Matches for: “three words” …

2017! Three Words! Let’s Go!

img_1043-2Yesterday, I took a moment to look back at 2016 and I am glad that I did. After that exercise in honoring history, I actually changed one of my words for 2017. My words for 2017? That may be what you are wondering. Let me explain. In 2013, Tom Hood introduced me to the concept of Three Words (and that concept came from Chris Brogan). I use these three words to give the year ahead a theme, almost like a rhythm that I can dance to as I go through the year; and isn’t everything better with dance? The process of thinking about my three words and then coming back to them throughout the year, help consolidate, direct and give confidence to what I do and how I do it. As I read over yesterday’s post, I saw my 2016 Three Words dancing over my year, in ways that I had not thought about as I was writing the post – Learn. Fear. Community.

For several days, I thought about what my words for 2017 would be – and how those words would serve to seal my intentions for the days ahead. I think I have it now.

Embrace: In previous years I have written about changing things in my life. Transform was one of my words in 2014. Then, in 2015, Receptive was a word of mine. Last year we moved to a new neighborhood. When I was a kid, due to politics and other adventures in their lives, we moved around a lot. Between first and third grade, I went to four different schools in three different countries, in four different cities. During my first two years in New York City, I lost count of how many places I lived in. I even spent a couple of months camping out on a (very amazing) friend’s couch on weekends, while I worked in Florida during the week. Last year, I talked transformation and I was receptive to talk of moving but, now that I am here, I realize that it is not going to work until I embrace it. This is where I am now with my move, with my work, with my life. I can talk about how great innovations in my line of work are; I can marvel at how awesome some of the tools that are available to us are; I can wax lyrical about the incredible people who cross my path and make me better at what I do, but all of that is not worth much unless I dive in there, snuggle in and just embrace it all.

Persevere: When I started training to run long distance, I learnt about the power of a mantra. The mantra was invaluable to me, when doing hill repeats. I would chug up a hill and repeat, over and over again, “I love hills.” I will say this, I reached the top of that hill and many others AND I hate hills less and appreciate their value. I actually surprised myself when I told a cousin that I wished there were a few more hills around my new home. In 2015, I embarked on a new journey of sorts. I started my own business and decided that I wanted to do work that made me look forward to getting out of bed every day. I loved that my husband’s work, as a photographer, was something he also did for fun. I admired how excited he got about his projects and I wanted some of that. At times I would talk to some people about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it and they would tell me, “that will never work.” Fortunately, my incredible community (2016 word, hello!) took over and repeated the mantra I had not yet learnt to say myself. However, as the year came to an end, I started to believe. So this year, I shall remember to say to myself, “You got this. You can do this,” not just when I am running, or doing pull-ups. I shall tell myself this as I am serving my clients, community and the public.

Monchu: My last word is a word that I have borrowed from Chris Brogan. Chris tells us Monchu is an Okinawan word that means “one family”. It essentially means that we treat people who are not our blood as though they are family. I have benefited from this concept forever. As someone who lives very far away from most of my blood, I just don’t know where I would be with my one family. For instance, I just wrote about how I was able to crash on a friend’s couch when I first moved to New York. I didn’t mention that I had only known her for months and she offered her home to me, and her husband and adorable daughter didn’t seem to mind either. That is just one of a million of my stories. I know that I could do a way better job of keeping in touch with people to let them know that they are part of my one family. I know that this philosophy will guide me to be better at what I do and how I do it. I hope to also inspire others around me to embrace this philosophy.

As I share my words for 2017, I want to acknowledge my words from previous years:

2013 – Change, Discover & Motivate
2014 – Transform, Pursue & Collaborate
2015 – Receptive, Synergy & Service
2016 – Learn, Fear & Community

And now for 2017 – Embrace, Persevere & Monchu. I am excited for the year ahead and I know that the view from my new home will help me do so. You see it up above, I can see forever now. I got this.

Tell me, what are your words?

I hope 2017 is your best year ever!

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2016! Three Words! Boom!

