NJCPA Convention & Expo Illuminates the Way Forward

by Kathleen Hoffelder, NJCPA Senior Content Editor – June 28, 2022
NJCPA Convention & Expo Illuminates the Way Forward

The 2022 NJCPA Convention & Expo in June was a success with more than 500 accounting professionals in attendance at the Borgata in Atlantic City. With a theme of “The Way Forward: Transform. Innovate. Grow,” the Convention informed and enlightened attendees on new ways to approach leadership and business culture. Attendees participated in lively discussions about how to succeed in a dynamic profession, lead their teams through cultural evolutions and break out of the pack to obtain new business.

Leading Through Change

Jim Lindell, CSP, CPA, MBA, CGMA, president and owner at Thorsten Consulting Group and a speaker at the Convention, noted that CFOs today must implement ways to increase the longevity of their organization. A big part of that, he said, is understanding that vision, planning, mission and values all make up an organization’s culture. “Our mission becomes the guidelines that we operate under,” he reminded attendees. And any negative informal cultures — such as leaders setting a bad example or tone at the top, uncorrected behavior or having too many office silos — fall under the mentality of “what is tolerated becomes the norm.”

Knowing an organization’s vision and mission, Lindell explained, will help an organization save money. “If you understand your vision and your mission statement, you make a lot more money,” he said. But organizations must have a culture that works for them, he explained. Knowing an organization’s culture is a big part of the responsibility of an organization’s leadership. He noted that organizations like JCPenney cater to shoppers who like discounts and, without those customers, are not happy, regardless of where an item is priced. “In trying to change the culture (to one that was more upscale), they failed miserably,” he said.  

Some of the main reasons businesses fail, Lindell added, is when there is a lack of cash; leaders are not monitoring collections; days sales outstanding (DSO) gets out of whack; and there’s an overdependency on specific customers, such as when certain customers are more than 25 percent of one’s business (informal managers) and when they are more than 50 percent of one’s business (informal owners.)

Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC, executive leadership coach at Lokhorst Consulting and a speaker at the Convention, agreed that leadership is key to an organization’s success or failure. “To be effective as a leader, you need to build relationships and deliver results; it’s not either-or,” he said. All leadership, he said, starts with self-leadership since if one cannot lead themselves, they cannot lead others.   

Developing enterprise thinking skills — or leading with the concept of putting the organization as a whole first — is needed for CPAs to succeed. However, it’s equally crucial for leaders to ask staff for their input on projects, recognize effort and appreciate their performance.

Moving on With Analytics

No component of accounting has changed more than the use of data and analytics. CPAs need to ask themselves today, “How can you set your data or your clients’ data up for success?” according to Melissa A. Dardani, CPA, MAcc, owner and managing member of MD Advisory, who led an analytics session at the Convention. 

The answer, according to Dardani, is to make better use of data in all engagements, whether it’s in audit, tax or accounting. Data, she noted, is “at the helm of business,” and finding the right data is something that can easily be improved upon. “You can’t audit what you don’t know,” she added.

Microsoft Power BI, for example, can handle much larger data sets than Microsoft Excel, without blowing out one’s computer, she explained. If there’s a lot of data to parse, she recommends using Power BI over Excel. Keeping data out of one’s spreadsheet is another tip that she finds useful.

The way a CPA or accounting professional communicates the results from the data is also important. “You should never have more than three or four insights when you are working on client deliverables. When trying to deliver too much information, the message gets lost,” she explained.

Using more data and analytics enables CPAs to bill their clients based on value rather than hours. As an industry, she explained, most CPAs would love to move towards fixed-fee engagements as opposed to using billable hours. “It’s very important to develop replicable procedures,” she said. “You can then take that procedure and put it in another client and another client. All you are doing is you are replacing the data.” Rather than billing out X number of dollars, she explained, these are more efficient procedures.

More ESG

Attendees also listened to new ways that accountants can partake in companies’ increased reporting initiatives regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG). As Dr. Kecia Williams Smith, Ph.D., CPA, assistant professor and director of the Master of Accountancy Program at North Carolina A&T State University and a keynote speaker at the Convention, noted, “there is a space for every accountant in environmental, social and governance.” CPAs are needed, she explained, as more organizations inform the public, their own employees and shareholders about their ESG initiatives.