cliche has led to complacency in the public accounting. He joins us again for a conversation to talk more about  complacency in the accounting profession and the future of […]

Exposure Drafts: Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, You Bill by the Hour, So Get Back to Work

Exposure Drafts appears every other Wednesday and on holidays ruined by busy season. Send suggestions to [email protected]

3 Ways CPA Firms Can Make Busy Season Burnout a Thing of the Past

With every busy season, I, and most everyone around me, met the occasion with dread. We knew burnout was inevitable. It was interesting to observe how attitudes shifted from first year associate up the ladder. First year staff typically met the occasion with anticipation and slight uncertainty. Professionals that had a few busy seasons under […]

Small accounting firms

To Most Accounting Students, Small Accounting Firms Don’t Exist

Here’s a fun article by Marc Rosenberg about “how totally uninformed young accountants are about CPA firms.” Now, you might think that this is one of those condescending KIDS TODAY posts, but it’s actually pretty self-aware. Rosenberg offers a picture of a profession that has an enormous perception problem, citing some pretty surprising examples. He […]

How to Overcome Age and Wealth Differences in Social Prospecting

“Birds of a feather flock together.”  This old proverb implies we are most comfortable socializing with people of similar age and social status.  You are a young(ish) accountant.  The type of people who can potentially lead you to business or advance your career are often far older or 100 times richer than you.  Why will […]

There’s a Lack of Talent to Succeed Accounting Firms Because the Talent Doesn’t Exist

A recent survey of accounting firm partners from the CPA Consultants' Alliance found that over half of respondents (51.7%) said procrastination or denial was a primary cause for firms' succession troubles. Another 48.3% of respondents also said that "Lack of future leadership talent" was a primary cause of succession issues. So, some firms have better […]

The Hottest Silicon Valley Accounting Startup: A Conversation with inDinero Founder Jessica Mah

One of the biggest distractions for small-business owners has to be maintaining their books and their accounting. Attaining a firm for the business might be too expensive an endeavor, yet handling it by yourself takes away valuable time from growing your core business. Enter inDinero: a one-stop shop for all your bookkeeping needs. The company […]

The Sharing Economy CPA: An Interview with Derek Davis of Tabby

This is our latest interview with accountants who have gone on to found companies or firms after getting their start in public accounting or an industry position. If you want to suggest an accountant-turned-entrepreneur for this series, email us.    Services like Uber and Airbnb have seemingly come out of nowhere. They have changed the […]

PBCs Are NBD: A Conversation with Craig Baldwin and Ryan Watson of Sqrl

Ed. note: This is the second interview in a new series of conversations with accountants who have started a business. Whether it's a CPA firm, a coffee shop, or a mobile app, we're talking to accountants that have an entrepreneurial streak. If you want to suggest an accountant-turned-entrepreneur for this series, email us. For many […]

“Emerging Growth Company” Still Working on the “Emerging Growth” Part

Yesterday we discussed Ignite Restaurant Group, an emerging growth company ("EGC") under the JOBS Act, and their battles with financial reporting. Today we were introduced to another EGC, this time the company is WeRvaluecoupons.com who filed its Form S-1 with the SEC earlier this month. WeRvalue isn't quite as far along in the "emerging" process […]

The New York Times Has Some Helpful Suggestions For Non-Accounting Nerd Business Owners

And you guys had the nerve to talk smack about me trying to give inheritance advice yesterday. Pfft.

In a recent article entitled Basics of Accounting Are Vital to Survival for Entrepreneurs, the New York Times tells the tale of Bart Justice, an industrial engineer-turned-business owner who decided to start a mobile document shredding business in 2004 after a rash of new security laws. Justice got a loan from the bank, bought a mobile shredding truck, hired a driver and opened a shop in Huntsville, AL called Secure Destruction Service. Sounds good, no?

In its first year, the company had $70,000 in sales. Within four years, the company had annual revenue of $500,000, six employees and two offices. Again, that sounds great but revenue is not the same as equity or net worth, even a non-accounting nerd like me knows that much.

When he wanted to add another shredding truck, Justice went back to the bank and borrowed more money. The bigger he got, the more money he needed to borrow. Somehow, he didn’t understand that this borrowed money was not actually revenue and was, in fact, a liability as he had to pay it back at some point.

“I knew how to print a financial statement from QuickBooks, but I couldn’t tell you what it meant,” he said.

Fast-forward to 2008, when Justice joined a peer group for Christian business owners. “They would ask me questions about my numbers, and I didn’t know how to answer them,” he said. “They told me my business was going to fail unless I got a handle on paying down my debt.”

No shit, Sherlock, did you need a financial professional to tell you that?

Here’s the gist of the article: if small business owners don’t get number-crunching, put the money out and hire someone who does. What the NYT does not have the balls to suggest is that small business owners should stop saying “I hate accounting” because they think it’s still cute and go out and take an introductory accounting class or two. No one expects business owners to be able to pull analytics out of their asses but it can’t hurt to maybe at least understand that you want liabilities to be less than assets to stay alive.

Survey Says: Accountants and Small Businesses are Optimistic About the Future

It must be survey season so since you kids received the last one so well (surely I jest), we humbly present this latest survey of 1,217 Intuit small business and 1,200 Intuit accountant customers between Oct. 15 – 20, 2010. Thanks, Intuit!

The good news is that there really is no good news but that hasn’t put a damper on survey respondents’ view of things to come. It’s sort of exceptional, in our opinion, that 75 – 80% of respondents feel today’s economic climate is just fair or poor but more than that feel optimistic about opportunities in the future.

In a considerable showing of resilience, 65 percent of accounting professionals and 54 percent of small business owners said their companies grew in the last 12 months. Despite this growth, 75 percent of accounting professionals and 80 percent of small business owners rate today’s economic climate as “just fair” or “poor.”

Both groups expressed optimism for the future, with 94 percent of accounting professionals and 87 percent of small business owners seeing opportunities to grow their businesses in today’s economy.

Well if there are going to be new opportunities once things look up, where are they going to come from? According to respondents, news and technology are the key:

77 percent of accounting professionals said “access to industry news and/or trends” is the most important; “investing in new technology” ranked second.

73 percent of small business owners placed “marketing and/or advertising” as the most important; 57 percent said they plan to focus on “expanding their range of offerings.”

Funny, Sage just asked 533 accountants and IT professionals what keeps them up at night and they responded with getting new clients and regulatory compliance. For Intuit’s respondents, however, client retention ranked higher than finding new ones.

When asked what keeps them up at night, 32 percent of accounting professionals said “keeping clients happy.” For 26 percent of small businesses, “paying bills” is their number one concern.

Fine, so what does all this mean?

“Accounting professionals and small business owners are extremely adaptable and flexible individuals,” said Shawn McMorrough, lead research manager of Intuit’s Accounting Professionals Division. “Despite feeling the pinch in this challenging economic environment, they are optimistic and continue to weather the rapidly shifting business environment. Their unrelenting passion for serving their customers helps accounting professionals and small businesses succeed in the face of any challenge the market presents them.”

Should the rest of the world take that as a good sign that things aren’t as bad as Jr Deputy Accountant, Michael Panzner and the Mogambo Guru might make it seem? It looks that way, though the doomsayers are still in business for the foreseeable future. Yay?

Here’s More Evidence That Complying with Federal Regulations Is a Pain in the A$$ for Small Businesses

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

If you’ve suspected that complying with federal regulations is particularly onerous for small businesses, a new report from none other than the US Small Business Administration will provide you with plenty of new ammunition.

The report, called the Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms and written by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, estimates just how much it costs very small, smallish and big companies to follow the rules. The conclusion is that businesses with under 20 employees pay the most per worker–$10,585 per employee each year. The cost for businesses with 20 to 499 employees is $7,454 and for firms with 500 and more employees, $7,755.

The reason, of course, is the matter of fixed costs. A small business incurs about the same expense as a larger one. But the big guys can spread the expenses over more revenue, output, and employees, resulting in lower costs per unit of output.

The report, which looked at data from 2008, found that small businesses with under 20 employees pay the most to comply with environmental, tax, and occupational safety and health and homeland security regulations. Most notably, the cost per employee for environmental compliance is $4,101 compared to $883 for the biggest companies.


Clearly the unequal burden of regulatory compliance makes life a lot harder for small businesses and, in fact, serves to undercut their ability to compete. “This potentially causes inefficiencies in the structure of American enterprise, and the relocation of production facilities to less regulated countries, and adversely affects the international competitiveness of domestically produced American products and services,” says the report. “All of these effects, of course, would have negative consequences for the US labor market and national income.”

Still the report didn’t comment on the benefits of regulations. That’s another issue entirely. In fact, just because they cost a lot doesn’t therefore mean the rules shouldn’t exist. It does, however, indicate that something is very wrong with the way they’re applied–and that, for small companies to thrive, change is imperative.

According to the report, economic regulations, which include things like rules related to tariffs, are the only area where large firms have the highest cost. That is due, in part, to the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires agencies “to assess the effect of regulations on small businesses and to mitigate undue burdens, including exemptions and relaxed phase-in schedules.” The RFA, says the report, has been particularly effective in shielding small businesses from the cost of complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Seems there should be a significantly more concerted effort to exempt small businesses from certain regulations or, at least, to help with compliance efforts. Some 89 percent of all companies in the US employ fewer than 20 people. If the cost of complying with regulations is really egregiously high for the vast majority of companies simply due to their size, it’s incumbent upon the rule-makers to do something about it.

John Boehner: What Have You Done for American Families and Small Business Lately, Mr. President?

“If the President really wants to help small businesses, he should insist that Congress not leave town without cutting spending and stopping his tax hike to help create jobs – particularly small business jobs. By failing to act, the President is turning his back on American families and small businesses.”

~ The House Minority Leader, in a statement, nanoseconds after The President signed The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 into law.

Small Business Legislation Could Be a Boon for Small CPA Firms

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight–everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

Included in the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 – passed by the House of Representatives September 23 and the Senate September 16 – is the creation of a $30 billion lending fund that will utilize healthy cconduit to increase lending to small businesses – a provision that will generate $1 billion for the treasury, according to officials.

The fund also will provide $1.5 billion in grants to support at least $15 billion in new small-business lending through already successful state-run programs.

Among the $12 billion in tax breaks are a 100-percent exclusion of capital-gains tax on small-business investments made in 2010 and an increase in the maximum deduction for start-up expenditures in 2010 and 2011 – from $5,000 to $10,000.


“Naturally, any change in tax law stimulates our business in that we must provide the analysis of the bill and relay that information to our clients who may be affected,” Perry C. Barnett, CPA, partner responsible for business services for Gainesville, GA-based Rushton & Co. LLC, told AccountingWEB.

Douglas C. Smith, CPA, CVA, a partner with Lawrenceville, NJ-based Bartolomei Pucciarelli LLC, told AccountingWEB that he anticipates a significant increase in tax planning this year due to the provisions outlined in the bill, as well as modest improvement in the business of many of the firm’s clients.

“Almost any new tax legislation is a benefit to our firm, but fortunately, many of the provisions of the bill will benefit our clients, as well,” he added. “Since we are advocates of advanced planning, this bill provides us with the opportunity to make our clients aware of the upcoming changes and perform tax-planning engagements to guide them in implementation.”

While he does not see any significant changes in the firm’s accounting or auditing services as a result of the new legislation, Smith stated there will be consideration of additional accruals of penalties assessed on timely filing of information returns, as well as some impact on deferred taxes as it relates to the accelerated bonus depreciation provision.

The bonus depreciation provision is the most expensive tax break in the bill, weighing in at $5.4 billion over 10 years, but carrying an initial cost of $38 billion in its first two years, according to an analysis conducted by CCH Inc., a Wolters Kluwer business based in Riverwoods, IL, that provides tax, accounting, and auditing software and services.

The bill extends – through December 31, 2010 – 50-percent first-year bonus depreciation that had expired at the end of 2009. The extension is retroactive to January 1, 2010. The bill also extends through 2011 bonus depreciation allowed for property with a recovery period of 10 years or longer, such as personal property used to transport people or other property.

Small businesses will be allowed to write off up to $500,000 in capital expenditures in tax years 2010 and 2011. Under current law, the maximum deduction for tax years beginning in 2010 is $250,000.

Two other provisions in the bill that Smith believes will benefit his firm’s clients are: self-employed taxpayers will be allowed to deduct health-care costs for payroll tax purposes on 2010 returns, and participants in 401(k), 403(b), and 457 governmental plans will be permitted to roll over pretax account balances into a Roth account.

