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SOX is ever-evolving: 5 ways to shore up your controls program

Talk about mixed messages. The new presidential administration wants what they consider “costly and unnecessary regulations” wiped out. At the same time we have continued pressure by regulatory agencies to strengthen and improve internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR). Anyone who is involved in SOX compliance has to wonder: Is the almost 15-year-old law part of the discussion in Washington? And what should we all be doing in the meantime?

Our crystal ball isn’t any less cloudy than yours, but here’s some advice. Keep in mind SOX’s goal—to have in place a strong ICFR system that prevents a material misstatement of the financial statements. To what extent this is mandated may be in flux, but the benefits of such a program are foundational. It’s good for your valuation, as well as management, employees, investors and anyone you do business with.

To keep your SOX program doing what you need it to do, know that it needs to evolve. As your business expands, its interests and risks shift, and leaders come and go, your SOX program needs tending to as well. Here are five ways to make sure yours stays up-to-date, no matter what happens on Capitol Hill.

1. Pay attention to your culture.

Culture plays a huge role in ICFR. What are the expectations for ethical behavior in the workplace? Are these embedded in your workplace culture? Is the pressure to deliver results so great that a blind eye is turned to questionable behavior? These are important questions to ask regularly, as the answers may change when leaders come and go, and the company grows more complex.

No matter how strong your design of controls, without a healthy ethical environment, your ICFR program will be fighting an uphill battle. Tone at the top matters. “In most cases of alleged financial fraud, the CEO and CFO are named in the complaint,” according to a March report from the Center for Audit Quality. “[Securities and Exchange] Commission staff noted that the driver of earnings management—the catalyst for most fraud cases—is often top management, such that the focus on the CEO and CFO is not surprising.”

In addition to the tone set by the senior leadership at headquarters, look at the culture of remote offices, both foreign and domestic. Take into account both the local tone at the top as well as customs and practices and any incentives offered to local leadership for achieving performance goals.

2. Revisit your company’s risk profile.

Business risks change. Are you staying current? Identify anticipated changes in business processes, systems and key personnel, and make sure you are addressing any known areas of risks that need attention. Even if your internal environment is stable, assess how your business risks may have changed due to external factors.

3. Adopt a quarterly review process.

Keep the people responsible for key controls engaged all year long. By carrying out quarterly self-assessments, control owners can get a quick read on areas that are changing and controls that no longer serve the organization. These evaluations can also help prevent surprises when it comes time to test the controls.

4. Seek alignment with your external auditors.

Expectations can change, so stay fluid. The regulatory landscape will continue to evolve as new leadership takes shape at the SEC and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and their priorities and interests are passed down to auditors. Understanding changes in your auditors’ expectations and having clear, proactive communication can make all the difference in your ability to retain an effective SOX program.

Some of the more recent areas of focus by your auditors may include IPE (information produced by the entity) and the related scrutiny to ensure that the data is complete and accurate. In considering the completeness and accuracy of information used in the execution of a control, it is important to pay attention to the relevant data elements.

5. Fold in insights from experts who bring another perspective.

When your external auditor asks for additional controls, how can you tell whether it’s a check-the-box request? What’s a reasonable risk-based response? You can use a co-sourcing finance team as a sounding board to help you formulate the appropriate answers. Experts who work with a variety of companies can offer a broader perspective of what is going on in the industry.

And for smaller companies that need to rely on a single employee for subject-matter expertise, outside experts can fill in knowledge with their “second set of eyes,” such as by evaluating the design of controls or reviewing a complex, nonstandard transaction.

Regardless of whether SOX as we know it goes away or is here to stay, savvy companies will want to keep the benefits of strong, right-sized internal controls.

Pat Voll is a vice president at RoseRyan, where she mentors and supports the dream team, and heads up client experience, ensuring all our clients are on the road to happiness. Pat previously held senior finance level positions at public companies and worked as an auditor with a Big 4 firm. 

