Category: Auditing

A Report from the AICPA/ Blockchain Symposium

I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the AICPA/ Blockchain Symposium, which was held May 2, 2018 at the AICPA offices in New York.   This meeting, which included leaders from around the profession, including practitioners, educators, consultants, and AICPA leadership, was the kickoff of an effort by the profession to address the accounting, auditing, tax, and regulatory issues associated with distributed ledger technologies and assist members in understanding how they work, where they make sense, and what issues they should evaluate associated with their use.  The 64 participants were divided into three working groups for each of two sessions addressing accounting, auditing, tax, legal/regulatory, education, and privacy.  Prior to the symposium, each participant was asked to submit questions related to unresolved issues surrounding blockchain ledger technology and its use in the profession.  The groups evaluated these questions and created a list of possible strategies for a report which will be issued by the end of May.  AICPA will create working groups and an action plan in June, and the initial deliverables will be released at the end of November.

We discussed a wide range of issues where practitioners, clients, regulators, and taxing authorities need guidance to make it possible for us to do business more easily.  Some of the items which I recorded in my notes include the following:

  • The general understanding of the basic terms and concepts related to blockchain needs improvement in the profession.
  • It is clear from observations and behaviors viewed by the participants that cryptocurrencies and ICO’s are a major focus of law enforcement agencies and regulators, while the lack of guidance and caselaw makes it difficult for practitioners to hang their hats on available precedents to make good decisions.
  • Because it’s such a new area with new risks, there are clear issues related to client acceptance, what constitutes sufficient competent evidential matter, and how transactions should be recorded and disclosed for book and tax.
  • Authoritative guidance from the profession is clearly needed – perhaps an accounting/auditing guide for crypto-based ledgers and ICO’s?
  • The profession needs to work with many regulators to address the unresolved regulatory issues with agencies like the SEC, IRS, FASB, PCAOB, and numerous state departments of revenue and securities regulators. There are many unaddressed issues like
    • What represent constructive receipt of a token?
    • Is a token a security, an asset, a liability, an expense, revenue or something else?
    • How does one calculate the accounting and tax basis of bitcoins received in exchange for mining currency?
    • How can we get some “safe harbor” guidance for these unresolved issues so that we can deal with this rapidly emerging area?
  • Unfortunately, we see the possibility of state-by-state regulation of this area instead of federal leadership, which could make it very difficult for the US to take a leadership role in this area.
  • Many countries are ahead of the US in the adoption and implementation of regulations in this area, and one participant cited regulatory frameworks from the governments of Singapore and Switzerland as possible templates to be considered in the US.

I also think it’s important to address the fearmongers who say that blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will be the end of the accounting profession (to that, I say “balderdash”).  When I started in the profession in 1992, I did everything on 5, 7, and 14 column papers with a mechanical pencil and a 10-key adding machine.  Upon graduation, I was told by a friend that computers and the internet were going to end accounting.  In the 2000’s, I was told that my job was going offshore, and I would need to do something different to make a living.  Over the last few years, I’ve been told that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain are going to end jobs for US accountants.  My response to is that it’s 2018.  I’m still here, and am not going anywhere, and the world is becoming grayer instead of black and white – so accountants are going to be needed to make good decisions in this area.  While I do see many practitioners who clearly have not adopted technologies and methods to make their work more efficient (including one practitioner I recently saw who was working off a five-column pad), these emerging technologies will require changes to how we work, banishing the last few adding machines to the museums or the scrapheap.

It is clear to me that our profession must rethink how we work, what we do, and effectively “disrupt ourselves” before we fall so far behind that our work is irrelevant.  Many things have changed or will change – basic account classification/coding will be done by AI or user-programmed rules into applications like Xero, QuickBooks Online, or Sage Accounting, data will be entered using OCR tools like Receipt Bank, and the advanced technologies and analytical tools used by Wall Street financial services companies will find their way into our toolboxes.  The purpose of the work we all do ten years hence will be similar, yet the low-level tasks we perform will be different – in ways many of us cannot imagine.