If an amount is rolled over in 2010, the amount is included ratably in income over a two-year period beginning with tax year 2011, according to the CCH analysis. The legislation also allows participants in state and governmental 457 plans to contribute deferred amounts to designated Roth accounts, effective for tax years beginning after 2010.

“Whenever we as CPAs are presented with the opportunity to educate our clients, it is a good thing,” Smith said. “There are many planning opportunities contained in the bill – ranging from the timing of a sale of small business stock, to planning the acquisitions of new equipment to take advantage of the expanded depreciation provisions, to planning the start of a new business that takes advantage of increased deductions for start-up expenses.

“Additionally, with benefits such as the deduction for health insurance when calculating self-employment income, out clients should be able to put a little extra money in their pockets, too,” Smith added.

Barnett agreed that the start-up expenses and the self-employed health insurance changes will benefit his firm’s clients, as well. However, he added that the continual increase in reporting requirements, especially the new requirement for filing Form 1099 scheduled to begin for 2011, could burden some small businesses.

“Based on this law and those in the works, each client will have to maintain a huge database of all vendor payments,” Barnett said. “We see this as a giant logjam for both the business and the IRS.

“The greatest impediment to business moving forward is being confident of what the tax laws are going to be in the future,” he continued. “Until Congress realizes that their indecision in estate taxes and personal income taxes is one of the greatest concerns of everyone, they will not get the economy on track.”

The House approved the bill in a 237-187 vote, while the Senate passed the bill by a 61-38 margin after Republican senators George LeMieux of Florida and George Voinovich of Ohio crossed party lines to support the legislation.

“This is about helping small business owners grow their operations, hire more workers, and help improve our economy,” LeMieux said in a statement. “Small business is the backbone of our economy, creating two out of every three jobs in our country. They need tax relief; they need access to capital. This bill will help achieve those goals and will not raise taxes or add to the national debt.”

Automatic IRA Act Will Be a Boon for Financial Services Companies; Small Business…Not So Much

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

There’s pending legislation in the Senate to require even tiny businesses that don’t already have a retirement plan to create an IRA for employees. Whether or not it will do much to help people save for their retirement in a meaningful way is debatable.

The bill, the Automatic IRA Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) mandates that businesses establish individual IRA accounts for all employees. Contributions would come from payroll deductions, so employers wouldn’t have to cough up any money themselves, and employees would be able to opt out. Accounts would be managed by banks, mutual funds, and insurance companies that already manage this type of account.


Also employers would have no ERISA fiduciary liability as long as they used a provider on a government-approved list. And there’s a default investment structure: a principal preservation fund for balances of less than $5,000 and a lifecycle fund for bigger accounts.

Seems reasonable, until you drill down further. First there’s the infinitesimal default deferral rate. That’s 3 percent. As a result, since employers aren’t even allowed a match, it’s unlikely employees will be able to save a whole lot. Also employers get a measly $250 tax credit to cover administrative costs.

Mostly this bill will be a potential goldmine for financial services companies, at least those on the official government list of approved providers. While each account will be small in aggregate, the amount will come to quite an attractive proposition for these businesses.

If there were any doubt about just what a windfall this could be, consider the provision for a gradual phase-in of the law. For example, in the first year, the bill will apply only to businesses with 100 or more employees. It won’t cover companies with less than 10 employees until year four.

But that provision wasn’t put there with the company owner in mind. Instead it’s all about the retirement services providers to help them “prepare for a significant expansion in the number of IRA accounts.”

To be sure, something needs to be done to boost the retirement savings rate in this country. With this bill, however, the real beneficiaries will be the usual suspects–big financial services companies.

Why Your Firm Needs a Social Media Policy

If you work for a larger firm, chances are you’ve already got a social media policy that encompasses everything your firm does not want you to do online. For smaller firms and private practices, a social media policy can be the very last thing management considers implementing, assuming you will use your better judgment when conducting yourself online and don’t need the rules laid out. Oftentimes this mentality comes more from management’s unfamiliarity with social media than anything else. If they don’t use Twitter, how can they tell you how to conduct yourself on it?

But your online social life isn’t the same as a cocktail party at which you are representing your firm. Should you be able to say whatever you want on Twitter after hours? Can you post pictures of yourself getting wasted on Facebook?


The line is cut and dry when you are at a firm event or at a client but are you expected to represent your firm even when tweeting on your own time? If your firm does not have a social media policy, the answer is you have no way to know until it’s too late and you’ve pissed off the boss.

For firms, not having a social media policy can open the company up to all sorts of tricky trouble. Without knowing exactly what is expected of them, employees are forced to use their own judgment when it comes to their online behavior. Most are smart enough not to bash the boss in 140 characters or post embarrassing holiday party photos on Facebook but what’s to stop them from starting a blog that management finds offensive or keep them from tweeting about their work life in general? Absolutely nothing.

With hyper-connected Gen Y more than established in the workplace, a social media policy makes even more sense. Very few us get through a day without a Facebook update or a tweet and for some of us, our online persona can be a point of contention with management. Case in point, yours truly and Jr Deputy Accountant. Working in the industry meant that I had to be careful not to needlessly bash firm failures (like PwC and Satyam), lest I ruffle any feathers that could connect my site to my employer. Sometimes a disclaimer is helpful – something along the lines of “my opinion is my own and independent of any personal or professional affiliations” – but without having clear lines drawn between how you behave at work and how you behave on your own time in front of the entire Internet, it can be difficult to know what’s appropriate and what is not.

Last week we gave you some tips to keep your online life safe in the event that you don’t have a social media policy but that doesn’t mean your boss gets a pass. A social media policy is always a good idea and in this day and age there’s no getting around it, it’s necessary.

Regulatory Uncertainty Leaves Small Businesses Reluctant to Hire

I know of only one small business owner who has confidently added staff throughout the recession and that’s only because A) he’s really cocky (in the best way, of course) and B) he absolutely needed to in order to survive. Lucky for him he ended up in a fairly recession-proof business and in fact, the recession has been kind as it has driven all sorts of new business to him as the unemployed and jaded look for new career options. But he’s a fluke success and not all small business owners can say they’ve weathered the last two years as well as he has.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher and former St Louis Fed President William Poole both feel the hiring problem is based not on the fact that businesses can’t afford it but because business owners are too unsure of the regulatory environment to confidently add staff. I am going to have to agree with them on this one.


Said Fisher in a recent speech:

For some time now in internal discussions with my colleagues at the Fed, I have ascribed the economy’s slow growth pathology to what I call “random refereeing”—the current predilection of government to rewrite the rules in the middle of the game of recovery. Businesses and consumers are being confronted with so many potential changes in the taxes and regulations that govern their behavior that they are uncertain about how to proceed downfield. Awaiting clearer signals from the referees that are the nation’s fiscal authorities and regulators, they have gone into a defensive crouch.

Case in point, Obamacare’s insidious 1099 requirement that we’ve covered plenty up to this point and will continue to cover so long as it threatens to cripple businesses with unnecessary busywork. The House had a chance to kick the requirement in the balls last with with the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act (H.R.5141) but failed to pass it, leaving us right back where we were*.

Business owners – and small business owners in particular as they tend to have less capital and fewer chances to “warehouse” out their employee insurance needs in bulk – are understandably reluctant to plug more money into the economy if they are unsure as to how much it’s going to cost just to hire on new staff. Many businesses could hire at this point but have chosen not to simply because they have no idea what sort of financial impact hiring will have on them in the future once new rules are fully written out and implemented.

Seems a bit counterproductive when we’re trying to claw our way out a recession, doesn’t it?

*Full Disclosure: JDA is long Caterpillar at this point in anticipation of the number of bulldozers that will be required just to keep up with the 1099 goodness. How is this helping the economy heal again?

Willing But Not Always Able: The Latest on Small Business Lending

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

We hear a lot from small businesses about how hard it is to get a loan and a lot from bankers that demand from credit-worthy borrowers is down. Now a new study provides insights into the situation, by exploring the top reasons why banks are turning down applicants, along with plenty of other data. And because it includes asset-based lenders and other funding sources, it offers a wider view of just what’s going on in the financing landscape.

The study, from researchers at Pepperdine University, surveyed 1,430 borrowers, lenders and investors, looking at changes over the past six months. Since the most detailed analysis focused on banks and asset-based lenders, here’s a look at the most salient points:


Banks – Demand certainly does seem to be down, judging from responses from the 56 banks studied. About 11 percent reported an increase in applications over the past six months compared to 77.2 percent who had a decrease. But the quality of borrowers is up, according to 55.6 percent of those surveyed. That’s compared to 22 percent who reported a drop. And the number of approvals? That’s gone through the roof. About 76.5 percent reported an increase.
What are the reasons for turning down applicants? Top on the list is quality of cash flow. Almost 25 percent cited that as the reason. And 20.8 percent pointed to quality of earnings.

Asset-based lenders – The 52 asset-based lenders reported the mirror opposite, at least when it comes to demand. Sixty percent had an increase in applications vs. 8.7 percent who experienced a decline. Also while more lenders reported a drop in the credit quality of applicants, a majority saw an increase in the quality of borrowers who were approved.

As you might expect, the top reason for rejecting an application was insufficient collateral (30 percent). “In the weak economic environment, the valuation of collateral is going down,” John Paglia, an associate professor at Pepperdine and author of the study, said to me. Second on the list was quality of earnings (15.8 percent).

What’s it all mean? For one thing, asset-based lenders are attracting more interest from prospective borrowers, but the economy has done a number on their most important criteria, collateral. As for bankers, it seems they’re on the level when they say they want to make loans, but they can’t find suitable prospects.

Apparently when they do get a live one, bankers are more than ready to lend.

TurboTax Jockey Tim Geithner Says Tax Increases Won’t Hurt Small Businesses a Bit

The top individual tax rate is scheduled to jump to 39.6% on January 1, 2011. To those of us who do private business tax returns for a living, one effect is obvious: this will raise the tax rate on LLC and S corporation income.

But now Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that all my small business clientsthy rich law partners and CEOs (my emphasis):

Ninety-seven percent of small businesses in this country would not pay a penny more due to letting these upper-income tax rates expire.

Now some have argued that even if only a few percent of small business owners make over $250,000, these few make up a vast amount of supposedly small business income.

This argument apparently counts anyone who receives any type of partnership or business income as if they were a small business.

By this standard, every partner in a major law firm and every principal in a major financial institution would count as a separate small business. A CEO who has board fees or speech fees would also count as a small business owner under this overly broad definition.

Well yes, Timmy, “some” have argued for that “overly broad definition” — your friends who say 97% of small businesses won’t be affected by the scheduled tax increase. A 2009 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a source of the talking point that only a tiny fraction of businesses will be affected by the expiration of the tax increase. They define a small business 1040 as:

…any tax unit that receives any income (or loss) from a sole proprietorship, farm proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or rental income.

So while a CEO who has board fees will count as a separate small business — as will President Obama, for that matter — so will every taxpayer that has a schedule C, schedule E or Schedule F. Your office Mary Kay girl or Shacklee dealer counts as a small business. Everybody who moonlights and reports their income is a small business. Everybody who rents out a duplex or vacation home counts, as does every taxpayer who holds, even briefly, an interest in a publicly-traded oil and gas partnership.

So how much small business economic activity will be hit by the increase in the top rate? A lot more than 3%. The center-left Tax Policy Center estimates that 44.3% of taxable income of these “small businesses” will be hit with next year’s scheduled tax increase (hat tip: Howard Gleckman). That seems low, if anything, based on what I see in practice.

It’s the successful, growing and profitable S corporations and partnerships that push their owners into the top tax brackets. Growing businesses typically distribute only enough income to owners to cover taxes — either by inclination or by agreements with lenders. Their remaining earnings go into growing the business or paying off the bank. If you increase their taxes, it either reduces growth and hiring or their ability to service their debt — neither of which does much for the economy.

When Tim Geithner says that the only people who will get hit by his tax increase are rich lawyers and director fee millionaires, it may tell us something about his social world. It tells us nothing about how the tax increase will hit business owners.

Land Yachts and the Tax Law: Four Tips to Avoid “At-Risk” Pitfalls

If there’s one thing the economy offers to businesses nowadays, it’s opportunities to lose money. As unpleasant as that is, it at least will reduce your taxes, right?

Maybe.