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Hey there 2016! In 2013, I officially put aside New Year’s Resolutions. This is because I was introduced to the concept of Three Words, by Tom Hood, who found this idea from Chris Brogan. I have found the three words to be a great way to give my year a point of consolidation and mindfulness. I have found the three words to be invaluable. I find myself bringing up these words in conversations and in my writing and I am sure I must sound like a broken record to some people. I am happy to be a broken record if this helps me live a life of greater focus and productivity. I am just about always trying to do too much and I have found these three words give me greater direction.

Last year, my three words were Receptive, Synergy and Service and I found these words coming up often during 2015. I faced several challenges during the year, I embarked on new ventures and my life took turns that I never imagined. During that time, my words from 2013 all the way through 2015 helped form my rallying cry.

As 2015 neared its end, I wondered what my words for 2016 would be. I took the time to look back and think about where I have been and then think forward to where I would like to go and what I want my compass to look like as I travel. Today, I have my words for 2016.

Learn: During my various adventures in 2015, I things thrown at me that I could either try to ignore or take lessons from. My brother got married and that brought a lot of my family together in one place. It is always amazing to me that, for as much as I think I know the stories of my family, when we come together there are new and incredibly interesting things that I learn. My husband and I also spent time together with his aunt where she regaled us with stories of her youth and his family history. As much as I think I know, I find that there are still more ways to expand my mind and that should I choose to, I can keep on learning. I hope to learn in formal settings, in informal setting and totally by surprise.

Fear: I am sure that at some point in my writing I have shared my irrational fear of rodents, a fear that is not very helpful for a person who lives in New York City. I remember once, years ago, I was living in an apartment an old building. The old buildings in New York are lovely to look at but come with holes, holes that mice like to climb through, especially when it gets cold. One evening, I was hanging out on the couch when suddenly a mouse scuttled across my floor. I was frozen on the couch, afraid to move lest the mouse and I collide. People tell me that the rodents are more afraid of me than I am of them; I beg to differ. I ended up calling my neighbor, from the couch and, luckily he came by and dealt with the mouse. Now, I am not about to dive into a close encounter with a rodent, but I am learning that the times that I have been able to get past my fears are the times that I have been able to have new adventures. I started my own business this year and I am learning to not let my fears about failure, about the unknown or about anything else hold me back. I am also having a great time exploring life and learning new things about myself and those around me.

Community: I say it all the time and it remains true – nothing happens without community. When I started my business I found support from friends, family and colleagues. I found support from strangers. Had I realized the power of community, I may have taken the leap earlier. An instrumental aspect of collaboration and synergy is community. As I continue on this incredible adventure, I want to be mindful of the great things that can be achieved by a community.

Just a moment to look back on my words from prior years:

2013 – Change, Discover and Motivate
2014 – Transform, Pursue and Collaborate
2015 – Receptive, Synergy and Service

And now: Learn, Fear and Community

I am unbelievably excited at the prospect of looking fear in the eye and saying, “bring it on.”. For it is through these experiences that I shall learn and it is with these moments that I shall be able to connect with my community and build that community. AND I have an extra day to do all of this this year. So, tell me, what are your words?

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2015! Three Years, Three Words…

James Petrozzello

James Petrozzello

Three years ago, I was inspired by Tom Hood, by way of Chris Brogan. As someone who gave up on New Year’s resolutions years ago, partly because I was not very good at keeping them, partly because I would change my mind about them and partly because I would often lose track of where I had written them down, I found power in the concept of Three Words. I embraced the magic and power of three during my lessons in Latin and in rhetoric. I have found my three words a great theme song that plays in my head throughout the year. They pop up in conversations, in my planning and often at unexpected, random moments. And this year, the magical and powerful three are Receptive, Synergy, and Service.

Receptive: This year, for Christmas, I gave my husband a Bluetooth headset. Ever since I came across my first Bluetooth headset, I have hated those things. People walk around with those things constantly plugged in an ear and it always seems to me that they are only giving you a small piece of their attention and are, essentially, waiting for something more interesting and important to beep in their ear. I have often felt as though people wear the headsets to make themselves feel important and busy. Around Christmas, when my husband mentioned that he wanted one, I started thinking about the Bluetooth headset in a different way. He spends a lot of time travelling and alone in an office. It makes sense that, should he wish to answer the phone, it would make sense to be able to do this and still be able to use both his hands. He has promised to put it in his ear only when he needs it and to not wear it when we are together. Beyond me and my relationship with the Bluetooth headset, I am realizing more and more, how essential it is to success and happiness to be receptive to new (and old) concepts and ideas. At work and as a part of the various boards and committees that I serve on, I have discovered how essential it is to listen to the opinions of others and process them before concluding how I feel about a situation or idea. At times, the ideas of others are better than anything that I had considered; other times, after taking their opinions into consideration, we can come up with a great plan or compromise. In order to continue the spirit of my words from last year, Transform, Pursue and Collaborate, being receptive is key.