I was absolutely blown away at the top-notch practitioners in the group, who were clearly deep thinkers and technicians who were at the absolute top of their game.  I also enjoyed the banter back and forth in the group, which was very collegial, and while there were politics in the room (as there is with any meeting of this type), it was as apolitical of a meeting as I have seen at this level in the profession.  In addition to the partners, I had the pleasure of meeting some exceptionally bright managers and senior managers who were members of the group.  These people remind me that, despite the rumors to the contrary, our profession is continuing to advance in this fast-moving world, and it gives me great hope about the bright future of the accounting profession.

Who Will Be The Profession’s Digital Plumber?

I’ve been using, supporting, and following accounting software developments since the 1990’s, and there’s a common problem which still needs to be solved:

“How will I get (my)(my client’s) data from (application one) into (specialized application two) so I can perform (task)?”

There have been a wide range of people who have taken on solving this problem, and almost every family of solutions (e.g. Intuit, CCH, Thomson Reuters, Sage, etc.) has solved the problem for their stack of solutions.  One can easily go from most of the major client bookkeeping products into that publishers tax application, and with a little more difficulty, one can pull data from QuickBooks desktop into the tax software.  All bets are off, however, when you step outside of your tax software’s family of solutions.

If you look at e-mail in the 1980’s, we had services like Prodigy and Compuserve, which in their early iterations had closed e-mail systems – like those run by many companies.  In fact, I have had professional jobs in my career where I didn’t have internet-based e-mail – because it was a closed system.  Once these systems opened up, I had internet e-mail from Prodigy (

My friend Randy Johnston has often compared the “my tools only” integration strategy as a nationalist strategy – that is, you’re picking winners and losers in a war (e.g. NATO/Warsaw Pact).  Some of this is because of benign neglect, some due to economics, but part of this is an intentional strategy.  That’s OK – providers have no obligation to support competing solutions – but it’s still frustrating.

What we haven’t seen in the US is someone who will be the accounting data version of Switzerland for practitioners– a company which will put in tight integrations to everything.  The closest company to that strategy seems to be Caseware, which exports to most practitioner tax solutions – but their relatively small US market share diminishes their effectiveness in this role.  QuickBooks is probably as close as any app here – but that’s primarily due to its marketshare in the US.  Without good cross-platform integrations and effective/automated import/exports between the different provider cloud offerings, adopters are just trading an on-premises cloud island for a provider-hosted island.  If there’s no easy way to move traffic between islands, you’re just a castaway.

I will point out that Avalara does this successfully with hundreds of accounting/ERP solutions on the sales tax side, so it’s definitely possible, and I think their strategy will pay off in the long run.

I did a session on Digital Plumbing at the Sleeter Accounting Solutions Conference last year, and some companies are out there which do different tasks associated with this for general accounting solutions.  Leaders are ITDuzzit (now part of Intuit, no longer commercially sold), Zapier, and OneSaaS, but there are many nascent competitors in this space, and I haven’t seen anyone reach scale yet in the practitioner market.

Chris Keall of the National Business Review in New Zealand points out today (link requires subscription) in a paid article that Kiwi company Common Ledger has received a relatively small amount of funding ($1MM NZD) to develop solutions in Australia/New Zealand.  What a pity that we don’t have anyone taking on this task in the US.  VC’s seem to be throwing money like crazy at cloud products, but nobody seems to be helping the various data clouds automatically talk to each other.  What a pity.

If any of you readers are aware of anyone who is solving this problem, please let me know.  If accounting is going to become more automated, we have to move past 1980’s solutions like manual import of CSV files and transition into real solutions which are less of a pain to implement.  We’ve seen this change radically with bank feeds in the cloud accounting solutions– when will we see it with other accounting data flowing between various best in breed practitioner solutions?


It’s Time for Two Factor Authentication, SaaS Vendors. NOW, not later.

You’ve heard about the security issues at a number of organizations in the last few weeks.  Thankfully, there haven’t been any breaches at software companies who serve professional accountants (except maybe for Evernote – although I don’t know that I would put HIPAA or taxpayer data in that service).  One of the important things that is coming out of this is that major software vendors like Evernote and Google are planning to implement a security approach called “Two Factor Authentication”.  While I won’t go into much detail on how it works (although there’s a good Wikipedia article here), the basics are as follows:

Security tokens, like the RSA SecurID above, have a formula which generates a new six digit code every minute that is used as a one time password.