Even tax loss parties have their poopers, and the “At-risk rules” of Code Sec. 465 are as poopy as can be. Drafted to fight the first generation of retail tax shelters in the 1970s, these rules have faded into obscurity, but remain available for annoyingly competent IRS agents to wield against your loss deductions. The rules are supposed to defer losses when it’s really the lender on the hook for them, rather than the nominal owner of the money-losing activity. The losses carry forward to offset future income on the activity, or gain on a sale someday.


These rules pooped all over the tax loss of CTI Leasing, an LLC owned by Kieth Roberts, an Indiana man, to lease trucks to his trucking company. He loanded the LLC $425,000 to buy a “Vantare H3-45 Super S2” RV. The Tax Court says “Vantare RVs are custom-built, fully furnished, luxury coach RVs known for their ‘yacht quality fit and finish.'”

The leasing business cranked out tax losses. The IRS disallowed $425,000 of them on the grounds that the $425,000 loan didn’t give the LLC owner “at-risk” basis in his leasing activity. The Tax Court said the taxpayer failed to show that the land yacht was used in the truck leasing business or was owned by it, so the $425,000 wasn’t “at-risk” in the leasing activity.

Not every business can afford a nice land yacht, but they all can lose money. Some pointers to help keep you from trippng over the at-risk rules:

• If your loan is “non-recourse” — if you don’t pay, all the lender can do is repossess the property — that’s an at-risk rule red flag.

• Limited partners and LLC members are likely to face at-risk issues; the whole point of a “limited liability company” is to limit owner liability, after all.

• Be careful of loans from related parties. If you borrow from the wrong person, the tax law will treat the loan as not “at-risk,” even if you borrow from a business partner who might leave you under an end-zone somewhere if you don’t pay up.

• If you are in the real-estate business, “qualified” non-recourse debt – generally third-party commercial loans – are O.K. under the at-risk rules.

If you trip over the at-risk rules, your losses may not be gone forever. Form 6198 tracks your deferred losses, and you can lose them if your activity generates income someday.

Joe Kristan is a shareholder of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, author of the Tax Update Blog and Going Concern contributor. You can see all of his posts for GC here.

The AICPA Goes to Bat for Small Business; Requests Repeal of Expanded 1099 Reporting

In these pages last week, we brought up the expanded 1099 reporting requirements that could possibly bury some small busineocumentation. The question remains, how big is this pile? Will it require a shovel to dig out of the pile of paper or a bulldozer?

Based on the AICPA’s letter to the U.S. Senate that made the rounds yesterday, it will require a team of angry Ohioans – all with their own dozer – to unbury small business owners.


Alan Einhorn, the Chair of the AICPA’s Tax Executive Committee wrote the letter and in extremely tactful terms, expresses his discontent, “[W]e believe section 9006 of the Act should be repealed because the provision imposes extremely burdensome information reporting requirements on business taxpayers that cannot be justified in terms of the limited utility such information reports will provide to government.”

Adrienne boils that down in a less tactful manner, “You don’t have to be a CPA to see why this is a completely moronic idea. What happened to paperwork reduction? I love the use of ‘extremely burdensome’ – as most of you probably know, it’s got to be REALLY annoying to get the accountants to bust out the ‘extremely’ in a complaint.”

She makes a good point. Not to get all English-y on you but the adverb “extremely” doesn’t exactly make it a more effective sentence. Alan was clearly going for exaggeration in order to get his point across that this portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the most useless section of the entire act. And for some of you, that’s really saying something.

AICPA Letter to Congress Supporting Repeal of Expanded 1099 Reporting by Businesses

Local Man’s Brief Big 4 Experience, Stick-Shift Driving Abilities, Lead to Niche Accounting Firm

John Finn worked at KPMG in the early to mid-90s. He got into the field because he loved accounting. John discovered what many Big 4 types discover which is the job “involved more travel and schmoozing than it did accounting.” Since he wasn’t feeling it, he jumped ship in ’95, moved to New York and decided to get into showbiz. He landed his first gig doing the books for a film called Sleeping Together and since he could drive a standard transmission, he got to buzz around in the equiptment truck.

It turns out, that John’s marginal experience (three years) in Big 4 turned out to be way – WAY – more than most “accountants” in the movie business:

While he began his solo career with only three years of accounting experience under his belt — none of it in film accounting — inexperience turned out not to be an issue in the industry. “What I found out was that most of my peers were not trained as accountants,” he says. “They were failed screenwriters who really wanted to be in the business. I had a leg up on them because accounting was second nature to me. If you polled the accountants in the business, I would say that nearly half don’t have accounting degrees.”

Word must have gotten around about a real-life accountant doing the books for movie projects and in 1998, he founded JFA, Inc. to handle the expanding empire. That empire also includes IndiePay, a payroll software company that he founded to deal with the ‘archaic’ bookkeeping that was rampant in the industry.

On top of all this, John is in a band, Pispoure’, and wrote a song about how much he loves accounting. The song plays on a loop over at JFA’s website and before you assume that this another accountant failing miserably to exhibit any musical ability, it should be noted that he’s actually a decent songwriter. Anyone that comes up the lyric, “In order to get laid, you must impress our filing clerk,” is a natural talent in our book.

Leaving Big Accounting Firm for Hollywood [The Street.com]

How Big of a Burden Will the New 1099 Reporting Requirements Be for Small Businesses?

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Slipped into the health care reform bill passed in March was a new tax reporting regulation likely to create a huge burden for businesses, something we wrote about recently. Now a government watchdog, the National Taxpayer Advocate, is questioning the rule’s potential unintended consequences for small companies.

Plus, it looks like the regulation won’t raise a heck of a lot of money anyway.


The rule would require anyone with business income to issue 1099 tax forms to all vendors from whom they bought more than $600 worth of goods and services that year.

In her report, Nina Olson, the Taxpayer Advocate, warned that the rule could prove to be an unacceptable added burden for small businesses, which would face a virtual cyclone of new paperwork to comply with the regulation. “The new reporting burden, particularly as it falls on small businesses, may turn out to be disproportionate as compared with any resulting improvement in tax compliance,” she wrote. And the rule could also give an unfair advantage to large suppliers that have the resources to help customers track purchases.

What’s really going on here? The regulation, which would take effect in 2012, seems to be yet another attempt by federal and state government agencies to shore up revenues by cracking down on unpaid tax liabilities–and taking steps that intentionally or unintentionally impact small businesses in particular. For example, a bevy of agencies, plus Congress, are on a regulatory jihad against corporate misclassification of independent contractors. And there are reports that the IRS is especially eyeing small businesses in that crackdown.

Thing is, like that effort, the new 1099 tax reporting regulation isn’t likely to reap a whole lot of money. For example, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation recently estimated the rule would raise an underwhelming $2 billion annually in added revenue, according to CNNMoney.com.

Will the Taxpayer Advocate’s remarks have any effect? Even before Olson’s report, there were signs that the IRS had started to backtrack. For example, the IRS announced in May that the rule won’t include transactions made through credit and debit cards. As the tax agency addresses all the compliance complexities of the rule, it’s likely to make other changes, as well.

But with government agencies in desperate need of money, the reporting rule isn’t going to disappear completely.

Are Big Banks Really Helping Small Business?

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

In the latest move by a big bank to make itself into a friend to small business, Chase recently announced a program to offer incentives to small companies for hiring. But the actual benefit to most small businesses is hard to see.


Specifically, the bank will lower its interest rate on new lines of credit by 0.5 percentage points for each new hire, up to three employees, for the life of the loan. The offer is available to business owners who are approved for a line of credit of up to $250,000 or existing business customers who increase their line of credit by at least $10,000. And if you open a business checking account, you get an additional half percent discount on your loan rate.

A typical interest rate on a line of credit is 6 percent. According to the bank, if you choose the whole ball of wax – take the discount for three hires and open a checking account – you’ll lower that to 4 percent. And counting the discount for a new checking account, small business owners can save about $4,000 over three years on an outstanding balance of about $65,000.

Trouble is, that’s an offer most businesses are likely to refuse. Those already planning to hire and that are in good health might take advantage of the deal. In fact, they’d be silly not to. But the offer is hardly enough to inspire a business to hire if it wasn’t going to do so already.

What the offer might accomplish is to help Chase seem like a nice institution, not the greedy enterprise that helped bring down the economy. And it’s hardly the only attempt by Chase, or other banks, to do something to lift their image, something I’ve written about before. For example, last year, Chase unveiled plans to increasing lending to small businesses by $4 billion to a total of $10 billion. Bank of America recently said it would buy more from small businesses. In May, Citicorp launched a $200 million fund to boost small-business lending in low-income communities. And of course, last year, Goldman Sachs announced its own $500 million small-business fund.

It’s also a way to attract healthy businesses at a time when loan demand is down.

So a win-win for Chase. Not so much for small businesses.

Small Business Amendment to Financial Reform Bill Draws Mixed Feelings

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

The financial reform bill contains a small-business related amendment that hasn’t received a lot of attention. And it’s either very small-business friendly or very unfriendly, depending on whom you listen to.

Sponsored by Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Small Business Committee, it directs the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take into account how proposed regulations would affect the cost of credit to small companies. It also mandates that the bureau be covered by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.

That law, until now, has applied only to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s aimed at policing proposed regulations that could have a “significant impact on a substantial number of small entities.” In that case, a special government panel has to consult with small businesses who could be affected by the law to see just how they think it could hurt them.


Opponents, like the Consumer Federation, objected to the amendment on the grounds that it required the consumer bureau to consult with the very businesses it regulates. And they said it would slow down the regulatory process, thereby hurting small businesses that need fast access to credit to finance their operations.

On the other hand, such odd organizations as the National Federation of Independent Business–which didn’t much like a whole lot about the rest of the bill–supported the amendment, presumably because they liked including small businesses in the rule-making process.

Who’s right? It’s undoubtedly true that the amendment allows–requires–that the consumer bureau seek input from the folks it’s supposed to regulate. But the bureau doesn’t have to pay attention if it thinks the input lacks merit. The law only says that “Where appropriate, the agency shall modify the proposed rule.” It doesn’t say the bureau is required to modify the proposed rule.

And in the few occasions when a special panel was convened to deal with OSHA and EPA issues, the officials did their work well within the 60-day limit the law requires, according to Rob Mandelbaum in the You’re the Boss blog.

So, on balance, it’s not a bad thing.

Will Small Business Support Obama on Alternative Energy?

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Looks like President Obama could have an unexpected ally in his push for alternative forms of energy: small business.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a study of 800 small business owners and their attitudes towards clean-energy policies conducted by several groups, including Small Business Majority, a small-business advocacy organization.

The study found that most small-business owners support having a clean-energy policy and think the right moves can jumpstart the economy and create jobs.


Specifically, 50 percent back clean energy and climate legislation that would “limit pollution, invest in clean-energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean-energy sources” and “put a price on carbon emissions from energy sources like coal and oil, so companies would have to pay if they release these emissions into the air.” And 61 percent feel that moving the country to adopt new, alternative forms of energy is a viable way to restart economic growth.

That’s in spite of the fact that nearly two-thirds think a new energy and climate policy would increase their costs–quite something, considering the really small size of most of the respondents, 79 percent of whom have five or fewer employees.

Still, the majority also would be more likely to support new legislation if they received government incentives to help reduce the costs of introducing energy-efficiency improvements. For example, 62 percent would support a bill if it included interest-free loans for upgrades. Fifty-two percent would be more likely to back legislation if they received grants or subsidies for energy improvements and if they had access to free training or consultation on how to profit from the emerging clean-energy industry.

Of course, other studies have come up with notably different conclusions. Early this year, for example, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found that 66 percent of small-business owners and managers oppose a federal cap-and-trade system.

But if Small Business Majority is correct, then, if he plays his cards right, Obama might wind up with significant small-business support at a time when he’s going to need it badly.

The Fed’s Report on Small Business and Credit Card Reform Fails to Impress

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

When Congress voted not to cover small businesses under the credit card reform bill last year, they asked the Federal Reserve to study the issue and report back in May. A few weeks late, the Fed recently came out with its report.

Those who support not giving small businesses with 50 or fewer employees the same protections provided to consumers claim the findings support their view.

But the real bottom line is this: The findings aren’t conclusive either way.


That’s not to say the report doesn’t present a few definite opinions about the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act. (Yes, the acronym is CARD).

For example, it supports extending the standardization of disclosure rules about account terms to small business, saying it would help companies compare credit card plan costs.