Synergy: Last year, one of my words was collaborate. There is the saying, no man is an island, and I have found it to be true. I have lived and learnt in many places and my world and experiences have been touched by an incredible spectrum of people. All this has contributed to who and what I am today. Collaboration is so very much of getting things done but, this year, I want to hone in on synergy. I want to really think about the wonderful notion of how one plus one can equal more than two (sometimes significantly so). So collaboration will not be solely for the purpose of doing things together; to do this without thinking about how to best leverage the power of collaboration can be wasteful, frustrating and diminish the contributions of each party. I want to be mindful of the concept of synergy and ask myself, often, how can we do this so that what we achieve together is greater than what we could achieve acting alone.

Service: I have talked before about the CPA’s obligation to “serve the public trust, honor the public interest, and demonstrate a commitment to professionalism.” As a forensic CPA, this is a very important aspect of our profession. Often there are pressures upon us and, it is at times like this, that it is necessary to act with integrity, in order to honor our obligation to the public and to our profession. As a member of various committees of my State Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs, and as I prepare to take over the presidency of our chapter, I, along with my fellow members must always keep in mind that our goal is to serve the public, our members and our profession with the work that we do.

A couple of years ago, my husband, James, and I traveled to Berlin for a wedding. I had often told him how much I love karaoke and so, when we heard about Bearpit Karaoke, we had to find it. The place was packed and the singers were excellent. My husband encouraged me to put my name down to sing. After hearing the caliber of singers, and after seeing how many people were in attendance (a dauntingly large crowd), I hesitated and tried to make excuses. He finally convinced me and I put my name on a long list. I was told that I probably would not get a chance to sing as many people were ahead of me and they were shutting down soon. I was pretty okay with that – it was enough for me to have been part of the crowd and to almost get a chance to sing. At six o’clock, the time the karaoke was to end, we were just walking away when I heard my name being called. I was nervous and James whipped out his camera. As I got onto the stage and introduced myself and the song I had chosen, Fame, an old man in the crowd caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. As I sang, the crowd joined in for the chorus and a little kid ambled onto the stage. When I had moments of panic, I looked at him and took courage from his cute face, gazing up at me. Because I chose to be receptive to the idea of singing in front of this crowd, I found that I added a joy to our day that was magnified by our coming together in happiness. And, of course, what a gift and public service this Bearpit Karaoke is. If you are in Berlin, go and get yourself some joy.

The spirit of my words
From 2013: Change, Discover and Motivate
From 2014: Transform, Pursue and Collaborate
carry on and to that spirit I add my three for 2015
Receptive, Synergy and Service.

What are your three words will bring you magic and power this year?

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2014…. New Year, Three Words

ImageLast year was the first year that I officially gave my year a theme song, so to speak. Via Tom Hood, social media, learning and sticky note aficionado, I learned about Chris Brogan and the concept of Three Words. When I studied Latin, in high school, we were taught about the magic of the number three – fewer than three can seem too little and more than three can feel like too much. Three is a number that just works. Veni, Vidi, Vici. Signed, Sealed, Delivered. And my words – Transform, Pursue, Collaborate.

Transform: On the Saturday before Superbowl in 2011, I went to the emergency room with a stomach ache. Who lives that life? The life where your stomach packs in before the party even begins. My then boyfriend and I were about to have our first Superbowl Party – the themed cake had been ordered, we were due to pick up our 6-foot long sandwich and the guests were coming. Instead I ended up spending that Sunday and a few more days in a hospital room. While I was there, my aunt came to visit and brought me a beautiful flowering plant. I brought it home, the flowers died and all that remained were the leaves.

