From the Corner Office 2014 Archives

Spring 2014

By Charles Burak, CPA/ABV/CFF, CVA, CFE
When I joined public accounting the clock put me in a panic. The idea that every six minutes would represent a charge to my client freaked me out. I felt so guilty about taking a 1-minute bathroom break that I would charge a whole 6-minute block of time to admin. How could I bill that client for 6 minutes if I only focused for 5? I had ultimate respect for the clock and for my time.

As I progressed in the profession I became less intimidated, but more resentful. I was demoralized when I truly understood that my quantifiable value was limited only to the number of hours I spend. What about my creativity, my ideas, my efficiency? Aren’t those worth anything—and why can’t we put those on the client bill? Instead, that one miraculously efficient and brilliant hour I spend organizing and planning a project sits right there next to the 5 hours I spent entering data into Excel. Worse, according to the bill, those 5 hours of data input were 5 times more valuable than my 1 hour of brilliance.

The clock was no longer motivating me to be efficient—it made me lazy. If you believe that each of your hours has equal value, then you will create that reality. All of your hours become equally inefficient.

My goal was to turn the clock back on my side. I’m not talking about the billing timer that runs all day judging you. I’m talking about a countdown timer. For those of you who know about CrossFit, you know well the concept of “AMRAP.” It stands for “As Many Reps As Possible” and it means you have to finish as many repetitions of a certain assignment as possible in a specified time, and only then you are done. I’m bringing that clock into my office. Here’s how.

As a test, pick the gnarliest task on your desk—the one you’ve been putting off. Set up a stopwatch, phone, tablet or computer app on your desk with a specified time that should allow you to make progress. Let’s say 1 hour. Once you click start on that timer, you must focus all of your energy on that task for the next hour. When you are AMRAP-ing, you devote all of your focus to one thing. The goal is to make as much progress as possible in the limited time, then you’re done. It’s amazing how much more you can endure when you know when the pain will end; think of tax season.

Apply the concept to any task where you want a little more motivation or focus. How great would it be to AMRAP your meeting? Put a timer on the table and focus on one objective for 15 minutes but, when the timer beeps, it’s over. Do you think that meeting might run a little more efficient than most of the meetings in your office?

What are the big picture benefits? It promotes good planning and focus instead of reactive behavior and inefficient multi-tasking. It makes the intimidating more manageable. Most important, it retrains your habits and gets the clock back on your side.

And yes, I am AMRAP-ing this article right now. But no, I won’t tell you what the clock says.
“Charles Burak, CPA/ABV/CFF, CVA, CFE” is a partner at Glenn & Burak, LLP.

Winter 2014

Leading Clients to a Successful Life
By Leonard C. Wright, CPA/PFS, CFP, CLU, ChFC
Every step I’ve taken on my path to become a CPA/personal financial planner has provided me with the opportunity to better serve my clients. Along with technical skills, I have found that moving a career forward takes things like keeping a watchful eye on professional and financial developments; talking with people to determine their end goals when it comes to financial planning and what drives them; and networking face to face. It’s amazing the synergy that’s created when you meet people. The key skill sets we share as CPAs provide the best training to be an extraordinary resource to our clients.

Preparation of Financial Statements: This trains us to always look at the footnotes to the financial statements and understand their meaning. On numerous occasions clients have shared investment opportunities, and the “pitch” is always exciting—except, it almost always seems to be a losing proposition when pencil is put to paper. I always ask to begin with the financial statements. Projections are good as well. I perform due diligence to understand an industry. Then I ask tough questions. And only if things pass muster, do we then forward.

Taxation: Knowledge of taxation is essential to proper financial planning. What qualifies for a myriad of taxation at what levels? How we construct a long-term savings strategy between real estate, ERISA accounts, non-qualified plans, oil and gas, annuities, and life insurance will allow the client’s dollars to stretch into retirement. This is in addition to the impact of estate taxation and the planning elements around proper long-term estate planning.

Business Law: This means having a clear understanding of contracts, and the financial impact of the contract. This is a directly transferable skill set to the CPA financial planning profession. What do the provisions of the annuity contract take away? What do they guarantee? What is the quality of the company? For real estate transactions, what is the liquidity, and how long is it tied up?

Management Advisory Services: Documenting operational flow of organizations transfers to instincts that most don’t share. Risk management services, and so much more, is directly transferable to the practice of CPA financial planning. There have been many times when my experience—gained as a CPA—evaluating risk have come into play when serving by investment clients. Things like evaluating risks of portfolios and the risk of their risk management strategies.

Teamwork: As a 29-year-old CFO, with my foundation of CPA experience, I moved into operations and marketing at a leading jewelry company, where we were able to nearly double revenue without compromising gross margin. We achieved what no other jeweler in America could during a deep recession and, in the process, acquired the nation’s first jeweler, Black Starr & Frost. Notice the “we.” The understanding of teamwork is directly transferable to the CPA financial planning profession, in which we recognize the importance of working with experts in law, accountancy, pension administration and many other areas to best serve the client.

I’ve learned more than I could have imagined on this journey. I have had the pleasure to work with the founding fathers of the financial planning profession, who also are my colleagues at CalCPA and the AICPA. What an extraordinary privilege it is to serve my clients in a manner that delivers extraordinary value—all because I chose the pathway in college to become a CPA. And for those who want to foster meaningful, long-term professional relationships that add extraordinary value to their client’s lives, consider the becoming a CPA financial planner. You will be key in helping your clients achieve their goals and lead successful financial lives!
“Leonard C. Wright, CPA/PFS” is the host of Financial Fridays in Las Vegas and a Money Doctor for the AICPA’s He also is a member of CalCPA Personal Financial Planning Committee.