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Culture and innovation trailblazers—how 5 companies are defining a new path

There’s nothing quite like working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Innovation is happening all around us—and as consultants, we get to see it in person every day working with our clients. Tomorrow’s must-have apps are on the drawing board, some awe-inspiring ecommerce service is about to go live, and life-saving devices are going through their approval paces all the time.

Dig deeper and you’ll see innovation on many fronts beyond the products. These businesses are also disrupting the norms of the traditional workplace, adopting different definitions of what “work” looks like and creating notable cultures.

We saw it play out during the recent NewCo Bay Area festival, a multi-day distributed conference where we got to visit some of the most innovative and meaningful businesses in the Bay Area to see and hear what makes them tick. The five companies below have created engaged workforces and cohesive cultures.

Adobe

Adobe’s marketing and document solutions have enabled creativity for countless companies.

During a panel discussion at Adobe’s San Jose HQ, we heard a range of viewpoints on “the future of work,” with speakers from several organizations, including Adobe, General Motors Advanced Technology and even the mayor of San Jose.

The talk brought up a newer challenge for any team tasked with attracting and retaining in-demand talent. Today’s job candidates are not prioritizing money or profitable businesses—they are seeking meaning in their work (a common theme of NewCo companies). Passion vs. paycheck is a constant query for those on the job hunt.

Plum Organics

Acquired by Campbell Soup Co. in 2013, this 10-year-old company makes nutritious organic snacks and meals for babies and toddlers.

We got a private tour of Plum Organics’ newly remodeled Emeryville office space. It aims to be a healthy, happy workplace that entices employees to want to spend their time there—not just because they’re expected to show up every day.

While some companies tiptoe around the concept of a distinct culture, in reality they are focused on actually having one (sounds familiar to us!). Plum has a collective vision of who they want to be and how they want working there to feel. To pull it off, they encourage “shout-outs” of praise across the company that can be made by anyone (not just management) and an empowered workforce that manages their own time. They also follow four core value: BYOS (bring your own self); lead with heart; fight the good fight; and use business as a force for good

As longtime followers of RoseRyan’s core values, we admire Plum Organics’ dedication to nurturing and developing their culture.

Foundation Capital

This venture capital firm has supported the fast growth of companies like Netflix, MobileIron, ShorTel and others in the fintech, marketing technology and enterprise tech spaces.

In the firm’s San Francisco office, general partner Steve Vassalo told us why he was specifically hired for his design background. We think this is an interesting development in the tech industry. Their firm foresees an uptick in the number of designer-founded startups, and predicts their unique experience will lead to better user experiences all around. Consumers will see the effects of this trend as the Internet of Things continues to take off in the many appliances we use.

Like other firms that are transforming the concept of culture, this VC firm believes a focus on love and trust in the organization enables growth—rather than solely focusing on growth itself.

Stimulant

A creative interactive design agency turns static physical spaces into dynamic interactive environments.

As Darren David, CEO of this San Francisco firm told us, people are seeking experiences more than attaining things. That’s why there’s a heightened interest in virtual reality. However, the VR industry has mostly focused on creating a silo experience that shuts out users from reality and anyone in real life while they wear those nifty headsets.

Stimulant wants to create alternate realities that can be experienced together, therefore bringing people together. How do environments encourage collaboration? Stimulant is asking this question as companies benefit from figuring out how to drive more face-to-face interactions between their workers.

WeWork

Providing work environments where remote workforces can go for a change of pace, meetups and a collaborative atmosphere.

We checked out WeWork Transbay, seven floors of coworking space and amazing views of downtown, the Bay and lots and lots of sunlight. The open floor plans, glass office, community area and weekly social events foster collaboration among coworkers and people working from entirely different companies. Imagine the chance meetings and creativity that naturally bubbles up around today’s version of the water cooler—the entrance to a meditation room.

