Breaking Down Complicated Standards 

by Charles B. Hall, CPA, CFE 

McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co., LLC is a large local firm based in Georgia. Our primary areas of focus include banking, electric and telephone cooperatives, healthcare, local governments, not-for-profit entities and small businesses. Though these are our main practice areas, we also handle a broad range of industries and services. As the firm’s quality control director, I’m responsible for ensuring that our team is abreast of changes in standards and regulations so that we are consistently providing the highest quality of service to our clients. Because we are involved in such a broad range of areas, I am always looking for resources that can assist me in this responsibility.

Last year, I attended the AICPA’s National Advanced Accounting and Auditing Technical Symposium for the first time. While there, I was fortunate enough to hear Kristy Illuzzi, CPA, CGMA, and Senior Technical Manager for the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA), speak about in depth about the center, which assists member firms in understanding and implementing accounting, auditing, review, compilation, and quality control standards. After returning from the conference, I did some further research and decided that joining would be a valuable decision for our firm. Since we are a local firm, we don’t have a national office that provides technical assistance however, the CPEA allows us the opportunity to receive that type of support.

Guidance that Helps You Sleep at Night

The most valuable benefit of our CPEA membership has been the technical inquiry service. As quality control director, I am often asked technical questions that require a great deal of research. Given the breadth of information that CPAs are encountering today, sometimes I still need assistance or reinforcement in my answers. The technical inquiry service allows me to submit these questions through an online form and receive a timely, well-researched, written response. I would say we use this service at least one to two times a month, and we typically will have an answer within 24 hours. Previously, we had used the AICPA’s Technical Inquiry Hotline. While we were happy with that service, the written responses provided by the CPEA are invaluable and we include a copy in our relevant engagement files. At the end of the day, I want to be sure I’m giving appropriate responses and guidance to my team and the CPEA provides answers that give me that confidence.

The CPEA also issues monthly reports and alerts that break down and summarize complicated standards in straight forward language. These monthly emails provide the report topics in headlines so that I am able to easily identify which ones are most relevant to our firm and our clients. The reports are an excellent resource in terms of saving valuable time studying lengthy standards. For example, FASB recently issued ASU 2016-02—a standard that I could have spent days reading and learning. The CPEA has already issued an alert that provides an in depth summary of the standard in a page and a half. The alert doesn’t provide every detail, but gives me enough insight to be able to address the questions that I had already started receiving. The guidance provided in the reports and alerts is also exceptionally timely. For example, ASU 2016-13 on credit losses was issued on June 16 and the CPEA has issued an alert and subsequent report breaking down that standard. Our firm has a research library that we use as well, but that information is typically updated annually. The CPEA is providing guidance in real time—almost immediately after a standard is issued. This is another huge benefit in terms of quality control.

A Fit for Firms of All Sizes

I recently commented to another partner at our firm that we had gotten the return on our CPEA membership dues within the first month of joining. Though we are a larger firm, I feel that CPEA membership is appropriate for firms of all sizes, maybe even more so for small firms. My full time job is to learn new standards and keep our firm abreast of what’s happening. Smaller firms may not have the bandwidth to have a dedicated quality control person, and I would argue that the CPEA is even more valuable for those firms.

Joining the CPEA has been an excellent choice for our firm. In addition to the resources we are already benefitting from, they have also started offering on-site trainings which we are considering using in the future. I have found the CPEA to be incredibly reliable and responsive, and the guidance they provide truly helps me sleep better at night.

McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co., LLC is a large firm with offices in Macon, GA and Perry, GA. Charles B. Hall, CPA, CFE is a partner and quality control director.


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