As 2013 neared its end, my now husband and I talked about making big changes to our lives, to our work, to our play. Sometimes we find our lives take unexpected turns, sometimes we get busy and never get around to recalibrating and sometimes we lose track of our wants and desires. We decided that we were going to dedicate ourselves to rediscovering our loves and transforming our lives accordingly. This morning, on New Year’s Day, I awoke to find a flower blooming on the hospital plant. Three years of nothing but leaves, but it seems my plant has decided to transform as well.

Pursue: Sometimes there is nothing scarier than a goal. What happens if you don’t attain it? No one wants to be a failure; failure sucks. This fear of failure is incredibly good at keeping us in a state of atrophy, a comfort zone of sameness. This fear of failure can keep us from evolving and it can keep us from fulfilling our goals. In November 2013, I ran the New York Marathon. Watching runners pass my block as they ran the New York Marathon is the reason that I started running distances further than three miles. Back then and since, there have been many moments when I have wondered whether or not I could run 26.2 miles. Several years in a row, I would start training for the marathon and experience a setback that kept me from running the marathon. During the heatwave of 2013, I found myself unable to make it through 12 miles and I was convinced that there was no way I would make it through 26.2. And with all of that going on, I still aspired to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3 hours and 45 minutes. I set this goal, even though the only other marathon I had run, in 2008, I had run in 4 hours and 50 minutes. In 2013, I did get to run the New York Marathon and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I ran the New York Marathon in 3 hours and 51 minutes, short of my 3:45 goal and it was still amazing. Though I did not attain my 3:45 goal, I found that I achieved many things I did not even know I was aiming for. More than anything, I discovered how wonderful it is to have goals and to pursue them. Even if things don’t turn out the way you hope, you tend to end up with things turning out in fantastic new ways that you may not have imagined. In 2014, I plan to pursue goals and dreams – I may not pursue them fearlessly but I plan to persevere, even through fear.

Collaborate: Nothing that I do of any substance can I say I have done alone. There is invariably a support team of one kind or another. I have people that believe that I can and I have people that will help do what I cannot. I have people who will speak sense to me when I am being irrational and I have people who will urge me to be crazy when I am being too rational. I have strangers who smile and give me support and I have friends and family who do the same. It is easy to take this for granted and to perhaps believe that I can be a one-woman superhero. I plan to remain mindful of the power of synergy, the strength of the network and the force of the team.

Last year my words were Change, Discover and Motivate. This year, the theme song is different – Transform, Pursue, Collaborate – but the music is still thumping. 2014 will be blooming awesome!

What are your 3 words?

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Three Words…

Image… and they aren’t “Happy New Year”

By way of Tom Hood over at the MACPA, I learnt about Chris Brogan and his concept of Three Words. I live a life of an endless to do list and this can lead to a very scattered way of thinking or feelings of failure as,no matter how much I do, there is always so much more to get done. I read both pieces and was struck by what a great idea this was. Having three words gives a theme to the year, so to speak, the essence of what is going to be important in the year to come. Almost like a theme song to the year – a lot will happen during the year but throughout these three words will give the mood.

Change: We live in a fast-paced, ever changing world. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by it all and, as a result, resist change by clinging to the familiar. I aim to embrace change and not be swept up by it. This will demand a bravery or fearlessness (or, perhaps a combination of the two). Instead of being changed, I plan on being the change. This will mean doing new things and not being afraid to fail. I hope this means learning new things like coding, advanced techniques in excel and skiing.

Discover: As I step outside my comfort zone, I look forward to a year of discovery. Through discovery will come growth and creativity. As a kid, I remember an aunt telling me that she had never met anyone who asked as many questions as I did. I am not going to be afraid to ask a lot of questions – this is how you learn a lot of things. I am going to discover how to use things like Hootsuite and Evernote (in an effective way). I am going to try out new restaurants, new cities and, hopefully, new countries. I will delve deeper into this financial forensics thing – I shall be the Quincy of Forensic Accounting.