It also opposes limiting bank’s ability to adjust interest rates. The thinking is that it’s more difficult for banks to assess the riskiness of small business borrowers than consumers. Plus small companies tend to need more credit. As a result, curbing the ability to raise rates “may lead to higher initial interest rates, which would harm those firms that borrow on small-business credit cards.”

So that sounds pretty definitive. It isn’t. The bill provides “substantive” protections against certain practices, from raising interest rates to charging penalties. But, the report barely touches on the rest of the bill, such as provisions that limit fees and the ability to tinker with payment deadlines.

Perhaps, in a rush to meet their deadline, or not miss it too badly, the Fed simply didn’t have time to get to the rest of the bill. But it means that they failed to provide a conclusive, comprehensive direction to Congress.

And by focusing on just one or two provisions, they created the false impression that they’ve really weighed in on the bill—thereby giving the bank lobby bogus ammunition with which to declare victory.

In fact, while bank lobbyists were ecstatic about the interest rate recommendation, not every bank is on board. Bank of America recently announced that it would give small businesses the same protections consumers get under the bill. According to Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, a spokesperson said that the move won’t hurt its ability to extend credit.

AICPA: CFOs Want More Input from Auditors on IT Matters

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Certified Public Accountants are increasingly being asked to solve information technology problems for clients and prospective clients, according to a survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

But that raises a potential conflict of interest of the sort that led the Securities and Exchange Commission to keep auditing and IT consulting separate. The pressure for auditors to help provide IT solutions will persist nonetheless, says the AICPA.


“The tide has really turned this year with the economy and increasing regulations,” said Joel Lanz, co-chair of the AICPA’s Technology Initiatives task force in a prepared statement.

“As small and medium-sized companies increasingly place IT under their chief financial officers, it’s becoming much more of a broad scope of responsibility,” added Ron Box, Lanz’s co-chair.

With a renewed focus on IT-related issues, the survey makes clear that CPAs need to be literate about information technology in order to collaborate effectively with clients and their IT partners.

Data security clearly is driving the new interest, and CPAs believe the issue will persist in importance for years, the survey suggests.

The biggest surprise from the survey, Lanz told CFOZone, is the fact that “CPAs are not only providing guidance on financial issues, but there is an expectation by audit committees that CPAs could advise on different IT governance issues. CPAs are now commenting to audit committees about business operations in addition to pure financial issues.”

It’s not that CPAs are expected to be the technology expert, but the expectation is that the CPA is able to provide business insight and IT guidance which then enables their clients to effectively leverage their technology to enhance the businesses value, he added.

Is this simply recreating the problem that led to the separation post-Enron and WorldCom of audit services from consulting, much of which was IT oriented? There’s the potential for a conflict of interest here, and a slippery slope toward bad audits as result. SEC rules specifically say audit firms cannot provide IT consulting services on matters that relate to financial reporting for the same client. And the audit committee must sign off on other types of consulting services.

Lanz concedes that CPAs will have to be careful. “It is a fine line,” said Janis Parthun, senior technical manager – IT, for AICPA, but she added that CPAs can help companies avoid problem here. “Sometimes audit committees do need some education in these areas and this is where they can reach out to CPAs that have some understanding of IT to give the audit committee options to make the right decision.”

Lanz adds says that the AICPA has helped on this front with some recent guidelines. “Recent standards provide CPAs with specific criteria for when they need to communicate with audit committees, as well as the type of communication required,” he said.

A spokesman for the Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment on the trend.

The Technology Productivity Bureau Accounts for All Stakeholders

We all know about getting a credit rating. Whether it’s for a personal credit card, a supply chain vendor authorization, or the much maligned oligarchy who rate public companies and entire nations. Based on alion, a score is developed that (attempts) to capture the inherent risk of a credit failure.

How much could firms benefit from getting a Technology Productivity Rating?

What is the risk of a technology failure?

If an objective ratings agency existed that scored a company’s use of technology, how well would other people score your company? Who is the ‘Greece’ of technology?


To rate technology productivity, the rating has to encompass the entire organization and the way in which technology extends to external stakeholders (customers, suppliers, staff, etc). Optimal productivity from technology doesn’t simply mean newest technology. It’s not just about what technology a company uses that matters. It’s about how the technology is used. I met with a colleague in the technology industry recently who went so far as to say there’s still times when a FAX is the optimal technology for a task. It depends on the potential outcomes and workflows.

To date, I think the focus of technology productivity has been too inwardly focused in companies. Companies say, ‘How can this technology benefit us?’ instead of looking at the workflow effects for external stakeholders too. Granted, most organizations are completely overwhelmed simply by this one-sided approach. But if you look closely at some productivity software, part of the “technology” benefit is actually a workflow transfer to external parties. If I had to rate the technology, the score would decline in the event of workflow transfer being masqueraded as technology.

For example, look at productivity tools around supply chain management and recruitment:

Supply Chain Management
As a means to increase productivity, big companies implement supply chain management systems that effectively transfer the burden for account administration to the vendor companies (sometimes they even charge a fee!). For the implementing company, it is great. All the vendor information is keypunched and filed away into the database for free.

The system integrates with the ERP for invoice approvals all the way to point of payment. The internal technology productivity score is high. For the vendor, every new customer could conceivably mean a similar routine resulting is a productivity loss and therefore would rate the technology lower. A vendor with a lot of customers practically needs a Mechanical Turk just for the data entry!

Seeing these scores could be really beneficial when vendors are choosing what customers to prioritize.

Recruitment
Recruitment technology can be burdensome to external stakeholders while being helpful to internal stakeholders in a similar way. The key to recruitment technology is capturing candidate data to enable filtering and search. Some technology in this field is simply transferring the data entry task to the candidate. Each candidate types out their life story field by field, row by row. From the company standpoint, they see the output of the technology. It is good. From the candidate standpoint, they see a time sink.

Taken in isolation, this candidate time commitment is not a big deal. One candidate typing their qualifications one time in response to one job posting is fine. But what happens when the candidate is applying at a dozen jobs? Two dozen? At what point does the opportunity cost of doing a whole bunch of data entry deter the brightest candidates from these particular employers?

The brightest candidates will apply to the companies that DON’T require a massive typing drill first, selecting away from this less productive technology until it’s unavoidable. The overall technology productivity score would take this into account.

For a company purchasing new technology, understanding the opportunity costs both from your perspective and that of external stakeholders and developing a Technology Productivity Rating may not become a formal process. There is no Technology Productivity Bureau, or least, there isn’t anymore. There was… for a short time… an idea before its time… may it rest in peace.

Perhaps it’s enough to look at it from a more macro-level. Ask yourself, is my business technology liberating for stakeholders or, or are they being repressed? Then, act accordingly.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

New Healthcare Tax Credit Should Help Small Businesses, Nonprofits

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

The Internal Revenue Service recently released some information to help companies take advantage of a tax credit provided by the health reform law.

The IRS estimates that about 4 million businesses qualify, and is sending out notices to as many as possible advising them of the tax break. If you haven’t received anything but believe your company may qualify, here’s what you should know:


The credit is available to companies with fewer than 25 employees with average wages of $50,000 or less. The full credit goes to companies with 10 or fewer employees and average annual wages of $25,000 or less. It is not available to self-employed individuals.

The credit covers 35 percent of an employer’s contribution to employee health premiums, so long as that doesn’t exceed 35 percent of the average cost of a health plan in the small group market. For a tax-exempt organization, the credit is 25 percent. Once the health exchanges are set up, the credit increases to 50 percent for businesses and 35 percent for nonprofits. At that time, the credit will only be available to companies purchasing insurance through the exchange.

A company can use the credit to reduce income tax owed and can carry the credit forward 20 years or back one year after 2010. Nonprofits can use the credit against withholding and Medicare taxes owed on behalf of their employees.

A key caveat is that employers must pay for half of the premium. For most workers, especially low-wage employees, a company that does not pay for at least half the premium is offering insurance that is essentially unaffordable. Even 50 percent is most likely not enough to do low-wage workers much good, especially at small companies where health care premiums are more expensive.

The amount of the credit is based on the premiums an employer pays for, so the more generous the coverage, the greater the credit. While premiums paid for owners and their families cannot be counted, those paid for seasonal workers can be. And the IRS has defined “premiums” broadly: not only does it cover premiums for standard medical insurance but it also applies to dental, long-term care and vision insurance-though again, an employer must pay 50 percent of each premium to count it toward the credit.

Calculating the credit probably requires any small employer to consult an accountant to see if the benefits are worth the cost of providing insurance. The tax credit is in effect, allowing employers who are already thinking about health insurance for their employees to factor in the savings as they plan ahead.

As an observer, I think the key issue is whether the credit is enough to offset the rising cost of health insurance. Those costs have hit small employers the hardest. We’ll see if the tax credit makes a difference in reversing the trend among small employers of dropping health insurance for their employees altogether.

S Corp Shareholders Are Going to Have Basis Issues at Year End – Four Things for Them to Keep in Mind

When somebody repays a loan, that’s not income to the lender, is it? It can be when a shareholder loans money to an S corporation. New York businessmen Ira and Sheldon Nathel learned that the hard way in court this week. Ira and Sheldon each owned shares in food distributors that were set up as S corporations. When you own an S corporation you may deduct corporate losses on your 1040, but only if you have basis in your S corporation stock or in loans you have made to the corporation (guarantees of corporate debt don’t work).

Yes, there’s a catch. When you take S corporation losses, they reduce your basis — first in your stock, then in your loans. Subsequent income, including tax-exempt income, restores your basis in your debt andr. If you repay a loan with reduced basis, you have taxable income to the extent the repayment exceeds your basis.


At the end of 2000, IRA and Sheldon each loaned $649,775 to one of their S corporations. That enabled them to take losses of $537,228 or so, leaving them with $112,547 in remaining loan basis. That would have been fine if they had waited patiently until S corporation income had restored their basis. Their patience ran out in February 2001, when they repaid the loan in full.

They may have had second thoughts. In August 2001 Ira and Sheldon each made a capital contribution to the S corporation — $537,228, coincidentally. They then took a novel position on their 2001 tax returns. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals takes up the story:

In calculating their 2001 taxes, the Nathels treated their capital contributions… as constituting “tax-exempt income” to the corporations for the purposes of § 1366(a)(1)(A). Therefore, because the Nathels’ bases in their stock previously had been reduced to zero and because their bases in the loans they made to the corporations were also reduced, the Nathels used their capital contributions to restore their bases in the loans pursuant to § 1367(b)(2)(B). Without such an increase in their bases, the petitioners would have been taxed on the ordinary income that would have resulted from the corporations’ repayment of the petitioners’ loans in amounts above the petitioners’ previously reduced bases.

The IRS didn’t buy the idea that a capital contribution was some sort of income. They said a capital contribution increases capital, not debt, and is allocable to stock basis. That meant $537,228 in ordinary taxable income. Unfortunately for Ira and Sheldon, the Tax Court, and now the Second Circuit, continue to recognize the capital/income distinction that has been around for approximately forever.

The economy being what it is (still crappy), lots of S corporation shareholder are going to have basis problems at year end. They should keep a few points in mind:

Basis is necessary to deduct losses, but it isn’t sufficient – Your basis has to be “at-risk” and you have to clear the maze of the “passive loss” rules.

Use caution when repaying loans – When you make a year-end loan to your S corporation to enable you to deduct losses, repaying the loan will trigger taxable income until the loan basis is restored by subsequent S corporation income.

“Open account” loans can be trickyRegulations split “open account” debt into separate “loans” when the loan amounts exceed $25,000. That means fluctuating open account balances during the tax year can lead to taxable income, even if the balance ends up higher at year end than it was at the start of the year.

Related party issues – It’s dangerous to borrow from one S corporation you control and loan the funds to another one. The IRS likes to attack such loans as lacking substance.

So Ira and Sheldon get to write some big checks to the IRS. They have the consolation of having $537,228 more basis in their stock, to offset other income somewhere, somehow, someday.

Joe Kristan is a shareholder of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, author of the Tax Update Blog and Going Concern contributor. You can see all of his posts for GC here.

Customer Relationship Management – Know Your Customer, Know Yourself

The first rule of business is “know your customer.” So, how do you do that?

This is the question that brings you into the field of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I remember working in a tax firm back in the early 2000s and all client correspondence was hardcopy in the file. Our “CRM system” was rows of filing cabinets.

A sales forecast? rked at a company where the sales forecast was an excel spreadsheet that physically gave me vertigo just looking at it. Updating that thing was like a game of Tetris.


