Hear David discuss CFO Consulting Partners and its services as a guest on Master Your Finances, hosted by Kurtis Baker. Master Your Finances is a weekly broadcast, produced by Rider University. David was interviewed on February 7, 2016.
Financial Transparency – A Case Study
The following is a composite case of several organizations, and any resemblance to an actual client is clearly coincidental.
A client suffered fraud, misappropriated funds, and confused financial concepts. This caused lots of frustration at the board level. The audit report took almost a year to complete, and the auditing firm pointed out a number of material weaknesses, which went years without being adequately addressed.
What was the problem? The accounting process was opaque, bookkeeping practices were cumbersome, information was not captured at a correct reportable level, internal controls were weak; executive management did not have appropriate skills, and most importantly, the board did not understand the way information was reported (too high-level with weak explanations). This resulted in serious cash flow problems.
Here is how the board/company addressed the problem:
Quality of staff – The board insisted that the accounting and executive staff be upgraded and reorganized, and that the new CEO be very close to the numbers.
Discipline – The board insisted on a standard financial reporting package. This consisted of a balance sheet, P&L, cash flow report, variance analyses of this year versus the prior year, accounts receivable and accounts payable aging reports, and other standard reports.
Restructuring the way information was reported – It is now reported in the way that the business is run. This meant a redo of the chart of accounts to re-organize the way information was reported and to capture certain information at a more detailed level.
Policies and procedures – They were developed in bullet point form; they were kept to a few pages and reviewed and approved by the board, and are now followed by senior management. For example, capital expenditures, which could be masked by leasing equipment in which the monthly payments are in relatively small amounts, could no longer fall under the radar.
Sense of openness:
The new CEO and the board encouraged openness in reporting and telling it like it is. Any spin was discouraged. Businesses were separately reported so one could see the contribution profit. A strategic plan preceded the budgeting process and the fist year of the plan became the budget.
The organization is on its way to meeting its goals with a renewed sense of excitement, and with a financial process that tells it like it is.
Our firm is a team of senior financial executives. We provide a broad range of financial management services to public and private companies. We work for CEOs, CFOs, Controllers, as well as audit committees and boards.
Our mission is to apply our consultants’ considerable collective experience to resolve client issues in a professional and efficient manner.
by John Callegari
With the acquisition of Germany’s Deutsche Card Services and its 100 employees, EVO Payments International, a payment processor, also wants to add a handful of financial and accounting professionals at its Melville headquarters.
But CEO Jim Kelly said the company is having a hard time doing that. “The market must be getting better, because we can’t find them,” Kelly said this week. “And I know it’s not a result of the salaries we’re offering them.”
He’s not alone.
Businesses across the nation are struggling to find talented accounting and finance professionals, specifically business systems analysts, tax accountants and auditors. And they’re coping by seeking out less qualified individuals or increasing the salaries they’re willing to pay.
Nationwide, almost 60 percent of companies surveyed in Robert Half International’s annual professional employment report noted it is at least somewhat challenging to find needed accounting and finance employees.
To combat the shortage, Dawn Fey, district president of New York City-based Robert Half International, which helps place accounting and finance professionals at companies in the New York metropolitan area, suggested companies limit their wish list for potential employees to only a couple of must-have skills.
“Some of the skills clients are looking for are still so new and different that few have them,” Fey said. “For example, Dodd-Frank is new for everyone, so not that many people are completely versed in it yet. Expecting job candidates to be completely up on that along with several other skills may not be realistic.”
The current 4.7 unemployment rate for accounting and finance professionals sits well below November’s 7.7 percent national unemployment rate for all occupations. For companies seeking younger talent, the supply is more readily available than for mid- to senior-level professionals, but the key is to get a first crack at them. Michael Nugent, director of the MBA and Finance program for Stony Brook University, recommended companies keep close contact with the career centers at local universities to reach potential employees before they hit the job market.
But with much of the demand for mid- to senior-level finance professionals, some companies have turned to outsourced accounting professionals to meet their needs while combing the market for permanent replacements.
Huntington Station-based CFO Consulting Partners, a provider of interim and part-time CFO services, has seen its business increase 25 percent in the past year, according to co-founder and senior managing partner Allan Tepper, with the majority of that stemming from smaller to midsize companies and community banks.