There are three basic ways to validate someone’s identity

  • Something they know (username, password, PIN, etc.)
  • Something they have (cell phone, RSA token, USB key, etc.)
  • Something they are (biometric identification like fingerprinting, face identification, or iris scans).

Historically, we’ve used only one factor of authentication – a username and password – to access most online systems.  While this is adequate for some information types, the sophistication of phishing attacks and other techniques used by the “bad guys” requires a more sophisticated approach to security.  Two factor authentication normally requires users to validate their credentials to two servers – one which controls the username and password, and a second which validates that they have a particular device or item through a one time password.

I’ve used a number of two factor authentication devices in my career, including:

All of the devices worked well, and I still use some of them to authenticate to many services.

One important point is that the use of factors other than passwords (something you know) is not a panacea.  Use of any of the items listed above in lieu of a password doesn’t accomplish anything.  The real benefit comes from using these tools in ADDITION to a username and a password.  Even if a person with bad intent knew your username and password, they would be screened out by the second factor, whether it is biometrics (fingerprint, iris, or face) or a device you have (token, cell phone, smart card, USB key).  Just like high security installations have more than one layer of security, you want the same layers of security verifying that you are really you online.

The ugly reality of the accounting profession is that a significant breach would undermine the confidence that others have in the profession, and could send us back to the ‘90s with some technologies used in business today.  It’s hard enough to be a small business in our economy without having to deal with concerns about security of data.

It’s time for two factor authentication with online services, people.  Ask your vendors about their support for it, and look for opportunities to protect your data with these types of authentication regimes.  It’s time for this technology – we can’t wait for some practitioner to lose their house over an online information breach to deal with this significant issue.


The Passing of Newt Becker

As many of you know, I’ve taught the Becker CPA Review for the last 15 years.  I learned this morning of Newt’s passing in the following e-mail from the Becker organization, which I am publishing in its entirety.

It is with sadness that I’m sending you this message. Newt Becker, the founder of Becker Professional Education, died Monday evening in Los Angeles after being ill for quite a while. Newt was 83 years old.

Newt started Becker CPA Review in 1957 in Cleveland, his home town. From humble beginnings and with a handful of students, he found a successful formula for dedicated CPA candidates to pass the difficult CPA exam. He was a pioneer in interactive learning for exam preparation, engaging his students in every facet of mastering the curriculum – through lectures, mnemonics, homework, etc. Most importantly, he truly cared about each student who selected the review course that bears his name. His goal was fulfilling their dream to earn the CPA credential and to ultimately enrich their lives.

All of us at Becker owe Newt our gratitude for the painstaking effort that he and his early team of colleagues expended to produce the best product for CPA exam preparation. His legacy of putting the student first resulted in the Becker culture that thrives today. We care about our students and we care about each other.

Newt devoted his life to making the world a better place. When he handed over the CPA Review reins to DeVry in 1996, he immersed himself in charitable and altruistic social endeavors, including the exploration of clean air alternative energy resources. He was truly a generous and good man.

So let’s remember Newt Becker for what he gave to us… A thriving business for sure, but also a commitment to excellence and caring about student success. We honor his legacy.

John P. Roselli

President, Becker Professional Education

At the CPA Tech Blog, all of our thoughts and prayers are with Newt’s family in this difficult time.  Many CPA’s I know are very grateful to Newt and the Becker organization for helping them pass the CPA exam, and I am thankful to have worked in his organization.


Report From CES: Mobile Monitors and Mobile Scanning

I attended the 2011 international CES show in Las Vegas last week.  I’m posting some of my observations on monitors and scanners which would be useful for mobile accountants below.  I’m looking forward to working with the ScanSnap S1100 and putting it through its paces!

Mobile Monitors

There has (finally) been some innovation in the mobile monitor space to make it much easier for mobile users (e.g. road warriors) to have two monitors without carrying a ton of gear. Two new models offer road warriors workable solutions for that second display, the Toshiba Mobile Monitor (to be released in March 2011, price TBA) and the Field Monitor Pro from Mobile Monitor Technologies ($289 from


Figure 1: The Toshiba Mobile Monitor is a 14.1″ LCD display which runs on USB power. (available March 2011)

The Toshiba device uses one USB 2.0 slot to provide a second 14.1” display (1366 x 768) for an external monitor, and we understand that there will be a USB 3.0 version coming soon. This exciting new offering comes in a leather folio which seals with Velcro, and can be used as a stand for the monitor on any flat surface. The model we saw was a prototype, and we were told that this device will be available in March, 2011. (Pricing not available at press time)


Figure 2 – The Field Monitor Pro, from is $279, and includes a numeric keypad.