A “real” CRM system consolidates all of your company’s customer interactions and sales activities into one database. It enables sales and marketing to detail the entire sales process from Lead to Close. And now it’s the difference between “knowing your customer” and living in the dark ages.

I only started seeing these systems spring up in mid-sized businesses a few years ago. How much are you guys seeing CRM out there now? Does your CRM system integrate with your other business systems? Or is it more of a Contact Manager?

For example, I have seen an instance where the CRM software operated as its own sphere of information. Then, we had the company financial information as its own separate sphere. To connect the sales pipeline info (from the CRM) to the financial results was a manual task.

I’m throwing it out there because my own experience with CRM in the SMB/SME space is limited to using Salesforce.com. I spoke about them briefly when I introduced Saas and Cloud Computing a few weeks ago. I must sound like a Salesforce salesperson but I’m not. I just found that Salesforce 1) put CRM on the radar for the SME I was working for at the time and 2) was inexpensive and easy to deploy.

The other main Saas CRM play is Sugar CRM. Both Salesforce and Sugar CRM have free versions. A very small business could probably operate on the free version for ever. Most mid-sized businesses could use the free version to test the fit of the product’s process flows before committing to rolling it out throughout the business.

In large enterprise, the CRM is probably big enough to just be called “the system”. Let’s say you are working for a bank or an insurance company. “The system” knows things. Next time you are speaking to a call center representative, ask for a summary of your own history. You might be surprised what details are lurking within the system. These can be simply contact histories or can also incorporate decision-making capabilities (i.e. loan or credit card approvals).

Retailers capitalize on this technology through the use of Loyalty Programs.

The real power behind CRM, for those not currently using this type of software, is the ability to clarify the sales pipeline and to consolidate customer interaction. You can detail right from Cold Call to Close and you can get the analytics to visualize the process too.

We’re right on the cusp of even bigger innovations in this field. Just look at some of the things Google is doing right now with respect to data and data visualizations (Google TrendsGoogle public dataGoogle Analytics). Sentiment analysis is appearing to gain traction as well. To blow all that out into the CRM realm means really powerful insight into customer behavior.

The success or failure of the CRM is linked directly to the quality of data in the system. This is where the “know yourself” bit comes into play. Where you can automate, do so. Trusting a salesperson to voluntarily do data entry is like trusting your road-trip navigation to a poet. Not good. Again, great strides continue to be made here. Between the increasing migration of transactions and activities online, and the tools allowing for Salesforce Automation (SFA), the direct maintenance on this type of system can be minimized.

For those of you unfamiliar with CRM technology, maybe you’re working in smaller companies or companies with a legacy of paper-based CRM, Saas solutions like Salesforce and Sugar CRM are worth checking out. It’s a place to start. And it’s free to start.

We would really like to hear from you on this issue as well. What has your experience been with CRM?

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

How Much Can Switching to Cloud Computing Save Your Business? Ask Google’s Cloud Calculator

Still blindly dismissing the benefits of cloud solutions for your small business? Fine. But at least crunch the numbers.

Using the Go Google cloud calculator, any sized business, at any stage in its life can calculate the savings by switching to, in this case, Google Apps:


As you noticed, you can change the assumptions for your own company including the number of employees, your IT Manager’s salary, the size of your employees’ inboxes are and more to calculate not only money saved but time saved. At the end of the little Q&A, you can present your findings to your business partners and employees to evangelize your great idea.

Take a test drive into the cloud [Google Blog]

HR 4213: Soon-to-be the Worst Tax Enactment of the New Decade?

“The S corporation tax increase in HR 4213 is a mess and should not be enacted.”

~ Joe Kristan, on the legislation that will hit small business with a 2.9% medicare tax increase.

Will Self-insured Companies Bear the Brunt of Rising Healthcare Costs?

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

The employer-sponsored health care system provides health insurance to more than 60 million people–but it does not exist in a vacuum. Employers are often reminded of this fact when their health care costs go up each year. Factored into that cost increase are premiums employers pay to hospitals to help those institutions provide care to the uninsured.

Two years ago the actuarial firm Milliman put a price tag on this cost-shifting: employers pay an additional $1,115 more for a family of four’s health insurance to make up for this loss. That totals about $88 billion annually.


This cost-shifting is once again becoming an issue as the federal government looks to provide insurance to people who cannot otherwise get it because they are considered high-risk.

States have for years created high-risk pools to separate the people with especially high health care costs from the rest of the population. Normally these folks can’t get insurance. The high risk pool absorbs some of the cost to insurers.

Now the federal government is getting in on the action, in large part to address the issue that insurers regularly refuse to issue insurance to some people or they do so at rates that are prohibitively high.

A new analysis on so-called high risk insurance pools that the federal government will set up as soon as July as a result of health reform makes the point that the money allotted will run out much sooner than originally thought. Instead of covering as many as 7 million people who could qualify there will likely be enough money to cover about 200,000 annually. This is not surprising. The need is always greater; the funds always inadequate.

So what does this all mean for employers?

It appears one step removed. But, as employers know, the health care system is fragmented yet, in the end, someone – either the federal government or employers – ends up paying the cost. In the analysis, published by the Center for Studying Health System Change, the authors point out that states with high risk pools currently do not assess self-insured employer plans.

Under the federal law this will change. Employers will face an assessment. One possibility is that the assessment will have to go up in order to increase the amount of money in the pot. The other of course is to limit who can get access to the high risk pools.

It remains to be seen what kind of conflict this issue will provoke. Like many other aspects of the new health care reform, it has the potential to fade away or to metastasize into something problematic.

But one thing remains likely: costs will continue to go up. The question is who will pay for these costs? If these assessments are any sign, it will be insurers and self-insured employers.

Memo to CFOs: Layoffs, Frozen Salaries Don’t Always Save the Most Money

Layoffs, pay freezes, pay cuts. Pretty simple cost cutting solutions for CFOs who’ve got tight budgets. Unfortunately, the slash and burn tactics for personnel may have been better applied in another area – inventory.

A recent survey performed by Greenwich Associates of midsized and small company “financial decision-makers” found that, in particular, midsized companies ($10 million to $500 million in revenue) that reduced their inventory, on average, saved 30% more ($520k inventory vs. $400 layoffs).

While that’s great news, the unfortunate part is that only 17% of the companies survey bothered with that particular cost saving strategy while 47% of those survey used “staffing reductions.”


The survey also found that while 37% of used pay freezes to reduced costs with an averaged savings of $245,000. Crunching the numbers, that’s nearly 53% less savings than the inventory reduction savings.

Of course, not all companies have inventory in the dusty-stacks-of-pallets-in-a-warehouse sense. This is especially true of the professional services/financial services area where, unfortunately, the staff are sometimes considered to be inventory.

Lesson from the Downturn: Cut Inventory, Not People [CFO]

Mario Armstrong: Cloud Computing, SaaS, Social Media Are Tools for All Small Businesses to Consider

Earlier this week we got the chance to speak with Mario Armstrong, on-air tech contributor for NPR’s Morning Edition and tech contributor to CNN. We discussed several technology issues, including SaaS and social media, for small businesses to consider to mark National Small Business Week.

There you have it! Cloud solutions, SaaS, social media. They’re all important tools for small business owners. You can spend your weekend boning up.

Doing Penance for John Edwards’ Sins: Provision Could Hit “Skilled” S Corp Owners

Long before John Edwards became known as a well-coiffed skirt-chasing weasel, he was a well-coiffed successful trial lawyer. He was successful enough to afford good tax advice, so he conducted his law practice in an S corporation.

Back in the old days, professional practices were conducted as sole proprietorships or general partnerships, reportable as self-employment income, subject to the 15.3% self-employment tax up to the FICA base (currently $106,800), and to the 2.9% Medicare portion of the tax to infinity.


When state laws allowed professionals to incorporate, attorneys and accountants quickly noticed that income on S corporation K-1s is not subject to self-employment tax. This makes S corporations a popular way to run a professional practice. The professionals take a “reasonable” salary out of the business (subject to employer and employee FICA and Medicare tax) – enough to not raise IRS eyebrows – and take the rest out as S corporation distributions with no employment tax.

John Edwards did well by this. His law practice generated millions dollars of K-1 earnings in excess of his salary, saving him hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll and self-employment tax.

Now that he has been reduced to a wealthy target of mockery, Congress is ready to crack down on the John Edwards S corporation tax shelter. The annual “extenders” bill has a provision – almost as absurd as Edwards love life – that will hit professional S corporation K-1 income with self-employment tax. The SE tax will apply when the “principal asset” of the S corporation is the “reputation and skill” of three or fewer professionals – defined for this purpose as “services in the fields of health, law, lobbying, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, investment advice or management, or brokerage services.”

Congress doesn’t muss its hair worrying about how taxpayers in multi-owner S corporations are supposed to figure out whether its “principal asset” is the “reputation and skill” of three or fewer owners. However it works, this provision is too late to hurt John Edwards — his reputation isn’t much of an asset anymore.

Joe Kristan is a shareholder of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, author of the Tax Update Blog and Going Concern contributor. You can see all of his posts for GC here.

Small Business Saying Buh-Bye to Sarbanes-Oxley

“I believe the votes are there whether I like it or not.”

~ Barney Frank, on the House provision that would exempt small and midsized businesses from complying with Section 404.

Small Businesses Lead on Long-term Job Growth

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

If you harbored any doubts about the importance of small businesses to job growth, then you should consider the results of new research looking at payroll data over the past ten years. The clear conclusion is that the lion’s share of employment growth over the long term has happened at establishments employing fewer than 50 people.

But the implications for our current economic situation are disturbing.


The research, from Case Western Reserve’s Scott Shane, looked at data collected from Automated Data Processing’s monthly employment numbers from 2000 to 2010. The numbers are broken down into three categories: establishments with 1-49, 50-499, and more than 499 employees. By establishment, ADP means “a single physical location where business transactions take place and for which payroll and employment records are kept.”

According to Shane’s analysis, the most job loss has occurred at the bigger establishments. For example, in March 2010, the biggest folks employed 84.3 percent of the people who worked for them in December 2000. As for establishments with 50 to 499 workers, they employed 93.6 percent of those who worked for them over that same time period.

But, for the smallest establishments, the story is startlingly different. They now employ 103.5 percent of the people they employed in December 2000.

Then, there’s a study from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation I wrote about recently. It showed that high-growth companies that are three -to- five years old account for about 10 percent of new jobs in any given year, although they make up less than one percent of all businesses.

But, if small establishments and so-called gazelle firms are so important to job growth, then the latest data from the National Federation of Independent Business, reported on by my colleague Stephen Taub, is especially sobering. The findings showed continued decreases in hiring and flat growth in capital expenditures.

It all has urgent implications for government policy. Given the importance of fast-growing young firms, in particular, to employment creation, the wisest policies would be those that support these promising, three-to-five year old businesses. Something has to be done to get our engine of employment creation back on track.

Small Business Still Not Showing Signs of Life

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Don’t look for small businesses to lead the economic recovery.

The monthly reading from the National Federation of Independent Business Index of Small Business Optimism clearly shows little optimism among small business.


Sure, nine of the 10 components that comprise the index rose from the prior month.

However, some of the critical factors that would indicate whether small business owners plan to invest in their firms did not show encouraging results. The NFIB’s job measures barely moved and capital expenditure plans were flat.

More specifically, according to the survey average employment per firm was negative in April. What’s more, since July 2008 employment per firm has fallen steadily each quarter, logging the largest reductions in the survey’s 35-year history.

If small business is key to job growth – as some pundits think – then this does not bode well for our economy.

And the jobs small businesses create are not exactly great ones. They are more likely to come without benefits and less time off for vacation.

Meanwhile, the Index does not suggest that small businesses will be investing heavily in non-personnel. It noted that plans to make capital expenditures over the next few months were unchanged from the prior month and its reading is only slightly above the 35-year record low.

Yikes!

The survey also noted that small business owners continued to liquidate inventories and weak sales trends gave little reason to order new stock. In fact, more owners plan to reduce stocks than plan new orders, according to the NFIB.

Meanwhile, regular borrowers continued to report difficulties in arranging credit. “Historically weak plans to make capital expenditures, to add to inventory and expand operations also make it clear that many borrowers are simply on the sidelines, waiting for a good reason to make capital outlays and order inventory that requires businesses to take out the usual loans used to support these activities,” the report notes.

Obviously, small businesses are not going to turn this economy around any time soon.