Motivate: Last year, encouraged by a friend, I joined a running class. The drill, during our second class, was to run out for 20 minutes, turn around and run back in a little less than 20 minutes. I ended up running next to a woman who I felt had a good pace. I decided that I would be good if I just stuck with her. At moments when I felt I was flagging, seeing her keep up her pace pushed me to do the same. At the end of the run, I turned to her to thank her for keeping me going. At the same time, she did the same. Toward the end of the class, she asked me to be a rabbit for her, to help her attain her goal time for a half marathon that I was not running. I was honoured that she felt that I could help her reach her goal. During the race I was both nervous and excited. I had to maintain a pace that she could handle and, at the same time make sure she was running quickly enough to make her time. I also had to motivate her to keep going and keep her from wanting to strangle me. As she crossed the finish line with time to spare, I think I was happier than I have been after a race that I have run. Later in the year, I had to go in to hospital for a few days and she came to visit me with a gift in hand – a soft toy rabbit. Yesterday I signed up for another running class (my new friend is in the class too) and we ended up running with a group of new inspiring running buddies. This year I intend to maximise the power of motivation; it is far more powerful than I can imagine. It is to be a year to motivate, and be motivated.

I am sure that, yet again, it will also be a year full of running stories.

I should put my three words – change, discover, motivate – to music so it can be a theme song I can play as I do this 2013 thing.

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Over My Shoulder

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I was in high school before I realized how much I love history. Even though I read many historical adventures and would get so caught up in stories that I would find myself being moved in ways movies and television could, I never attached that excitement to any history I ever learnt in school. There was a separation of story and history until I ended up with a history teacher who was so gifted at bringing history to life that I didn’t even really feel as though I was in class.

What has taken a while to sink in is that history is not just about other people’s stories and what they might mean, but it is also about my own stories (along with people around me) and how what I have done, thought and felt in the past is something that I should not only want to record, remember and recognize but also find importance in. In 2013, I started a new approach to beginning my year. Since then, I have given my year a theme, encapsulated in three words. In order to better think on what I would like to make as my theme for next year, looking back at where I have been is invaluable. So, I am taking a moment to take a look at how 2016 went – to learn, to appreciate and to give myself a pat on the back where needed.

Throughout my year, I continued to be amazed by and grateful for the people I crossed paths with – friends, strangers and those in between. It may have been someone telling me not to give up at moments when the thought was threatening to become action. It may have been someone sharing words of wisdom that kept me and my fear, anger or ego acting out irrationally.

In 2016:

  • I moved to a new neighborhood. This was a big deal as I had lived in the same neighborhood for 16 years (my husband had been there for 20), we had many friends that lived conveniently close and more amenities than we knew what to do with. I miss it all AND I am excited about our new path forward.
  • A college friend invited me to take cello lessons with her and another friends and I said yes. We love it – we dream big and take small steps every week toward living those dreams. I know those around us, who get to hear us practicing, hope that we live those dreams sooner rather than later.
  • I was accepted into New York Community Trust Leadership Fellows, a program in nonprofit leadership that has both expanded my mind and exposed me to some truly inspiring, passionate and motivating people and organizations.
  • I had great conversations with high school students, college students and fellow professionals about forensic accounting, careers in accounting and working to do what we love, even when we have doubts about it.
  • I was part of a very exciting launch of the New York State Society of  CPAs Women’s Initiative and, at the end of the year, I became the Chair of the NYSSCPA Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Through the efforts and enthusiasm of my colleagues and the NYSSCPA, I am fortunate to be involved with such important initiatives and committees.
  • I have seen friends stand up for what they believe is right; I have experienced my communities come together in ways that renew my belief in humanity; I have applauded the sheer awesomeness of my people!

The night of 31 December 2016 turned out to be an incredibly windy one. My husband and I had planned on walking around the neighborhood, discovering the various New Year’s Eve celebrations in our new space. However, gale force winds led to a change of plan (isn’t that how life works?) We made dinner and spent the evening talking, laughing and watching various celebrations on television. I made sure to dance before and after midnight

Growing up, my father gave me a diary for Christmas, every year. I was always excited to get mine and, even as I moved away for college and started living away from home, I still got my diary. In yet another chapter of – Parents are Sneaky and Wise – I have discovered the power and importance of being able to look back and how much that helps in looking forward. So, farewell 2016! I am now turning my head to look ahead to 2017. Hello!

 

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Communications Addendum

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I was just in the Dominican Republic on a birthday/honeymoon/Thanksgiving trip. They say that people don’t do it well, but I think that we are doing a great job of multitasking vacations. However, I digress, as I am wont to do.