Although they were not at CES 2011, the enterprising accountants at Mobile Monitor Technologies appeared at the 2010 CCH User Conference with the Field Monitor Pro. This device is similar to a very thin laptop, and its 15.4” 1280×800 display is connected to a PC using a USB port. The LCD can be positioned using three different stands, and includes a full numeric keypad. The Field Monitor Pro is priced at $279, and is available now from

Mobile Scanning

Scanners for use on the road have been a challenge for accountants on the go for some time, and although Fujitsu has offered the ScanSnap S1300 portable scanner for some time, this device is still somewhat bulky to carry every day or for road warriors. Fujitsu recently released the ScanSnap S1100 to fill this gap in their product line.


Figure 3 – Fujitsu’s ScanSnap S1100 offers portable scanning in a micro-sized footprint.

Weighing in at a light 12.3 ounces, the svelte (10.74” x 1.33” x 1.87”) ScanSnap 1100 scans one side of one page at a time, and will handle hard to scan originals like embossed cards without an issue. Scanning takes 7.5 seconds per page, which puts the speed for this device at about six pages per minute.


Figure 4- The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 portable scanner

Although the scanner itself is impressive, the real advances made by Fujitsu are in the accompanying ScanSnap Manager software, which has been extended to allow users to scan documents directly to PDF files, e-mail messages, printers, or to numerous cloud applications for online collaboration. One-click online document sharing is available for Evernote, SharePoint, and Google Docs.


Figure 5 – Fujitsu’s ScanSnap Manager software allows one-touch uploads to numerous document portal services.

Another alternative for mobile scanning is to use software to convert the high quality digital cameras in tablets and cellular phones into a scanning device. One application, PDF Scanner, which is available for Windows Mobile 6, Android, and the iPhone, will take pictures of documents and convert them into PDF files, which can then be either downloaded using a cable or attached to e-mail messages. PDF scanner is available from most cell phone application stores, and more information can be found at


Analysis on the Cheap

I often remind participants in my seminars that every accountant I’ve ever met shares a common favorite four letter word.


That word is, of course, FREE.

With that in mind, I’ve run across some tools over the last few months that I haven’t blogged about, and wanted to pass these along to you all.  The tools are available for the low, low price of….. wait for it…. FREE.

Analyzing and manipulating large data sets has long been the job of accountants, auditors, and analysts, and the classic tools for these tasks like CaseWare IDEA, ACL, and others have always been very expensive and required a week or so of training so that you can be proficient with them.  With the general availability of quad core processors, workstations with 8 GB+ of RAM, fast 1 TB hard disks, end users no longer need to wait on someone to create a report for them.  Get the right tools, get access to the data, and get to work.

Basic Tools: Microsoft Query and Excel PivotTables

Although they aren’t technically “free” since you need to purchase Microsoft Office to get them, Microsoft offers a couple of tools which are just as useful to analysts as an adjustable wrench (a Crescent wrench) and a claw hammer are to those doing home repair.

  • Microsoft Query is a tool for selecting, joining, sorting, filtering, and extracting data from databases.  Query is one of those “helper” applications which is hidden from most users – I have only executed MS Query from within the Data tab of the Excel 2007/2010 Ribbon (Data, Get External Data Group, From Other Sources, Microsoft Query), but it is invaluable for entry level work with databases, and is compatible with any ODBC compliant database which you can use on your PC, including MS Access, MS SQL, and many, many other formats.  Queries can be created, edited, saved, and executed from a simple menu structure, and a wizard makes the hard task of writing SQL statements into child’s play.
  • Excel Pivot Tables make it possible to summarize large data sets into interactive tables.  Although a full discussion of Pivot Tables would take all day (I actually own entire volumes written on Pivot Tables, and teach TWO half day classes on them (1) (2) through K2 Enterprises), suffice it to say that Pivot Tables will change your life, and do just about anything you want except make your teeth whiter and make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex.  Seriously – they’re that good.

