If you keep any kind of digital information in your business, you have a chance of becoming a victim of a cybercrime. The odds have increased exponentially during the pandemic, with more cyberthreats and scams floating around than ever before. Here are some ways to reduce your chances of getting attacked.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is when thieves try to get your employees to provide confidential information via a phone call or email. You can reduce your risk here by developing procedures and training any employees that take customer phone calls for the business. Require them to ask for identifying information such as a pin or code, or simply prevent them from giving out any information over the phone.

Passwords

Passwords are terribly inconvenient but incredibly necessary. Almost everyone is guilty of using passwords that are simply too easy to guess. Here are some password tips:

  1. Avoid using dictionary words, even if the syllables are broken up in the password.
  2. Always use a combination of upper and lower case, and don’t just make the first letter uppercase which is too predictable.
  3. Include special characters, and don’t just use the exclamation point.
  4. Use separate passwords for everything, especially for banking apps, accounting apps, and social media apps which are frequently hacked.
  5. Make your passwords at least 12 characters.  More characters will be needed each year.

Receiving and Delivering Information

If you deliver or receive information, it should be done safely and securely. One way to do this is to use a customer portal such as Box or ShareFile, where the information is securely stored in the cloud. Another tool that to safeguard information delivery is encrypted email.

Anti-Virus

All computer users should have anti-virus software implemented and active on their devices.  Company procedures should dictate the settings as well as the brand to use.

Spam Protection for Email

Anti-spam software is also necessary to protect the device from bad links in emails.  Users should be trained to detect and avoid phishing emails.

Malware Protection

Malware can be installed on your computer without your knowledge and if you are not careful.  To protect against these threats, avoid file-sharing when possible, be careful when visiting unknown websites, don’t download software that you don’t recognize, and be careful with links in emails.

You may also need to protect your website from malware attacks by installing a firewall or other preventative solutions.

Software Releases

Stay current with all of your software upgrades. Upgrades can patch vulnerabilities, so you are safer with each new upgrade you install.

Data in the Cloud

Make sure any data that you have in the cloud is behind an acceptably secure technology solution.  Today, this generally means files are stored with AES 256-bit encryption. You can also look for SOC1 and SOC2 certifications.

Need to Know

There are many policies that need to be developed for employees with regard to data handling. One example is providing data access to employees on a need-to-know basis.  For example, an operations manager does not need the password to the payroll system, but the payroll manager does.

Reducing Business Risk

These items above are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to having good data security practices in your business. Develop an excellent set of policies, train and monitor employees, and set a great example yourself when it comes to this growing threat to your business.

Independence is a key concept in accounting, especially in the assurance or auditing area of accounting. Assurance services are services where a licensed CPA reviews an organization’s financial statements and accounting records and provides an opinion about them. This opinion takes the form of a report that can be shared with third parties such as banks and shareholders. Auditing services are one of many forms of assurance services.

Only a licensed CPA can provide assurance services; this is regulated by the states. A CPA who provides certain assurance services must be independent from the business that it is writing an opinion for. Essentially, independence means that the auditor must be able to do their work objectively and with integrity. And it goes farther. The auditor must not be perceived as having any kind of bias or connection with the business it is auditing. There must be no perception of any impropriety.

To this end, the auditor must not have a relationship with the company’s executives. A CPA cannot, for example, audit her brother’s company.  A CPA cannot be an investor in the company and also be the auditor because of the financial relationship. The audit opinion must not be influenced in any way by a relationship between the auditor and anyone in the company. The CPA must be able to provide an honest, professional, and unbiased opinion when auditing financial statements.

Being independent also means the CPA must have a healthy dose of skepticism.  A common phrase in the accounting profession is “Trust, but verify.”

Numerous rules abound to protect auditor independence. For example, an auditor cannot be paid on a contingent or commission basis. All practicing CPAs must complete ethics courses every few years, and these almost always include independence scenarios and case studies.

If you have any questions about independence, assurance, or auditing, please feel free to reach out any time.

A great way to start 2021 is to take a fresh look at your business finances. Many things changed in 2020, and if you are in the habit of spending on the same items year after year, it’s the perfect time to decide what is essential and what can go.

There are only a few ways to increase profits when you think about it in black and white terms. You can either raise revenues or cut costs. Let’s take a look at where we can potentially cut costs.

Publications

These expenses tend to be monthly or yearly, and we tend to just let them automatically renew time after time. But do we really need them? Take a look in your Dues and Subscriptions account to evaluate what you really need to stay informed, and cancel the rest.

Memberships

If you are a member of an organization or two, what benefits are you getting from your investment? Does it raise revenue for you? Do you use everything the membership offers? If not, it might need to go on the chopping block.

Memberships are especially tricky if the organization provides a local meeting component as a benefit and your state or county has been shut down. There’s a tradeoff right now between supporting the organization so that it’s still there when we can freely meet again and being responsible about your own business costs.