My husband lives for surfing. He checks the weather, daily, to see how it will affect the waves. He goes surfing, in the dead of winter, in New York City and, if that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is. I get frostbite just thinking about it. When we travel, we often look to go to places where he can surf and, while he is surfing, I either go for a run or I take a surfing lesson.

During our multitasking vacation, I took a lesson. The lesson started out on the beach, with a session on technique. That went very well; it is very easy to surf on an immobile board that sits on sand. After this session, we were then each sent out with a board and an instructor. In addition to the challenge of keeping water out of my nose and mouth and, of course, trying to ride the waves, while standing on my board, I had to figure out how to communicate with Francisco, my instructor. My Spanish does not even qualify as rudimentary and, even though Francisco’s English was decent, I managed to do odd things on the board that he struggled to explain. Instead of giving up on me, he called on his co-instructors to bring together what English each knew. And they came up with a complete critique of my surfing technique, or lack thereof. My ego could have done with less resourcefulness, but my drive to succeed on the board appreciated it. The collaboration of these men was able to cover a lot of issues and, in no time, I was standing on my board and feeling rather accomplished.

Francisco, reinforced, for me, the power of collaboration, effective communication and, without a doubt, of having someone find you the perfect wave to ride. Gracias!

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Desperate Needs, Gouging Measures…

IMG_2231When I lived and worked in Zimbabwe, my parents and I lived in different cities, about an eight-hour drive apart. My father, however, was in town at least once a month for meetings and, when he came to town, we would meet for and evening of dinner and catching up. On one such evening, we were sitting in his hotel suite, eating dinner and watching the news. There was a piece on about an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time, people were speculating that people living in the area where the outbreak had occurred had come across dead animals in the forests and had eaten them. Handling the dead animals (which had been killed by the Ebola virus) had infected them with the virus. I looked over at my father and said, “Why would they eat a random dead animal they came across in the woods? I mean, wouldn’t they ask themselves what had killed this animal and wouldn’t they be scared of being killed by the same thing?”

My father looked at me and said, “My dear, you can’t judge them. You don’t know what you would do if you were starving? Who knows what you would eat.”

Since, at that moment I was working my way through a three-course dinner, it didn’t seem like the appropriate moment to argue with my father, but I was pretty sure that no kind of hunger would lead me to eat dodgy food. I do know now that I was judging because I am fortunate enough to have many food options.

It turns out that investigators now think that fruit bats, not mysteriously dead animals are to blame for the spread of Ebola, but I thought about this conversation with my father when I read a piece in the New York Times about usury charges being brought against several payday loan companies, their owner and two of his associates. Usury is one of those not often heard words that is at home in the bible or a Shakespeare play, but it basically is illegally lending money at very high interest rates. I first heard analysis of payday loans on the NPR podcast, Planet Money, who, in 2010, discussed payday lenders. The concept of a payday loan is that people take out a small loan that is that is then paid back using the borrower’s next pay check. These loans, however, charge much higher interest rates than banks or credit cards do. The Planet Money episode referred to rates of over 500%. A more recent Planet Money piece spoke of a loan being offered at an annual interest rate of over1,300%. Many people debate payday loans and the people who take them out. Some argue that people who take out these loans are people who are irresponsible with their money and the payday loan rates are so high because the borrowers are risky. Others will talk about how payday lenders target people with low incomes and get them into a cycle where they end up spending years paying high fees and never being able to repay their initial balances.

In the state of New York, all this debate is moot because payday loans are illegal. When announcing the indictments, on 12 August, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyril Vance, encouraged victims of payday lending schemes to call the Major Economic Crimes hotline. This is important to know, whether you received the loan at a storefront or online, the practice is illegal in New York, seventeen other states and District of Columbia. This is because, when people feel they have few options, people with few scruples like to take advantage of the situation. These are the types of people who offer to lend you $750 for a week, at a cost of $225. To make this point clearer, if you borrowed that $750 for a year and paid this interest on the loan every week, you would pay a total of $11,700 in interest. That is a lot of money to pay for $750 and I think that most people would agree that charging that kind of interest qualifies as usury.