ActiveData For Office

My friends over at have a couple of nice products which meet the needs of accountants, engineers, and other professionals who need to perform sophisticated analysis on large data sets.  While my favorite one, ActiveData for Excel, is still a pay application, there is a version of this powerful tool called ActiveData for Office, which is now available for the low, low, price of FREE.  ActiveData for Office (also referred to as “ActiveData for SQL”) uses standard ODBC connections to talk to large databases, and will perform routine calculations like verifying the accuracy of an A/R aging report based on the dates in an open item listing, stratifying a sample, and evaluating sample results.  I’ve been somewhat confused by the move to give away this product, as I think it’s more powerful than the Excel tool – but pricing decisions are above my pay grade.  For more information, visit’s page on ActiveData for Office.


ActiveData for Office is a FREE data analysis tool which is invaluable for Accountants and other information professionals who need to slice and dice large data sets.

PowerPivot for Office 2010

With the release of Microsoft Office 2010, our friends at Microsoft have come to the table with one of the best tools for summarizing huge (100K+ records) data sets.  While the tool does require that you become an early adopter of Office 2010, the price is definitely right, and the tool has been used to analyze data sets with hundreds of millions of records.  PowerPivot (free from is a self-service business intelligence tool designed to let end users create their own business intelligence (BI) solutions which combine data from disparate sources using an Excel add-in.  For seasoned BI professionals, PowerPivot creates pre-summarized tables which are periodically updated and can be queried similar to cubes for almost instant calculations on data sets with millions of records.

While you can do many of the same things using MS Access, update queries, dummy databases, ODBC connections, and pivot tables, PowerPIvot is both more powerful (smarter) and easier to use (better looking) than the alternatives, and it’s free.

If you haven’t tried it, PowerPivot is available from


Monitors for Out of the Office and Other Hardware Recommendations

One of the more common questions asked by readers is a request for recommendations of external LCD monitors which can be attached to a laptop so that mobile users have two displays.  This post summarizes current thoughts on how to do this based on my experiences and the experiences of my friends, Randy Johnston, Bob Spencer, and Val Steed.  Together, we teach hundreds of CPE courses to accountants across North America each year, and also make recommendations at,,, and  Many of us are also active consultants with CPA firms nationally either independently or through organizations such as NMGI.

The K2 CPA Firm Tech team members had an e-mail discussion re: our personal opinions on portable monitors for CPAs about three weeks ago.

  • Some of my co-workers @ K2 (Val, Randy, Bob) are recommending an HP 21.5” touch screen monitor – the HP L2105tm 21.5”($299).  Personally, I think this one is too big to lug around (14.1 lb (6.4 kg), Dimensions (w x d x h) 20.2 x 9.1 x 16.5 in).  The one I mention below is smaller, but does not have the multi-touch touch screen, and is also only an 18.5” display instead of a 21.5” display, resulting in much less work area, but my recommendation is a little over half of the weight of the HP model.  Info on HP model L2105tm is available on the HP website.
  • Due its the much smaller form factor (17.72″ x 11.65″ x 2.83″, Weight 7.94 lbs), I’m recommending the Samsung LD190N monitor for staff and seniors when out of the office  ().  It is a 18.5” LCD (1360 x 768 native resolution), and has a 5ms response time with decent contrast.  I purchased one of these for my own use a few weeks ago.  Some things you should know about this display:
    • This WILL NOT fit in my backpack sized for a 17”notebook, so I haven’t taken it on the road yet.
    • The monitor is NOT HDCP capable, so you will not be able to play Blue Ray DVDs on it, and only has an analog VGA cable input.
    • Since this one is only $119 vs. the $299 of the HP above (the HP is clearly a superior monitor, but it’s big, you could always buy a few of the Samsungs, and then see if you need a larger display and the touch interface.
  • You might try to find a good deal on 17” monitors, although I don’t know of any specific models to recommend, as most everyone is going to something bigger these days.