Office/Store Rent

With many employees working from home, the question has come up in many businesses about how much space they really need. As leases expire, consider how much space you really need. Some employees may love to work from home permanently, which frees up space.

Retail stores that have moved their business online may be able to cut back on customer-facing space but might need more inventory storage space. A restaurant that has successfully transitioned to pickup and delivery orders might be able to get by with a smaller seating area.

Software Apps

Are you paying for any technology applications that you are simply not using?  This is a good place to look for cuts.

Some applications charge by number of contacts.  Keeping your lists clean inside these apps will avoid increases and cut costs in some cases.

Office Supplies

Do you really still need things like staplers and scissors on everyone’s desk? If your business is going paperless, you can save a lot on office supplies.

Printing

Do you need to spend money on printing, or can the printed item be delivered electronically?

Shipping/Postage

While information can be delivered electronically, physical goods still need to be shipped.  Make sure you have the best deal with your shipping vendors based on your volume.  You may also need to consider building your shipping costs into the price of the product or add a shipping fee to the bill if you don’t already.

Marketing

A great way to increase profits is to become more intentional about your marketing costs. Are you able to measure what’s working and what isn’t? Or are you doing the same thing year after year?

Marketing has changed so much, even in the last few years. It might be time to implement digital marketing methods, which can be more cost-effective than older, outdated methods.

Labor

Make sure employees manage their time effectively by providing the right training and supervision. This should help to reduce labor expenses.

Telephone/Internet

Has your business changed?  Do you need all those extra features you are paying for?  Could you do without those extra lines?  Would another phone plan save you money on long distance or international calls? Many telecommunication companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

This gives you ten places to look to cut costs and correspondingly increase profits for 2021. If you need help reviewing your income statement, please reach out.

A cashless business is one that processes all cash transactions electronically. There is no paper or coin money taken or handled. While no one society has become 100 percent cashless yet, most organizations are moving in that direction.

A business can become cash-free by providing multiple electronic alternatives to payment.  Credit cards are the most common electronic payment implementation. This option most likely includes MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express.  Some businesses also have a PayPal account and offer that method for payments. Venmo, owned by PayPal, is an efficient mobile alternative, but it is mostly used for consumer-to-consumer transactions. And there is also cryptocurrency.

Cashless businesses are more efficient, help to reduce crime, and have a better audit trail of transactions. Going cash-free also saves money and time spent counting the money, storing the money, safeguarding the money, protecting employees at risk of becoming theft victims, and physically going to the bank.

On the negative side, credit card companies charge fees to merchants, although these can now be passed to the customer in most states. Electronic transactions also require a higher level of technology, and privacy is reduced. And while security is an issue, all merchants that take credit cards must comply with PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standards and sign a document each year stating so.

If your clientele does not keep their money in a bank or if they are not able (or have chosen not) to have a credit card, you may need to rethink going cashless. About 20 percent of U.S. households are challenged when it comes to having access to checking and savings accounts. This has led to several state and local laws being passed in the U.S. prohibiting a business from going cashless. Nothing has been passed at the national level as of this writing, however the Payment Choice Act was introduced in both chambers in mid-2020.

The pandemic has accelerated the move to cashless with the desire for contactless transactions. Several countries are leading the way to becoming cash-free as an entire country, including Sweden, Finland, Norway, China, and South Korea. Sweden’s government has been the most aggressive, claiming they will become a 100 percent cashless society by 2023.

Is going cashless right for you? Meeting your clients’ needs is a prime consideration. At the very least, you can move to increase the percentage of electronic transactions and decrease the percentage of cash transactions when feasible.  This measure will save time and money in and of itself.

Year-end is the perfect time to reflect on accomplishments achieved since January. It’s also an important time to put things into perspective as we turn the page and start a new year.

What We Learned

With so much change in 2020, the opportunities to learn have been abundant. Take a moment and contemplate the following:

  • What new skills did you learn this year that you have put to work in your business?
  • What topics did you become wiser about?
  • What situations have you learned to master?

Goals Met

If you set goals for 2020, which ones did you achieve?  Because it was a volatile year, you may have achieved a lot of things that were not planned.  Or you may have simply maintained status quo, which is an amazing accomplishment in its own right in 2020. Give yourself credit for all of that as well.

As we transition to 2021, set new goals to be achieved in your business and record the list so you can look back periodically to monitor your progress.

Gaining Perspective

The circumstances of the pandemic present a constant challenge to keep things in perspective.  Our emotions are exacerbated when we feel threatened, whether it’s about our health or our freedom. This creates the polarization we’ve seen in the news and current events.

Gain perspective by asking yourself these questions:

  • What kind of business person do I want to be in 2021?
  • How do I see my business in five years?
  • What can my business contribute to its customers, employees, and other stakeholders?

Reflect, plan, and gain perspective as we usher in 2021. And have a Happy New Year!