Even if payday loans are legal where you live, the lenders still have to comply with rules that govern their industry. If you believe that you or someone you know is being taken advantage of, with regard to a payday loan, you can either call your local district attorney’s offices or get in touch with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is the federal agency whose mission is to protect consumers of financial products. It is important to know that there are protections in the system and there may be more options than you think, when it comes to finding ways to pay debts or make ends meet and not every option involves interest rates that would make your calculator give you the side-eye. Knowledge is power and sometimes knowledge can also save you money and keep you from having your rights violated.

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Ask, Ask and Ask Again…

James Petrozzello

James Petrozzello

When I was a kid, I asked a lot of questions. Okay, I still ask a lot of questions, but, apparently, back then I really maxed out on the question asking. An aunt once said, “Everything is what, why, where, how! Don’t you know how to say a sentence that’s not a question?” I didn’t see what was wrong with that – how else was I to know the answers to the questions in my head if I did not ask them out loud? But one day someone said to me, “Hey, be careful with all those questions. Don’t you know that curiosity killed the cat?”

Well, no, I did not but that question raised a whole lot of other questions. How did the cat get killed? What was the cat curious about? What did it have to do with me? I had seen many cats in my life as, for example, my grandmother had several. However, I had never seen a cat that seemed particularly curious about anything. I did know enough to recognize, from the tone of voice, that this person did not want me asking any more questions, so the mystery of the cat’s curiosity and its ensuing death remained.

Curiosity killed the cat. This is what I have figured out since then. Do you know who says that? People who don’t want to be questioned. Do you know what kind of people those are? Those are people who are either:

  • People with huge egos who think they are too good at what they do to be questioned; or
  • People who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t want other people to know that; or
  • People who don’t want you to know what they are doing.

All three types of people are dangerous in their own ways.

The first group of people, the big egos, can be difficult to deal with, especially if those people are your supervisors. Somehow you have to convince the egos that it is in their best interest to have a check. The easy route is to become an enabler to the supervisor and to keep your head down and do as you are told. What should keep you from doing that is the thought of the consequences of your silence. Remember that usually the mistakes of people in positions of power tend to have large and far-reaching effects. Sometimes people have been doing their work for many years and believe that they are so good at what they do that no one can tell them better. You just have to find a diplomatic way of asking your questions. You know what, just because you are asking it doesn’t mean that something is wrong, it may just mean that you want to know more about what is going on.

When I worked in audit, I remember being told, a few times, to audit a section of a client’s books by following “last year’s audit papers”. I would read the work papers and sometimes I would have questions about why a particular step was taken. There were occasions when, probably because of time pressures, the audit manager would tell me to just do the work. Now, I am not saying that these managers did not know what they were doing but I will say that their reactions sure made it look as though they did not know what they were doing. As a person who feels that there are too  few hours in a day to waste them doing work for no good reason, I would insist that my questions, about why I had to do something, were answered. At times the explanations made sense and I was able to a better job, knowing what I was doing and why I was doing it. On other occasions, the conversations led to our tweaking the audit approach in order to better achieve our goal. There are times when I ask what people are doing and why they are doing it and they can’t give a reason beyond, “this is what they told me to do, so I’m doing it.” Again, talking through the work with them tends to result in work being performed at a higher level because now the people know why are doing something so they know what to look for and what results to aim for.

The last group of people, the ones who don’t want you to know what they are doing, are the slickest group of all. Their whole approach is to either make you feel as though your questions have been answered or that the explanations are so complicated that you couldn’t possibly understand. They work very hard to keep you from getting answers to their questions. Some employ the tactic of being so scary and standoffish that you don’t even want to ask them how their weekend was, let alone what they are doing and why. Others try to make their work sound super complicated and they scramble your brains with fancy words and technical terms until you say “oh right, okay” and wander off, hoping that you didn’t look too stupid in the conversation. They could also make their work sound so boring that you start to fall asleep in the middle of the second sentence of their explanation, and leave them to do what you couldn’t possibly stay awake long enough to care about. People like this are one of the reasons why frauds can go on for months or even years. They become so practiced at deception and avoiding being properly questioned about their work, that they can just keep on doing what they have been doing with virtually no fear of being caught. Their ideal environment is one where no one is asking questions.

