I have been excited about watching “The Accountant” for over a year, when I first heard about this movie – a film about a forensic accountant! I lived in fear of the project being canceled by film bigwigs, who would decide that no one wanted to see a movie about an accountant. Accountants are almost never depicted, on screen, as anyone worth one’s time. You can’t love or hate them, they are too boring to think about. But here was a movie and the filmmaker was so confident about it that he called it “The Accountant.” I would tell people how excited I was about the film and they would almost always express surprise that anyone would want to make a film about a CPA, let alone watch one. I don’t blame them because just about every time I have seen a CPA being portrayed on film or television, I don’t want to be him (and it is almost always a him). He is a guy with zero social skills that people put up with because he is some kind of numbers-whisperer; a guy who can find secrets in the numbers that the true heroes are too busy being interesting to find. So, on Sunday, I dragged my husband, who is a true saint, to the movie theaters to watch “The Accountant.”
From the previews, you will see that Ben Affleck, the Accountant, seriously lacks social skills and does not appear to have any friends. He is, as a forensic accountant, a super numbers-whisperer who gobbles up financial statements for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, he is also the hero and is an incredibly interesting guy who can do all the running, jumping and full mystery solving that heroes can! They also threw in the story of Crazy Eddie and his “Panama pump”. I may have been the only person in the movie theater who exclaimed in excitement when that came up, but the story of Crazy Eddie is one of many years of various fraud schemes, ranging from money laundering and tax evasion, to financial statement fraud. I had a great time watching this movie and, I even forgave the woman who yelled out a spoiler reveal before it happened.
It seems that many had been convinced to try out a film about a forensic accountant. “The Accountant” won the box office this weekend, by a massive margin that you don’t have to be an accountant to understand. This gives me hope for the future of CPAs on the screen (big or small). I can see it now – characters who are at least as interesting as lawyers and doctors. We may even be portrayed as people who can tell funny jokes, who can be engaging and who can even have friends: I am excited about films that break long-standing stereotypes. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself, but I will say something that is a first, with respect to how I feel about a CPA of any kind on TV or on film. I watched this movie and I came out wanting to be a forensic accountant!
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?
I have known my mother all my life so, at this point, I should not be surprised by anything she does. Yet, just about every time we spend time together, which is nowhere near as much as I would like, she tends to both surprise and impress me. This time it was as we were driving her to our home from the airport. She had been visiting my brother and was now chatting on the phone with a college friend of hers who lives in Connecticut. We overheard her congratulate him on his new job. “I saw the news on LinkedIn,” she explained to him. LinkedIn! I knew my mother had a LinkedIn profile but I had no idea that my mother actually used LinkedIn. After she got off the phone we quizzed her about her LinkedIn use and discovered that she is quite active in social media. It got me thinking about a piece I wrote on social media: Use Social Media, Don’t Let It Use You.
My mother is an amazing example of this maxim and she did not even need an AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services conference to understand the power and usefulness of social media. My mother is active on LinkedIn and on Facebook, making checking on these sites part of her daily routine. She has perfected her routine so that social media does not become a time suck. She is in and out before we realize it and yet, she comes away with knowledge about what her connections are up to and she has also interacted with several people in her network. Often, she uses YouTube to learn more about taking care of her orchids, a big passion of hers. I have heard my mother recommend that others seek information from various social media sources, telling them how helpful those resources have been for her. Taking her own advice, while she was visiting with us, she created a profile on Pinterest to help easily expand her access to knitting and crochet projects, she explored Instagram and became curious about Twitter.
What makes her embrace of social media all the more surprising, for me, is that, for the last ten years, my mother is a farmer who lives just outside Gweru, the fifth largest city in Zimbabwe. Because she is out of the city, her access to fast and reliable internet can be challenging. In addition to this. my mother tended to use her computer as a fancy calculator and word processor. Now she uses Dropbox to store her large files in an easily accessible space and shares files quickly and efficiently, like a pro. When she sees someone using social media in a way she has not yet discovered, she asks questions, takes instructions and uses what she has learned. She has told me that she used to be afraid that something would go wrong and that she might break something by pressing the incorrect button. However, she has now found that it is sometimes fun to mess up and it is simpler than she imagined to rectify an error. An added bonus is that, at times, messing up can help her find a new and improved way to use social media.
During her visit, my mother would start many stories with the words, “in my time”. She would exclaim about how things have changed and, though she had happy memories about those days, she was also always willing to have new experiences. “I used to think, what can the internet and all this technology really do for me at this point,” she told me, “but now I see that there are so many things I can do better and faster and more easily. I can find so many things and I can learn about anything!” My mother has inspired me to continue my explorations in social media, while keeping in mind the first rule of social media, “don’ t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mother” because, in my case, my mother may very well be taking note. We are both seeing that this too is our time and we are making the most of it.
Recently I blogged, at AICPA Insights, about the importance of social media and getting ahead of it, instead of it overwhelming you. Social media is not just a way for people to share photos of their kids and pets with friends (and the internet at large) it is also a powerful business tool that is proving to be essential to the long-term survival of a business. Because of this intersection of the personal and profession on such a public platform and especially because of the sensitive nature of a lot what the forensic accountant is involved in, it is vital to have a corporate social media policy in place.
It is nowhere near enough (and sometimes not necessarily good for business) for a company to declare that employees are not allowed to use social media while at work. In an age where most people have personal access to the internet through smartphones and tablets, a company blocking internet access on their computers is not enough to keep an employee silent on the web. And, is silence what a company wants at a time where having a social media profile is of the utmost importance to a business? Also, blanket policies are coming under fire from federal regulators. As reported in the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has stated that workers have the right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether this conversation takes place in the workplace or via social media.
It makes more sense to figure out a way to manage the risks of social media and, as shown by the recent NLRB cases, the policy a business comes up with should be legal and specific. Beyond keeping in mind the wise words, “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mother, here are some things to think about:
Forensic accountants can begin by tying their social media policy to the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct. In the same way that their work should be directed by this, so too should their social media interactions.
The social media policy should make very clear that confidential information cannot be be disclosed. This is particularly important for practitioners involved in litigation, where a good deal of information is privileged, to be clear that this information cannot be published in social media.
A follow up to the previous point was brought to mind by a friend who is in litigation. When working on a case where even the location of a meeting is confidential, practitioners must turn off GeoTagging in their social media. For example, someone posting a completely innocent post on Facebook may not realise that the GeoTagging that declares that he is at the Waldorf Astoria has just revealed the location of the confidential meeting he is attending.
The social media policies of IBM and the MACPA are a good place to start. The MACPA is of particular usefulness to those in accounting, be it in litigation support or elsewhere.
A social media policy is not set in stone; it should be updated as technologies and privacy issues change.
What is most important is to start out ahead with a social media policy, instead of trying to create rules once things have spiraled out of control. A straightforward, specific policy that recognizes the importance of social media, makes clear what is on and off limits, is legal and encourages those in the business to be innovative with the tools offered by these new and emerging technologies.