Screen protection will be a concern for most users, as there is no protection provided with either of these displays, and they will be very easy to crack.  I plan to protect my screen two ways:

  • I plan to use black velcro (matches the framing on the monitor) to attach a trimmed corrugated plastic For Sale sign you can buy at Lowe’s/Home Depot and use it as a hard piece to protect the screen.
  • I will see if any of my existing bags will hold the monitor so I can avoid purchasing a special case for it (I have about 10 laptop cases from throughout the years).

There are a number of alternatives for a case, including:

  • For the smaller Samsung and other 19” class displays, there’s a closeout bag by Shuttle (gaming PC manufacturer) which is designed to transport their discontinued XP19 – 19” monitor (which had a piece of plexiglass over the LCD) from place to place.  I don’t have one at this point, but it looks pretty interesting, and is $60 @ Directron, an online closeout store.
  • One firm reported that they use the CaseAce LCD harness to transport monitors and shield the screens from damage.  This is a cover shaped like a messenger bag (with the bottom open) to let you carry your monitor by the handle mounted on the top of the bag.  (Note: This harness appears to not be water tight, so you may want to also carry a trash bag with you to seal the monitor in the event of very heavy rain).  There is a larger version of this LCD harness which will let you carry monitors up to 24”.
  • Another firm reported that they used contact paper to reinforce the original packaging which came with their monitors and are using these boxes on the infrequent occasions when they need to move from site to site with their LCD.

Finally, some users will want to have more than one 22” monitor available in the office.  There are a number of solutions which will let you run the second external monitor (e.g. laptop LCD + 2 External LCD’s), including:

I would NOT purchase more than one of any device until you test it and verify that the drivers will not conflict with your applications and operating system.  I have had numerous issues with drivers for these items in the past, and some of the ones you can purchase at retail in office supply stores have software which will hang up when you try to run the PC without the attached monitor – which defeats the purpose of having a laptop.

FREE WEBCAST 12/9/2009 @ 2PM – On a personal note, I’m presenting a free one hour webcast on Gadgets with Greg Lafollette at 2pm EST on Wednesday, December 9th.  I hope you will register and attend.  The webcast is sponsored by Sage.


Got Tick Marks?

One of the more common things I am asked from people who are implementing a document management system is how they can include their “tick marks” in their documents.  My usual responses are to look at PDFlyer or Tick, Tie & Calculate in Acrobat (or alternatively, create your own stamps), and to either use graphics or a symbol font like wingdings in Word, Excel, and everything else.

My wife and I recently started using SendOutCards to send some of her follow up correspondence as part of her work as a mortgage loan officer.  One of the things you get with SendOutCards is the ability to create a custom font based on your handwriting.  I have sent mine off, and am somewhat anxious about what it’s going to look like when it is complete (my handwriting really, really stinks).  This effort, however, has opened my eyes to how easy it is to create your own, personalized font to do things like tick marks and other symbols.  While you can purchase applications for $50 to do this, the geniuses over at LifeHacker had a great post in February which mentioned YourFonts, a web service which does this for you for free.  You fill out a form, scan it, and it encodes the stuff you wrote as images in a Windows-compatible TrueType font.


If you needed to create a font for tick marks, you could simply create your own font using this tool, and instead of making the letters correctly, you could assign a tick mark to each character on your keyboard.  And it’s free.  You will need to share your tick mark files with anyone who would print out your documents, and will probably want to render the final versions to PDF (and embed the tick mark font in the PDF files), but if you do this, it’s a fairly elegant solution to one of the more vexing problems associated with annotating documents.


Thoughts on Auditing from Across the Pond

Dennis Howlett, an accountant/blogger who is a British CA and lives in Spain recently posted to his blog ( a story about Auditing and traditional financial reporting being over.  Interesting discussion (and it makes me wonder why our business model is exempt from being reengineered)… thought some of you gentle readers might enjoy it.  I may post a rebuttal after I’ve contemplated the article and formulated my thoughts.  Whether you agree or disagree, it is thought provoking.

Howlett’s post:

The post that started it all: Umair Haque’s “Smart Growth Manifesto”:


COSO releases Guidance on Internal Control Over Financial Reporting (ICFR) for Smaller Public Companies

<p>COSO released an exposure draft of their new document on ICFR in smaller public companies today.&nbsp; For more information, please visit their website at <a href=””></a></p&gt;