Amateur Accountants Need Not Apply

“It is the last part of the business I would hand over to someone who is less than qualified.”

~ Barbara Taylor, co-founder of Synergy Business Services, on the accounting function.

Small Businesses Need Accounting Help + Accountants Want Opportunities = This Should Be Easy

With all the uncertainty out there, more and more small businesses are cropping up. As anyone who has started their own business knows, there are plenty of decisions to be made, including your accounting method. While that answer may come easy, at some point small business owners have to ask themselves honestly A) Do I know squat about accounting? B) If no, do I hire someone full time or do I contract the work out as needed?


First, if you’re not versed in accounting and taxes are you really going to take the time to learn everything you need to know at the behest of growing and refining your business? Have you seen the tax code? You want to take advantage of everything you can, right? Best to call an expert.

Secondly, if you do decide to get some help, are you willing to pay for someone to keep the books, file tax forms, manage the payroll, etc. etc. full time? Are you going to pay them a salary, benefits, supplement their daycare, give them vacation? If you’ve got the resources to bring someone on, that’s great, start interviewing people. But what if you’re still in the early stages? Finding a CPA firm that can provide those crucial services for you can save a lot of headaches.

On the other hand, if you are already an accountant, maybe this growth in small businesses is your opportunity to get a little entrepreneurial yourself. CPA firms are the most profitable small businesses out there and somebody has to help those business owners keep their debits, credits and tax forms straight; it might as well be you.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…or: Cloud Computing and SaaS Briefly Explained

Figuring out how to sum up Cloud Computing and Software as a service (SaaS) in the space of ~800 words would absolutely require the biggest, puffiest, most cumulus metaphor that ever precipitated understanding over the dry, barren plains of ignorance EVER! Something like….

king Business Applications By Storm, or
– Burning off the Fog Around Cloud Computing, or
– Cloud Computing goes from Light Showers to Torrential Downpour, or even
– Quit Jiiiivin’ Me Turkey, You Got to SaaS it! (a Turkey is a bad person)

Why?

Because this thing is growing like a Class 5 Hurricane sucking up warm air over the Gulf of Mexico in mid-September, and you’re in the eye of the storm baby!


Enough! I can’t… I just can’t brew up another hackneyed metaphor!

All joking aside, Cloud Computing and SaaS are now “required reading” if you’re even remotely involved with technology (i.e. you use a computer). I can help you understand this stuff better, but first some disclosure:

I work for a SaaS company. My paycheck depends upon acceptance of this technology.

If you can accept this embedded bias, I’ll try to suppress any overt advocacy while providing a synopsis of this space over the course of the next few weeks. Call it Saas 101.

So, what is it?

We’ll get into this in more detail soon because there’s more to it, but very simply:

Software as a Service – A software application that you access online without having to download anything to your computer.

Cloud Computing – Provides computing power and data storage on an “as needed” basis much the same way as a public utility provides electricity.

Why should you care?

At the very least, you should care because you are already using this stuff for personal web activities (e.g. Facebook – think privacy, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail, etc). And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the next software sourcing project your company undertakes will include Cloud and Saas representation.

This is a bet I’ll win because even the big, established players in the software world like IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft are running to try and get in front of this thing on the business side.

You want to know about this.

Where did it come from?

How did Software as a Service and Cloud Computing as we know it come about?

Well, what’s in a word?

Again, there’s more to it, but without rekindling the internecine nerd-fighting I think tracing the roots of this movement back to Marc Benioff, the founder, Chairman & CEO of Salesforce.com is not unreasonable for our purposes. He was arguably the most vocal advocate for looking at software delivery in a new way back before this stuff HAD a name. Salesforce.com launched as an unknown start-up back in 1999 and is now one of the leading CRM (Customer Relationship Management) products Cloud or otherwise and is traded on NYSE with a market cap of over $10 Billion.

Along with another early entrant, Netsuite, these guys let the genie out of the bottle. Interestingly, both companies have deep, deep roots back into Oracle Corp., Oracle, a company that, according to Oracle, “would change the face of business computing forever.” I don’t dispute the claim though. And I would take it one further saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The Rain Fell in Torrents…

The creation of Salesforce and Netsuite were both extremely capital intensive. In order to host their customers (i.e. users of the software), tens of millions of dollars were required to build the data center infrastructure. You’re not required to buy servers and hardware, so where do you think all your data is residing? In a cloud? We haven’t advanced that far.

But we have advanced.

Today companies building Cloud apps don’t tend to build their own data centers, at least not right off the hop. Another important innovation in Cloud comes from companies like Amazon. Apart from books, Amazon has a whole other line of business providing computer infrastructure on a rental basis. It’s like a power grid for computing.

This changes the business model for companies who build software in the same way these Cloud app companies are changing things for you.

Suddenly, your IT goes from being a Fixed Cost to a Variable Cost.

More next week.

Enjoy!

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISS of BC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.

Don’t Get That Excited About the Growth in SBA Loans

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

It’s time to dial down all the fuss about SBA loans.

First, there are the reports about increases in SBA loan dollar volume, thanks to the stimulus bill. For example, according to the SBA, over a period of about a year, average weekly loan dollar volumes increased more than 90 percent in the two most popular programs, 7(a) and 504, from the average before the passage of the stimulus bill. 7(a) loans can be used for such purposes as working capital and the purchase of equipment, while 504 provides long-term, fixed-rate financing for buying real estate and other fixed assets used for expansion or modernization.


But, a recent analysis by Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve, shows this conclusion should be taken with a big pitcher of salt. According to Shane, the level of growth is only impressive when compared to the previous year’s poor results. That is, in 2009, the volume was about $180,000,000. So, the approximately $300,000,000 for the first 27 weeks of the 2010 fiscal year represents a big jump. But compared to, say, 2006 and 2007, it’s about the same.

Then, there’s the more important matter of just how many small businesses get SBA loans in the first place. The answer is: Not many. Take the 7(a) program, which comprises 90 percent of SBA loans. According to Shane, last year, less than one percent of small businesses with employees received one of these babies. If you look at non-employer businesses, which comprise the majority of all small companies, their share was between one tenth and one twentieth of one percent–about 50,000 small businesses out of 29.6 million.

Of course, 2009 was a lousy year. But, the data still suggests that all the attention being given to the SBA-loan program may not be warranted. That, in turn, has some pretty serious implications for government policy. Those businesses that got SBA loans undoubtedly were helped, possibly increasing their sales and, perhaps, their hiring. But, to reach more companies, the programs just aren’t enough. Another approach is needed to help the vast majority of businesses that don’t use these loans at all.

Closely-Held Corporations May Want to Take a Bullet Over the Pending Dividend Tax Hike

As a role model, Andrew Jackson has serious shortcomings, not least his penchant for genocide. But some of his policies are back in vogue, like the casual destruction of the national banking system. Taxpayers may be choosing to be like Andy in another way before the end of t had the bad fortune to get crossways with Charles Dickinson, one of the best pistol shots in Tennessee, when dueling was still fashionable. He met his antagonist across the state line in Kentucky, where duels were legal. Jackson was serious about this one, so he decided to take all the time he needed to do Dickinson in. Given Dickinson’s marksmanship, that meant accepting a bullet. Sure enough, Dickinson’s shot hit home:

The bullet struck him in the chest, where it shattered two ribs and settled in to stay, festering, for the next 39 years. Slowly he lifted his left arm and placed it across his coat front, teeth clenched. “Great God! Have I missed him?” cried Dickinson. Dismayed, he stepped back a pace and was ordered to return to stand on his mark.

Blood ran into our hero’s shoes. He raised his pistol and took aim. The hammer stuck at half cock. Coolly he drew it back, aimed again, and fired. Dickinson fell, the bullet having passed clear through him, and died shortly afterward.

Taxpayers owning C corporation stock might also want to take a bullet, figuratively speaking, this year. That’s because the tax rate on dividends will either leap or soar in 2011.

The increase in the dividend rate is a consequence of the scheduled expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts after this year. Prior to the Bush administration, dividends were taxed as ordinary income. As dividends are distributions of corporate income already taxed at a corporate rate as high as 35%, that meant a combined rate of 57.75%. The Bush tax cuts tied the dividend rate to the capital gain rate, now 15%.

When the Bush tax cuts expire, the capital gain rate is set to return to 20%. But without Congressional action, dividends will again be taxed as ordinary income. Given the size of the deficit, the poisonous election-year political atmosphere, and that the President promised to hold the dividend rate to 20%, it’s likely that dividends will be taxed as ordinary income in 2011. That would means a 164% increase the top dividend rate.

But wait, there’s more! Starting in 2013, Obamacare will tack another 3.8% to the top rate on investment income, resulting in a top dividend rate of of 43.4%, making the total tax increase over 189%.

This makes it tempting to take the bullet – a big 2010 dividend out of a closely-held C corporation. It will be especially attractive for shareholders who lack the ability to suck out corporate cash using the usual tricks of shareholder bonuses or rent payments.

Yes, it means taking a bullet. Taking dividends out of closely-held corporations breaks the rules of the C corporation tax planning crib book. Taxpayers go to elaborate lengths to avoid taking income before they have to. But a 189% tax increase might be enough to make some taxpayers take the bullet, like Andy, for the greater good.

TRAC’s Susan Long: IRS Increasing Efforts Towards More Small Business Audits in a Perverse Fashion

Last month we mentioned a study that was done by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (“TRAC”) of Syracuse University that was critical of the IRS’ trend of auditing fewer large corporations and focusing smaller business. A major concern for not only small business owners and managers but also taxpayers since they pay for the audits that are occurring.

We recently spoke to Dr. Susan Long, co-director of TRAC and AssociaSyracuse’s Whitman School of Management about the study.


Going Concern: What’s the biggest takeaway from the findings on the report?

Dr. Susan Long: The report really does two things: 1) Presents a tool [link to tool] that users can use to look up all sorts of statistics about IRS audits for any size corporation. From very small to very large, you can look at trends over a long time so that you can see how things have changed.

2) The focus of our report was to look at the continuing large drop in corporate audits even though this is a time of rising deficits. The IRS has been given more budget for agent staffing but they have not chosen to focus on the largest corporations even though that’s where, historically, the IRS gets the biggest bang for the buck.

GC: One section of the report discusses the politics of tax collection and deficits. Is the IRS and Treasury taking the wrong approach into obtaining more revenue for the Federal Government?

SL: Our role was not to judge them but to lay out what they do and look for some kind of rationale. We could not find any rationale apart from some kind of a perverse quota system. It certainly does not appear to be at all consistent with focusing where tax dollars are underreported based on their own statistics.

GC: Do you have suggestions or opinions about what the IRS can do better? Is there a way that the Service can improve the quota system or do they need to reassess their strategy altogether?

SL: The role of TRAC is not the typical policy research organization. Our role, as we see it, is to present a picture of what the government, in this case what the IRS, is doing with respect to tax audits and to leave it up to the reader to decide what makes sense.

What we did find is that IRS sets performance goals, as all agencies do, and it sets group targets, not individual targets for agents. But nonetheless they are based on how many total audits of corporations take place for the large and mid-sized industry group (“LMSB”) and then separately for the small and self-employed business unit (“SBSE”). We noticed that there was a peculiar reversal in audit rates when you got to the margin of those companies at say, with the bigger companies for SBSE audits versus what would then be larger companies but represent the small guy for the LMSB auditors. It just showed quite clearly that there was a tendency for each branch to shy away from its biggest audits and put increased efforts on its smaller guys within its unit in a very perverse fashion.

GC: Since you used the IRS’ own data to compile your study does it appear that the statistics could be the result of the flawed goals or quota system?

SL: Right. We’re all human and we respond to what we’re measured on. If those measurements are not in accord with what the priorities are [i.e. where the largest underreporting occurs], you’ll work to the measure rather than to the overall priority. This is not the first report where we’ve noticed this. In this case, what was interesting was that for a long period of time, Congress had been cutting the IRS’ budget and it’s really tough when you have more and more returns and fewer and fewer agents to cover them. You’ve really got hard choices there.

So we were very interested to see, now that we’ve entered a new era, Congress has been giving the IRS more budget for hiring more revenue agents. Therefore they have more discretion about where they will put these additional resources and they are certainly not putting them in the large corporate area.

GC: What about the IRS’ contentions that they audit 100% of companies of $20 billion in assets or more?

SL: According to their figures, the IRS audits more than 100% of all the corporations of that size. These particular figures we took from the IRS databook that is put out annually. There has only been three years where there has been a breakout with these categories.