“When the banks are feeling pressure from regulators, they must react, so they try to staff up,” Tepper said. “We usually compete with talented people who are in between jobs, but that kind of competition has been taken off the table right now.”
Accounting and financial employees are the second most in-demand jobs nationwide according to a new study by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International. The study noted 37,123 accounting and finance jobs have been added since 2010, a 3 percent increase, second only to software developers, which increased by 70,872 jobs during that same time period. And the number of jobs in accounting and finance is expected to grow between 16 and 23 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Starting salaries for accounting and finance positions, estimated at about $61,000 in 2010 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, are expected to rise an average of 3.3 percent in 2013, according to an annual employment report from Robert Half International. The report noted there will be a particular need for financial analysts and business analysts who can support growth opportunities, as well as staff and senior accountants.
While the need for more finance professionals continues to grow, the number of degrees conferred nationally in accounting and finance has remained relatively stable. Locally, Stony Brook University has actually been drawing down the number of students admitted to its business school from 1,200 in 2010 to 1,000 in 2011 and 900 in 2012. This comes at a time when 68 percent of accounting majors nationwide have received job offers, the highest percentage of any major according to a report from the National Association of Colleges & Employers.
Nugent said the school is making its entry requirements more stringent in an effort to lower class sizes. Stony Brook does not have enough professors to handle both the undergraduate and graduate workloads, so the school is focusing on expanding its MBA program. The decrease in undergraduate admissions should only be temporary, Nugent said.
“We’re in the process of expanding the finance and accounting faculty by between four and eight new hires in the next year,” he said. “Once we have adequate staffing, then we can again look at
Richard Paris, CEO of Melville-based Marcum Search, the staffing division of accounting firm Marcum, said he’s seen a large increase in demand for finance and accounting professionals
across the nation for the last six months.
“We have 75 recruiters who work for us, and we are overwhelmed with work,” said Paris, who noted the company just completed an acquisition of Connecticut-based search firm Horton
International on Dec. 1. “We’re having to turn down some work.”
Marcum has even turned to some of its own to help stem the shortage, creating a financial incentive program for all staff members who refer qualified accounting and auditing professionals. The incentive is being used to recruit tax and assurance professionals for Marcum’s offices in Melville, New York City, Pennsylvania, Boston, Connecticut, South Florida and San Francisco.
Paris said the uptick in demand for financial professionals stems from the economy’s turning around enough that companies can afford to fill vacancies in crucial positions like accountants and auditors.
“Companies wait and try to do more with less during bad times,” he said. “Then they backfill in their overhead positions when there’s a rebound. That’s what we’re seeing on the corporate side.”
Nugent agreed, saying companies locally now have to again contend with the large Wall Street firms that have recovered from the 2008 recession. “You have a lot of extra demand here because of New York City,” Nugent said.
And for larger companies with multiple offices, like EVO Payments International, if the talent market has soured in one area, it may be worthwhile to look elsewhere.
“Most of the countries we’re getting into require some work done locally, so while we’ll keep attempting to centralize some of our administrative work [on Long Island], we’ll also staff up our offices in these other countries,” Kelly said.
Banks teetering. Deals unraveling. New York business holds its breath, hoping this September isn’t anything like that September.
The economy is on the brink—again—and while officials overseas and in Washington try furiously to stabilize teetering banks, this time in Europe, business leaders in New York are beginning to fear the worst. Again.
“In my 30 years of business, this is the second-worst business environment I’ve ever seen, after the fall of 2008 and early 2009,” said Allan Tepper, co-founder of CFO Consulting Partners, which advises manufacturers and distributors. “Frozen is the word that best describes things.”
The bunker mentality is back. Companies are revising projections for next year and cutting back on new investments or hires, reining in discretionary costs such as marketing, and spending only on projects that promise immediate payoffs.
Many local businesses aren’t retrenching, of course. And today’s economic crisis differs in significant ways from the one in September 2008, when the housing bust drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy, nearly destroyed American International Group and paralyzed the entire financial system. Current events are less cataclysmic, at least so far, and focus more on the health of European nations and the viability of the big banks that lent heavily to them than on financial and economic problems centered in the U.S.
Still, while New York’s economy fared better than the nation’s in the recession that officially ended in June 2009 and recovered faster and more strongly, that outperformance ended this past June, when the Big Apple’s private-sector job growth suddenly trailed the national rate.