I like to ask questions. When I am at work, one of the biggest reasons I ask questions is to help me do a better job. All too often, questions are not asked and a task ends up being performed several times over. There are times when I ask questions and I end up finding out about documents or other information that make my work much simpler. Also, I love it when I ask questions and I find out that the work has already been done, the information is available and I have time to tackle a new, unresolved issue. Don’t be afraid to ask, and ask, and ask. Your questions could make your work more productive, uncover fraud or error or just make life more interesting because you have learned something new. And, please, don’t sentence a child to years of fruitless wondering about a cat’s curiosity. Please.

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Mmmm… Mmmm… Good!

ImageA few months ago, I voiced my opinion about how it would be great to have a forensic accountant as an option to run the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). I can’t deny it, it’s right here, written in Internet stone. The reason I spoke about it was that a new head of the SEC had just been announced and, yet again, it was a lawyer. I believed that having a CPA, credentialed in financial forensics, might shake things up or at least lead the SEC to think of new ways and methods to protect investors. I still believe that a qualified forensic accountant would make an excellent candidate, but it seems that, in the case of Mary Jo White, the new head of the SEC, I may have been haste in my criticisms.

When he nominated Mary Jo White to head the SEC, President Obama said, “You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo”. Apparently it wasn’t just talk. Mary Jo White has said, in an interview, “I think financial statement fraud has always been important to the SEC”, and that she has committed substantial resources to the detection and investigation of fraud in accounting and financial disclosures seems to back that statement. On 2 July, the SEC announced three new Division of Enforcement initiatives; the Financial Reporting and Audit Task Force (FRATF), the Microcap Fraud Task Force (MFTF) and the Center for Risk and Quantitative Analytics (CRQA). These are fancy sounding names, for sure, but what are they and why are they encouraging with respect to the SEC’s goals?

First, the FRATF’s focus is detecting and investigating fraudulent or improper financial reporting and engaging in enforcement actions related to accounting and disclosure fraud. The MFTF’s goal is to target abusive trading and fraudulent behavior in securities issues by microcap companies. Microcap means that the company’s market capitalization, which is the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares of that company, is between $50 and $300 million. This task force will pay particular attention to microcap companies that do not regularly issue public financial results, since the lack of regular publicly available reports means that potential investors have limited access to information about the company. This, in turn, increases the risk that the investors may be fed fraudulent information that they cannot sufficiently verify. Finally, the CRQA will, as its title suggests, specialize quantitative data and analytics. This is the high-tech innovation of the SEC. Here the SEC will work to identify risks and potential threats to investors, be a part, along with other agencies, of risk-based investigations and come up with ways to identify possible illegality. The CRQA will employ various data technologies to achieve this goal. Of course, the usefulness of quantitative data analytics is only as good as those who use it. There is a lot of data out there but you need to know how to work with it in order to get the information that you are looking for.

What is encouraging about the announcement of the initiatives is not only that the SEC has declared a focus on the proactive detection and investigation of possible fraud, it is also not just that the SEC is stepping up its use of technology and data analytics in its endeavors, it is in large part about the manpower that they say they are going to employ for these initiatives. The SEC has announced that they will include enforcement attorneys and accountants, which is a great idea. The successful pursuit of financial fraud requires the expertise of people who know the books and people who know the law. In particular, the collaboration of attorneys and forensic accountants can lead to a formidable fraud fighting force. Certified forensic CPAs not only understand financial records, they also know how to look for potential fraud in those financial records and this information must be of a standard suitable for a court of law. Working with attorneys, the forensic accountant can put together information and provide appropriate litigation services in cases that the SEC decides to pursue.

Yes, it is true; I did voice my dissenting opinion about the appointment of another in a long line of attorneys to head the SEC. I have not changed my mind that a well-credentialed forensic CPA would be a wonderful choice for this position. However, I do concede that it is apparent that Mary Jo White understands the importance of both legal and financial expertise when it comes to policing the financial markets. Vital roles are played by all parties in the investigation and prosecution of financial crime and in the protection of investors. So, as these initiatives go into action and work towards achieving their stated goals, I shall eat at least some of my words. As long as fewer parties are getting away with their financial misdeeds, I shall enjoy every mouthful.

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