Nearly 600 Attend 2023 NJCPA Convention & Expo
That’s a wrap! The NJCPA welcomed nearly 600 attendees, more than 80 sponsors and exhibitors, and more than 40 speakers to its NJCPA Convention & Expo from June 13 to 16. Attendees learned solutions to breaking down career, industry and technological barriers.
Keynote speaker Gene Marks, CPA, columnist, author and owner of the Marks Group PC, told attendees that the smartest minds in business today are following the money trail and are “always looking ahead.” He recommended CPAs tell their business clients to use the following five steps to navigate toward growth:
- Forecast. A key question for business owners and managers to ask is, “do you know where cash is going to be three months from now?” The three-month outlook is an important range for business leadership and CPAs advising those businesses or on their boards. If they do not know where their cash flow is in three months, they are “operating in the dark.”
- Practice shrinkflation. Cutting the amount of some services or the size of products and charging the same price is becoming standard practice, but it’s important to be mindful not to overly cut key products/services.
- Diversify cash. Buy treasuries and don’t cash out early. Treasury Inflation Protection Securities (TIPS) are recommended.
- Challenge their banker. Businesses should have close relationships with banking partners.
- Cut product lines. It’s important to determine what products/service lines are working and what isn’t.
Using Analytics Effectively
Speakers and attendees alike expressed the need to use the right analytics to advance the accounting profession forward. Big data in all its forms can help businesses and accounting practices stay competitive, said Convention speaker John F. Levy, MBA, CPA, CEO of Board Advisory representing The Knowledge Institute. He explained that since an organization’s biggest competitors are using big data, “it’s incumbent on us to use that data.”
Levy noted that attendees should understand the four Vs of big data, which include knowing how much of the following to use:
- Volume — how much is generated
- Velocity — how quickly data is produced
- Variety — different forms of data
- Veracity — accuracy of data (important to consider the source and how the information is generated)
Data can provide many glimpses into how an organization is run. Simple examples like a company’s parking lot signs can show visitors that an organization cares about its customers, leadership or staff, Levy said. Whether signs say, “Reserved for Employee of the Month” or “CEO” is a telling sign about what the organization values. Similarly, he said, “smart shelves,” where grocery stores can determine someone’s preferences for other products by taking one item off the shelf, are becoming more common.
Using smart data to one’s advantage is crucial to remain competitive, reminded Levy. But to use it effectively, organizations, he said, need to start with a strategy, measure metrics and data, apply analytics, report results and then use it to transform a business. However, it all starts with a good strategy and knowing what makes an organization special or unique. “If you can’t tell me, you’re not going to succeed,” he added.
Similarly, Convention speaker Ronald F. Baker, CPA, the founder of VeraSage Institute, noted that accurately pricing one’s services is a key part of understanding what an organization brings to the table compared to the competition. To him, “pricing is strategy; it’s not tactical.” All customers are what he considers “value conscience, not price sensitive.” He further explained that service companies like CPA practices operate best by knowing “there is not one optimal price; there is a range of optimal prices.” CPA firms should adapt some lessons from landscaping companies, he added, since the cheapest offering does not always win the customer.
The best pricing for CPA advisories to use, he noted, is to understand that “firms should have minimum prices” and prices should go up every year. He also said it’s important to not be too close to the pricing so the pricing can be more accurate. “If there’s a multi-partner firm, don’t let them price their own work,” he said. A sole practitioner, he noted, should have a spouse price services so it’s more objective.
New clients can often challenge those pricing methods, but Baker noted it’s best to give clients a deadline for choosing one of the price ranges, such as three weeks, for example. This way, the firm stays true to its strategy and the new customer has respect for the practice. He also said it’s important to portray the most expensive service first and then go down.
Improving Employee Retention
With a backdrop of “pro-worker regulation coming” in Washington, Marks added that employers need to be hip to the demands still being asked by new and current employees in the accounting profession, such as having flexible time requirements, working remotely and possibly a four-day work week along with a new trend of unlimited paid time-off. To Marks, these benefits only sweeten the pot when retaining employees. Since time off is still approved by supervisors, Marks noted, having the policy in place is simply a sign that the organization cares about its employees.
To keynote speaker Dave Delaney, CEO and founder of Futureforth, better communication can also assist with keeping employees engaged and retained on staff. Delaney, the originator of “The Nice Method” for communicating, noted that using improv is a secret weapon to communicate with employees and when networking. He explained that one way to engage someone’s interest is to respond with “nice and…” to show interest in the other person. He said, “you lead with acceptance and build upon ideas you receive.”
Better communication, Delaney, explained, should start with the following three steps:
- Lead with acceptance.
- Be a better listener.
- Don’t fear failure.
Lowering Education Barriers
While the cost of education could be considered a hurdle to enter the accounting profession, a panel session at the Convention discussed a novel “Work for Credit” program initiated by Saint Peter’s University and PwC that assists with easing the path to CPA licensure. Though a typical college education can provide a student with 120 credits, usually the final 30 credits needed to obtain a CPA license requires some form of graduate degree, which can be expensive.
Now in its second year, the Saint Peter’s/PwC pilot program assisted six Saint Peter’s University students last year in obtaining the credits by working at PwC for a full-time salary and meeting established learning objectives. The program is offering another six students the same opportunity for the fall.
Brigid D’Souza, CPA, MBA, assistant professor and CPA Advisor at Saint Peter’s University, called the program “transformational” and a way to “immediately get on a pathway to obtaining a CPA.” According to D’Souza, the program can be adapted to other colleges and firms to assist more students in becoming CPAs.