The city’s economy, ever-tethered to the financial markets, took further hits when stocks fell over the summer as Washington fought over the nation’s debt limit, Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. credit rating, and Europe’s economic problems extended from Greece and Spain to Italy and even France.
It’s all been enough to spook recession-battered businesses and investors alike. In the past few weeks, Zynga, Groupon and Facebook have been forced to postpone their initial public offerings. Corporate merger activity declined by 18% last month, and more buyers are getting cold feet at the altar. Last week, Avis Budget abandoned its yearlong pursuit of Dollar Thrifty, citing market conditions, and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger called off his $170 million acquisition of the Clock Tower, the landmarked office building overlooking Madison Square Park that he had intended to convert into a luxury hotel and condominium.
Meanwhile, many companies are finding it tougher to borrow money, particularly in the short term. Issuance of commercial paper, the ultra-short-term debt that some companies use to pay suppliers or make the week’s payroll, has declined for nine consecutive weeks.
“It’s a constant beat-down,” groaned market analyst Meredith Whitney at a conference last week. Moments later, Larry Fink, CEO of money management giant BlackRock, urged European officials to bail out their banks much like the U.S. did. “Can we trust governments to do what they did in ’08 and “09?” Mr. Fink said. “If we felt comfortable that Europe will do right thing … [we would] have a dramatic rally.”
Snip, snip, snip
The recent waves of uncertainty forced OwnEnergy, a Brooklyn developer of wind-powered energy farms, to start a cost-cutting program late last week. The directive is for the firm’s 15 employees to spend less on travel and conferences, while delaying spending on less mature projects. Cutbacks are required, said CEO Jacob Susman, because there’s less financing available for alternative energy and the slow economy has cooled demand for electricity.
“We don’t know how long this economic situation is going to last, so we have to be agile where we can,” Mr. Susman said.
Building sales are still getting done but are taking between four and six weeks to close, instead of the two to three weeks seen just a few months ago, said Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services. He noted that lenders are now inspecting building boilers—something that is never done in more robust markets. “Buyers and banks want to dot every I and cross every T,” Mr. Knakal said.
The jitters extend to Broadway, already facing a long-in-the-making fall season that will see 15 shows open, compared with 21 two years ago (see “Chilly fall
season on Broadway,” this issue).
“I wouldn’t do a big musical at this time,” said veteran producer Stewart Lane, who is hoping to find backers for a new musical with songs by John Denver. He figures his production will cost around $6 million, much less than the approximately $16 million for a major show.
Marketing and public-relations efforts are also heading for the wayside as corporate giants streamline.
“I’ve spoken to clients who say they’re going to have fewer PR agency partners next year than this year; that’s going to be true of marketers as well,” said Tom Morrissy, executive vice president of client solutions at Synaptic Digital, a video communications company whose clients include General Motors, Google and American Express.
Consumers are also hunkering down. Nat Wasserstein, a crisis manager at restructuring advisory firm Lindenwood Associates, said that retail clients aren’t replenishing their inventories as quickly, while some are slower to fill back orders because that would require them to spend money for supplies. Times are toughest among sellers of housing-related items, such as plants for landscaping or windows. But even businesses that are not in trouble are more cautious than in the past.
“People are so risk-averse, it’s clogging the engine of growth,” Mr. Wasserstein said.
The city’s hospitality business appears to have avoided the economy’s wrath and the euro’s summertime meltdown, at least so far. Tourism remains strong, thanks in part to the weak U.S. dollar and also to the fact that more moderately priced hotel rooms can be found here now than in 2008, said John Fox, a senior vice president at PKF Consulting.
High-end restaurants appear to be thriving still. Drew Nieporent, founder of Myriad Restaurant Group, which owns the Tribeca Grill, Nobu and others, insisted it’s “business as usual.”
“We have a very busy party season now,” he said. “That bodes well for the holiday season.”
Contributors: Theresa Agovino, Lisa Fickenscher, Matthew Flamm, Daniel Massey, Elaine Pofeldt and Miriam Kreinin Souccar
Correction: Tom Morrissy is executive vice president of client solutions at Synaptic Digital. His surname was misspelled in an earlier version of this article, originally published online Sept. 18, 2011.
A version of this article appears in the September 19, 2011, print issue of Crain’s New York Business.
As seen: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20110918/FREE/309189977