The first time it came out the IRS said, “yes it’s over 100% but that’s because you can audit more than one year’s return in the same year” and that’s true. But then in the second year it’s over 100% and they make the same excuse. Now this is third year and it’s still over 100% [see footnote at the bottom of the study].

They’re not doing a very good job of accurately measuring that [the number of companies audited] so we presented figures that give the IRS the benefit of the doubt. They’re not measuring the size of the returns vs. the size of the audits in a consistent way, so we just grouped it with the next largest category and saw exactly the same trends in terms of the hours spent auditing the biggest companies.

Simply, there’s a tendency to spend less time on less complicated returns. As companies get bigger their businesses get more complex. When you see that sort of thing in an organization, you look at what are the goals being measured against. If they’re being measured just on quantity and there isn’t any distinguishing between that workload that takes longer to do, it’s easier to up your numbers by choosing workload that you can churn out faster. It’s human nature.

The IRS Is Ruining Its Weekend Plans for the Sake of the American Taxpayer Again

The April 15th deadline has come and gone but that does not mean the IRS’ work is done. In fact, getting money in the Treasury Department’s door is a 24/7/365 sorta deal and in case you didn’t notice, there’s a bit of a deficit problem.

Accordingly, the IRS has decided to host open houses at 200 facilities in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico on May 15th from 9 am to 2 pm local time (locations here). IRS staff will be there to help individuals and small businesses sort out any issues they may have (See? Filing that extension was a good idea).


This marks the second time in 2010 that the IRS has opened its arms to public on the Sabbath, having done so on March 27th. According to the Service, that particular National Day of IRS Friendliness was a resounding success, with 88% of taxpayers getting their issues resolved that day.

Doug Shulman all but assures your satisfcation in the press release, “Our goal is to resolve issues on the spot so small businesses and individuals can put any issues they have with the IRS behind them. If you have a problem filing or paying your taxes or resolving a tough tax issue, we encourage you to come in and work with us.”

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly a 100% money-back guarantee but the Service is going to work their cans off to get you in compliance and cutting a check that day. Unless of course you’re a Tea Party type trying to get on the six o’clock news, in which case you’ll be dealt with in a swift and decisive manner.

Open House on Saturday May 15 to Help Small Businesses, Individuals Solve Tax Problems [IRS.gov]

When a Tax Time Bomb Goes Off: Repurcussions Await Some Small Nonprofits

At the end of the day on Monday, May 17, hundreds of thousands of little tax-exempt organizations will to turn into taxable little pumpkins. Under a provision of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, tax-exempt organizations that had been small enough to fall below IRS filing thresholds were required to start filing information reports. The law automatically revokes the exempt status of organizations that fail to file for three straight years. The deadline for that third year is May 17 for calendar-year filers.

Of course many of these organizations are inactive or defunct, but many aren’t. That means thousands of volunteer garden club, school parent organization and social club volunteer treasurers will unwittingly find themselves in charge of filing tax returns for their newly-taxable little corporations.


If you are an exempt organization treasurer or board member, you should find out right now whether your organization has filed. If your organization normally takes in less than $25,000 per year, the filing is a very simple on-line process, mostly just asking for identifying information. Bigger outfits will have to file a version of Form 990. If you need extra time, you can get a three-month extension on Form 8868. Some organizations, mostly governments and religious entities, are exempt from the filing and revocation rules.

But what will happen when these outfits lose their exempt status? They can ask for it back retroactively by filing Form 1023 or Form 1024 and paying a fee from $250 to $800. But many of these outfits will have no idea that they have lost their exempt status. What happens to them?

Most will become taxable C corporations or, in some cases, a taxable trust – depending on how they are set up. They will have income – for example, from contributions or dues – and they will be subject to normal Form 1120 filing requirements. If they fail to file, the normal kind and gentle penalties will accrue. Nobody really knows what the IRS will do about all of these little unwitting scofflaws.

And for what? Senator Charles Grassley explained back when the bill was passed in 2006:

The pension bill includes a good package of charitable giving incentives and loophole closers. It makes sense to tighten areas of abuse while increasing incentives for charitable giving. Americans are very generous with their donations. They deserve to know that their money helps the needy, not the greedy. Some individuals are creative about exploiting non-profits’ tax-exempt status for personal gain, and Congress has to be just as smart about shutting down abuse.

So take that, you greedy, abusive volunteer booster club treasurers! @ChuckGrassley has your number.

Deciding Between the Cash and Accrual Methods of Accounting

While the IFRS v. U.S. GAAP rages (or stalls) a far simpler (yet no less important) decision with regard to accounting methods is considered by many small businesses every year.

The cash versus accrual decision is one that all businesses have to make but small businesses have to make and depending on an entrepreneur’s familiarity with the issue, this could be a very simple decision or a “HELP!” moment.
, a quick refresher:

Cash – You get cash; you record the transaction. You pay cash, you record the transaction. Simple.

Accrual – This is what your copy of Kieso, Weygandt, & Warfield harped on in college. Accounts receivable, accounts payable, deferrals, revenue is recorded when earned; expenses are recorded when incurred, the matching principle, you know the drill.

Before we get to the pros, let’s consider a simple example. If you and some friends want to pool your money together and buy a piece of commercial property, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go the accrual route. Your tenants pay rent, you record revenue. You pay for supplies to make improvements, you record the expense. In general, don’t make something complicated that is inherently easy.

However, depending on the entity structure of your business, you may be disqualified from using the cash method. Generally, C Corporations, partnership with one C Corp partner, and tax shelters are not allowed to use the cash method. So if any of these apply, hello accrual.

Enough with the elementary crap though, amiright? Thought so. To get some additional insight, we called on a couple of partners who have no problem sharing their opinions: Scott Heintzelman of McKonly & Asbury in Camp Hill, PA and our own Joe Kristan of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, IA.

Since Scott is effectively the visitors, he’ll get first at bat. He told us that he encourages clients to adopt accrual right away for three reasons:

1) Fewer surprises. I just met with a prospect and the number 1 frustration they had about [their] prior accountant was that CPA encouraged [c]ash but things fell wrong that next year and they got killed with a tax liability.

2) It helps to prevents “games” being played with year end cash receipts and cash disbursements.

3) It helps the company to think like a “grown up” business. Too often a small business thinks and acts small (cash basis is thinking little) when I encourage them to think bigger.

So, according to Scott, if you’re thinking about getting into business you should think BIG, thus, accrual is the way to go.

Is it that simple? Well, maybe but Joe has some other considerations including – what else – taxes, “For tax, cash is normally preferred because of the ability to control taxable income at year-end. Farmers are notorious for stocking up on feed at year-end to manage taxable income, but being able to manage income by paying off A/P at year end is useful for anybody.”

Of course, the more complex your business gets, the cash method is less available:

Where it becomes a disadvantage is in mixed structures or large entities. If you have related entities doing business with one another, accrual is nice because you eliminate a lot of Sec. 267 related party problems. You don’t have to worry about paying a related party for A/P by year-end to get the deduction because they have to accrue the income.

For a simple structure without a lot of related entities, you will want to do your tax returns on a cash basis. As the structure gets more complicated, accrual method becomes more attractive, and likely mandatory under Sec. 448 or in medium to large entities with inventories.

But for anyone that has to produce GAAP financial statements Joe concedes, “I have no idea why anybody would be cash basis. You can’t be GAAP on a cash basis, and lenders don’t like that.”

The lesson? Like everything in this world, it depends. Do you have a complex entity structure with several related parties engaging in business? Accrual might be better. If you want to be the next Google (or even a fraction of Google), then you might as well be on accrual. If your bank requires GAAP financials to get a loan, you’ll be on accrual.

But on the other hand, if you’ve got no use for GAAP and a simple business not looking to get crazy, the cash method may be the way to go. If you’re still nervous about checking one box or the other, don’t worry, nothing is written in stone. Just consult your business or tax advisor and they’ll help you figure this out. Anyone got more advice? Feel free to chime in.

PwC Report: Venture Capital Activity in New York Jumps While Silicon Valley Sees a Slide

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Silicon Valley is still central headquarters for venture capital activity in the US. But it looks like the New York City area is trying to play catch up.

A new report shows an increase in the region both in the amount of startup funding and the number of deals for two consecutive quarters, while activity in Silicon Valley dropped.


The report, from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, found that financing for companies in and around the Big Apple increased to $566 million in the first quarter. That was an 18.9 percent rise from the previous quarter, also a 34 percent year-over-year increase. A total of 75 firms received money in the first quarter, up 13.6 percent.

In Silicon Valley the story was very different. Investment dollars and numbers still won out over New York, of course. But the trend was down. Total funding of $1.5 billion in the first quarter represented a 21.4 percent drop from the fourth quarter 2009, while the number of deals fell 24.6 percent over the same period.

Overall share of VC money also rose in New York and fell in Silicon Valley. In New York, it reached 12 percent, up from 9.2 percent in the fourth quarter 2009, compared to 32.3 percent for Silicon Valley, down from 37.5 percent.

This New York- area investment growth reflects recent efforts by venture capitalists and the New York City government to rev up funding.

A few examples:

Last spring, New York law firm Lowenstein Sandler started First Growth Venture Network, which provides mentoring for newbie CEOs from venture capital firms, angels and more-seasoned executives.

Last fall, they announced the first 15 CEO mentees. Late last year, seven successful entrepreneurs launched the Founder Collective to make $50,000 to $1 million investments in very early-stage ventures in New York, as well as the Boston area.

In early 2009, NYC Seed, a partnership of venture capital, non-profits and universities, made its first investments in several seed-stage ventures.

Last week, I wrote about trends in angel investing and noted that such financing provides more money for startups than venture capital. Still, although VCs invest in a small percentage of all new companies, they do support enterprises with potential to become real powerhouses. So, the New York area economy clearly benefits both in the short and long-term from this financing activity.

Although it’s doubtful these firms will ever match the contribution in tax dollars and jobs provided by Wall Street.

Angel Investors Continue to Shy Away from Startups

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Many startups, especially ones with high-growth potential, depend on receiving at least some of their funding from angel investors. Now, a new report sheds light on what type of entrepreneurial ventures got angel money last year.

Specifically, the report from the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire found that financing for really early-stage companies declined and a larger percentage went to more-established ventures. That is, 35 percent of investments in 2009 were in seed stage companies, a decrease of 10 percent from 2008. And new, or so-called first sequence investments, were 47 percent of all angel activity, a significant decline over the last two years.


What this means, of course, is that angels are favoring proven quantities that are less risky than newer ventures. That’s been a trend for several years now and it’s worrisome. You might not know it from press coverage, but angel funding is considerably more prevalent than venture capital financing: Many more startups receive angel money than VC dollars. So, if angels shy away from early ventures, that means the loss of a significant historical source of funding for these companies.

Then, there’s the matter of what these companies mean to the economy, which I’ve written about before. The startups that receive angel money tend to be ones with high-growth potential, the kind with at least a fighting chance of becoming a lot bigger and employing a lot of people. Thus, it’s not a positive development over the long haul if angels choose to play it safe and avoid very early-stage ventures.

On the modestly good side, the report showed a decrease in investment dollars but little change in the number of investments. Total investments in 2009 were $17.6 billion, down 8.3 percent from 2008. But a total of 57,225 ventures received funding, a 3.1 percent increase from 2008. In other words, more startups got money, although deal size was smaller.

It would be more reassuring if a larger share of the $17.6 billion had gone to a different type of venture.

Three Key Reasons Why CPA Firms Are the #1 Profitable Small Business

This morning we kicked off our certification series that may or may not get you motivated to find some additional letters for your business card. However, if you’re more interested in your getting your name (with letters behind it, natch) getting on the sign/in the window sooner rather than later, there’s good news as well. Forbes 20 Most Profitable Small Businesses list came out last week (on April 15th no less) and accounting related services took three of the top five spots.


Offices of CPAs #1 – Average pre-tax margin of 17.1% and; the trifecta of “pricing power…low overhead and marketing scale,” gave CPA firms the top spot in Forbes list.

Other Accounting Services #3 – Average pre-tax margin of 15.5%; The list states that this includes, “accounting, bookkeeping, billing and tax preparation services in any form, handled not necessarily by a Certified Public Accountant.” Of course many CPA shops do offer these services so it’s not something you should dismiss outright.

Tax Prep. Services #5 – Average pre-tax margin of 15.1%; Forbes took a page out of John “I hate my old accountant” Stossel and asks “Who likes doing their taxes?”

