By LYNN LOFTON
Accounting involves an array of various fields of expertise, and certified public accountants must stay on top of things in the constantly evolving world of regulations, tax codes and technology. The Mississippi Society of CPAs helps them by providing training seminars throughout the year.
“We strive to educate accounting professionals on the latest rules, regulations and standards in all areas of practice,” said Karen Moody, president/CEO of MSCPA. “We offer approximately 100 seminars covering a range of topics suited to members’ needs and 12 conferences annually.”
This training satisfies the 40 hours of continuing education the state board requires CPAs to complete each year and is open to members and non members. The conferences are tailored to specific fields and include technology, accounting and auditing, tax, industry, governmental accounting and auditing, health care services, accounting education, non profit and business valuation and litigation. A new banking and finance conference is being added this year.
“Tax updates and workshops are well-received as CPAs must stay abreast of current legislation,” Moody said. “Technology seminars and conferences are also popular. The annual Mississippi Technology Conference is always well attended and will be held May 9-10 this year.”
Well-attended seminars include those dealing with fraud, retirement planning and strategies, employee benefit plans and the new health care legislation.
Donna Ingram, sole proprietor of Donna Ingram CPA, directs the fraud seminar. “CPAs don’t necessarily fight fraud, but we arm ourselves with knowledge to help our clients or employers prevent and timely detect fraud,” she said. “With rapid technology advances, we must keep abreast of current schemes and scams by reading articles, attending seminars, etc. We also must remember that many fraudsters don’t create sophisticated schemes and we need to watch for simple things such as bookkeepers writing checks to themselves or people padding their expense reports. A well-designed system of internal control can be a roadblock in preventing fraud. CPAs can play a vital role in suggesting enhancements to a business’ control system.”
Ingram says that since not all fraud can be prevented, CPAs must design detection efforts. “Most of us have more work on our desks than we can get to in our work day, but that can’t be an excuse,” she added. “All employees of a business, not just the CPAs, have a responsibility to be skeptical and look for the signs that things are not right, and then promptly take action. CPAs can help develop response plans so that once a fraud is discovered, proper steps can be taken.”
There’s a big difference between a traditional audit and a forensic or fraud engagement, a difference the general public often does not understand, Ingram points out. “Our professional standards say that an auditor has a responsibility to plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether caused by error or fraud, not perform a fraud investigation,” she said. “Additionally, many business owners would like to delegate fraud management to their auditors, but this can’t be done without impairing the CPA’s independence. The CPA can advise clients and offer suggestions, but management must take ownership of their systems of internal control and financial operations.”
With the rise of internet fraud and identity theft, CPAs are seeing an increase in various forms of fraud. “Technology can be a fraudster’s best friend. As long as we’re conducting commerce, paying taxes and enjoying life in the 21st Century, we will be exposed to these types of fraud,” Ingram said.
Her best advice is to be careful with personal and financial data, closely review bank accounts and credit card activity, keep bank accounts reconciled (can be done daily with online banking), shred documents with sensitive information rather than just toss them away, be careful about giving out information, check credit report annually, and consider some of the protection offers that exist in today’s marketplace. “Your CPA can advise you on steps you can take to manage your vulnerabilities and protect your financial information,” she said.
Moody says the MSCPA has always upheld the highest standards of practice and proficiency for its members by providing quality continuing professional education. “The Mississippi State Board of Public Accountancy regulates CPAs practicing in the state,” she said. “In addition to the required 40 hours per year, each CPA must obtain a minimum of four hours in State Board-approved ethics, professional conduct, public accountancy law and regulations courses triennially. A minimum of one of these Ethics CPA credit hours must be in the subject of public accountancy law and regulations. The MSCPA offers qualifying hours on ethics and rules.”
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