Yeah, being the boss is tough but for accountants its a path that many take, as FINS reported last week, citing the AICPA “Roughly three-quarters of the country’s 44,000 tax businesses are one-person shops, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).” And it’s not like everyone is going at it alone. If you’ve got one or more colleagues that you trust (and can stand to be around for hours and weeks on end) a partnership is always a solution.

And while this is great news for you entrepreneurial types, you can’t forget what you’re getting yourself into – you will be responsible for the outcome of the business, succeed or fail. As much as you hate the bureaucracy, politics and all around song and dance of the larger accounting firms, the failure of those firms are completely out of your control. But then again, maybe that’s why you took the risk in the first place – so you can be in control.

The Most Profitable Small Businesses [Forbes]
Hanging Your Own Shingle: Starting a CPA Business [FINS]

Productivity Means Accepting The Fact Reinforcements Are NOT Coming

Are you feeling strapped for time? Have more work than hours in the day? Still waiting for that new person in the department???

I hate to be the one to break it you, but reinforcements are NOT coming.


You can find the evidence here, here, here, and here. The economy jumped off a skyscraper, hit the pavement, and now everyone’s trying to figure out whether or not this “recovery” (NBER says the US is still in recession) is real or is it a Dead Cat Bounce. Hiring for your little Cost Center will have to wait it out.

Of course the REAL evidence is probably already in your possession. Crack open the budget file; what’s the headcount look like for your department next year? The truth is right there in front of you in bits and bytes. If you’re doing the job of 2 people, chances are pretty good you’re going to continue to do so. You’ve become a 2-for-1 special!

The good news is that the unemployment picture has probably hit bottom. Those of you who remain employed probably don’t have to worry about losing your jobs anymore. After all, as the investor/pundit Kevin O’Leary likes to say, “a company can only fire 100% of their employees before they have to find a way to generate revenue.” Departments have terminated everyone they can terminate.

The bad news is that your job survived. It’s a classic case of the survivors envying the dead.

But I’d rather light a candle than curse your darkness.

There’s plenty of glib mantras I could be extolled at this point:
– do more with less
– work smarter, not harder
– corporate business process re-engineering consultancy services
– stop reading this slogan and get back to work, slacker!

The dirty little secret behind all of this kind of rah-rah, cheerleader stuff is that YOU are still the one left to actually DO all the work. Getting more productive is the only way to help you help yourself. You don’t need the BPO consultant to pull a Beetlejuice on you (“move in with you guys for a while, become real pals”) to figure that out! You need to look at every activity you do and ask:

1. Why am I doing this?

And if the answer doesn’t smell like a dead cat,

2. How am I doing this?

And finally,

3. What’s the alternative?

And for the love of Pete, watch for the technology trap! The technology trap is the assumption that, just because you are using technology to complete a task, it automatically means it’s the best way to get it done. Technology is like a dog. Do you walk the dog or does the dog walk you?

I’ve worked in accounting departments for years. There’s been times when I felt more like a dishwasher than a business professional and I was booking crazy overtime with zero comp! Over the years, little routines became big, dogmatic, time sinks and my hands were permanently puckered. I can only imagine what that sink would like on a skeleton crew.

The upside is that you have a bit of leverage suddenly. Since you’re the only one left, you’ve become that much more difficult to replace. Hiring sucks and it takes a long time. No one wants to deal with another recruiter, no one! You have a chance to redefine how you get your work done so take advantage. Wouldn’t it be great to use leverage for good for a change?

Quote of the Day: Never a Dull Moment in Accounting | 03.31.10

“Accounting can be exciting — exciting like finding out you are going broke, or exciting like driving a big profit.”

~ Jay Goltz, entrepreneur and contributor to You’re the Boss.

More Small Businesses Ditching Big Banks for Community Lenders

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Community banks are gaining ground in the banking sector, scooping up small business customers that are feeling underserved by bigger institutions.

The four largest US banks – Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo/Wachovia – currently hold the greatest share of small-business customers, according to a report from Aite Group released Thursday. But community banks are growing their share at the fastest rate, often at the expense of large banks.

Roughly 35 percent of US small businesses consider a community bank to be their primary financial institution, up from 24 percent in 2006.


The report revealed that large banks are failing to connect with small businesses. One of the reasons is that they struggle to understand their needs.

“Large banks are missing the boat when it comes to effectively serving and cross-selling to small-business customers,” said Christine Barry, research director with Aite Group, in a press release. “This is evidenced by the declining satisfaction rates of their customers and their failure to meet cross-selling needs.”

Such a customer base is crucial, even for large banks, at a time when deposits are precious commodities.

Small banks have been able to make headway by purchasing failed community banks, as reported by The Big Money this week.

“As the continuing real-estate crisis pushes more tiny banks into failure, the most common saviors have been other small banks, community banks, small thrifts, and modestly sized lenders,” Heidi Moore wrote.

But small banks aren’t necessarily a safe haven from troubles ailing their bigger competitors.

Although banks with over $10 billion in assets hold over half of commercial banks’ total commercial real estate whole loans, smaller banks have an overall greater exposure to commercial real estate, according to a report from the Congressional Oversight Panel.

Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, recently voiced concerns about the risk that commercial real estate poses to community banks, noting that commercial real estate comprised more than 43 percent of the portfolios of community banks.

Those concerns are well founded, as commercial real estate has played an increasingly large role in bank failures. For the 205 banks that have failed since 2007, a third of their loan portfolio has been made up of commercial real estate loans, compared to an industry average of 26.9 percent, according to investment bank KBW. The seven banks seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation last Friday had an even higher concentration with almost 40 percent of their loans tied up in commercial real estate.

If write downs increase as expected, it could ultimately create capital problems for community banks, which could in turn curb lending to small businesses.

“The current distribution of commercial real estate loans may be particularly problematic for the small business community because smaller regional and community banks with substantial commercial real estate exposure account for almost half of small business loans,” the COP report published in February said. For example, smaller banks with the highest exposure to commercial real estate provide around 40 percent of all small business loans.

AICPA Pushing Members, Small Business to Adopt More Cloud Solutions

The AICPA is in the cloud and wants you to join them, accounting industry. Being a preferred financial application for the AICPA can pay off so before you start ripping on accountants remember they (and especially their clients) have a metric shit ton of money.

The technology push came quite some time ago (XBRL anyone?) and CPAs are generally on top of it. You can’t get them to blog (Tracy Coenen can tell you more about that) but you can definitely get them worked into a lather over something that will make their lives easier.


Intacct is learning what being on the AICPA’s good side can do for one’s business.

CFO.com:

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is pushing to accelerate adoption of cloud solutions among its 350,000 members, focusing especially on small and midmarket companies as well as CPA firms. The AICPA’s first official endorsement of a cloud vendor, payroll solutions provider Paychex, came several years ago. But the institute has rolled out more such partnerships with increasing frequency, including with bill.com for invoice management and payment in 2008, financial management and accounting software maker Intacct a year ago, and tax-automation supplier Copanion at year-end 2009.

Intacct president and CEO Mike Braun was beside himself when the AICPA began pushing his product, acknowledging that an endorsement from them meant unprecedented reach in the industry. Awesome, the AICPA has finally joined with technology instead of fearing it. How dare I make broad generalizations about the AICPA’s conduct over the past few years?

A previous example of the AICPA’s tech phobia: It only took them 6 years to figure out what to do with BEC on the computerized CPA exam and they still aren’t sure how to treat it. No one is bitter but it’s a tad disturbing that CPAs were taking a professional licensure exam with paper and pencil up until 2003. They’ve had all this time to assemble BEC into something that isn’t the CPA exam’s junk drawer but still can’t manage to cobble together a storyline for the section.

One can only hope that the cloud can get the AICPA BoE to have an epiphany on that point. In the meantime, this is one hell of an endorsement so good for technology but even more credit is due to the AICPA for getting with 2008.

Then again, you have guys like GNU founder Richard Stallman and Oracle’s Larry Ellison who say cloud computing is “complete gibberish” and nothing but a slick marketing campaign for pricey third-party software. “Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it’s very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true,” Stallman told UK’s Guardian. Wait. Are you telling me the AICPA would engage in such shifty behavior just to make a few bucks?!

Nahhhhhh.

Venture Capitalists Pushing Bill That Would Help Small Businesses Create New Jobs

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

With all the talk lately about how small businesses are vital to job creation, turns out it’s a relatively small number of high-growth entrepreneurial firms creating much of that employment. And, now, there’s pending legislation, pushed heavily by venture capitalists, that could encourage the growth of such companies.

First, about those high-flying startups. According to recent research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, fast-growing relatively young firms generate about 10 percent of all new jobs in any given year. That includes what the study calls “gazelle” firms–enterprises three to five years old. And, these ventures create all those jobs even though they’re less than 1 percent of all companies. The average firm in the top 1 percent contributes 88 jobs per year; most end up producing between 20 and 249 employees. The average firm in the economy as a whole adds two or three net new jobs each year.


Of course, these findings have important implications for government policy and what types of small business it should focus on. Among other recommendations, the study urges the passage of legislation just introduced in the Senate, informally known as the “Startup Visa Act.” Sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, the bill would address the problem facing many foreign entrepreneurial wannabes who can’t get a visa to come here and start a company.

To that end, it would create a new visa for such entrepreneurs who are sponsored by a US venture capital firm or angel making an investment of at least $100,000 in an equity financing of no less than $250,000. The legislation would modify the EB-5 visa program; that requires recipients to invest at least $500,000 in a US company and create no fewer than 10 jobs.

The bill is the product of heavy lobbying by such investors as Brad Feld, who is with the venture capital firm the Foundry Group. Of course, they have their own business reasons to push this legislation but there seems to be sound research to back it up.

Brightbook Gets a Groovy Review But Questions Remain

GC reader Geoff Devereaux pointed us to something that we were honestly surprised to see, a “glowing review” for the psychedelic-inspired online accounting application, Brightbook.

Accounting Web UK interviewed the two designers, James Henderson and “his colleague Warwick.” If Warwick isn’t a acid-dropping Dead Head name, we don’t know what is.


Anyhoo, the AWUK asks the question that you would expect from an accounting pub, “how will Brightbooks make its money?” To which, Hedernson responds, “this isn’t about the money man, it’s about sharing the love of accounting software for free.”

More or less, that’s what he said. Free software that does what small business owners need it to do. What WE still want to know is WTF is up with the T-Rex in the party hat? What is he celebrating? Or is it something that the partygoers are seeing?? Speaking of the rager, why isn’t the egghead guy partying with the hula-hoop girl or topless chick (or the dudes, whatever his preference)? Has he not dropped yet? All important questions.

Brightbook: Free web accounting software [AccountingWEB UK]

Earlier:
Brightbook Knows That Dead Heads Need Accounting Applications Too

Are Direct Loans from the Small Business Administration a Bad Idea?

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

With all the news about President Obama’s proposals to increase bank lending to small business, there’s one obvious question that needs to be addressed: Why not have the Small Business Administration take a more aggressive role? Why not allow the agency to lend directly to small businesses?

The issue came up at a recent hearing held by the House Financial Services and Small Business Committees.

Turns out, the Small Business Act creating the SBA allows the agency to do direct financing of companies, as the You’re the Boss blog recently pointed out. And through at least the 1980’s, they did so, lending to companies rejected by banks.


Plus, in the past year, the Senate has introduced legislation to help the SBA make direct loans. And the House has passed two bills creating programs aimed at direct lending. That legislation would create a program which would exist only in a recession, through which the SBA would help small businesses fill out loan applications. Then, if no bank were willing to lend, the agency would step in.

But the Obama administration is against any and all such proposals. The reasons: 1) The agency doesn’t have the staff or the resources; 2) It would take as long as a year to get such a program up and running; 3) Administrative costs would be in the billions of dollars; and 4) Historically, SBA direct loans have had higher cumulative loss rates than other SBA-backed loans.

Those, in fact, are pretty convincing arguments.

It might just be that, while it sounds good on paper to give the SBA the power to lend directly, the reality is very different. Sure, drastic action is needed to increase bank lending. But this one might be thoroughly impractical.

The bottom line: Ultimately, it’s bankers who probably are more qualified than anyone at the SBA to make these decisions. In a time of scarce government resources and a need for fast action, the most efficient approach is for the SBA to do whatever it can to encourage banks to lend.

Of course, whether the steps proposed by the Obama administration are likely to do that is the $64,000 question.