At RoseRyan, our consultants get to work alongside some of the most innovative tech and life sciences companies in the Bay Area, becoming an essential part of their finance teams, such as when we’re controllers for emerging growth companies or helping with a liquidity event. No matter what we’re doing, we are guided by our firm’s distinctive culture and fascinated by the shifts in work trends we see evolving.

Tracey Hashiguchi heads up RoseRyan’s emerging growth and small business team, a dedicated group of consultants helping companies launch and grow. She develops RoseRyan’s strategy, programs and consulting team for helping startups get to the next level. Before joining RoseRyan, Tracey worked at Deloitte.

Our marketing coordinator Lauren Kershner keeps the marketing engine humming at RoseRyan. She joined the team in 2016 and runs our campaigns and programs, digital marketing and more, and she brings lots of positive energy to the office.

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Round of applause for Salena Oppus, winner of RoseRyan’s TrEAT Award

Efficient, reliable, respectful and inspiring—those are a few of the words that immediately spring to mind when describing senior consultant Salena Oppus, the recipient of this year’s RoseRyan TrEAT Award, which honors the guru on our dream team who best exemplifies our values (Trustworthy, Excel, Advocate and Team).

The TrEAT Award is a coveted honor within our firm. Our four values are part of our overall culture’s foundation and guide RoseRyan’s gurus as they work together, help clients and contribute to our firm’s overall success.

They’ve helped us form a supportive culture made up of people who consistently go above and beyond in helping clients, collaborate with one another, and are team players in every scenario. The evolution of our cultural journey has enabled us to launch consultant-led initiatives, to have more innovation and risk-taking, to be more open in our communication and to build a stronger community. We have been named a Bay Area Top 100 Workplace for the past two years, and on a national level, we were named a Great Place to Work. These awards are based on employee input and largely reflect our culture and how our employees feel about it.

The large number of nominations over the past year spoke to the common thread that our culture encourages. Each one gave a reason why a consultant should be considered for the award.

“They all described ways that we each live our values each day—how we support each other, support our clients, enhance our reputation in the market and contribute to the growth of the organization,” said RoseRyan VP Pat Voll during a company meeting when Salena was announced as the TrEAT winner by RoseRyan CEO Kathy Ryan.

Salena’s TrEAT prize is a gorgeous hand-blown glass bowl in the shape of an open shell that can be admired as itself or stuffed with special treats.

Congrats to Salena Oppus!

As the ultimate team player in our office and within her clients’ finance organizations, Salena was noted by her peers for being quick to volunteer for projects, expressing her opinions in an honest, straight-forward and respectful manner, and being a creative thinker.

Feedback from our clients demonstrates Salena’s talents in being able to “hit the ground running,” thoughtfully observing client workflows and offering insightful recommendations for streamlining and efficiency moves that the client hadn’t considered. These are qualities we look for in all our consultants, who have the can-do attitude, nimbleness and deep set of finance skills to seamlessly fit in with technology and life sciences companies around the San Francisco Bay Area. Salena becomes an integral part of her clients’ finance teams to solve problems and get the work done.

A well-deserved honor

Salena thrives when helping clients (which have included Nvidia, Onmeon, Netflix and Quantum) reach their goals, and in turn her clients benefit from her enthusiasm, out-of-the-box ideas and problem-solving skills. She can dig into the details and then pull back and assess improvements a company needs to make, such as ways it can make the most of its resources and time.

“She lives the values of honest communication, being reliable, having the courage to say the things that might not be well received, doing what’s right for our clients and, above all, being a good friend,” a coworker wrote when nominating Salena for the TrEAT Award.

The inclination to bring the best ideas forward and be helpful in every situation fits right into our collaborative and supportive culture. “I was so excited when I heard I won the TrEAT Award,” says Salena. “I am gratified that my colleagues took the time to nominate me, as I truly admire and am inspired by their expertise and talents every day.”

As one of those colleagues said, Salena is an “amazing teammate.” Thanks for being a part of our team, Salena!

Like what you see here? If you think you’d fit right in with the RoseRyan culture and you have the right stuff, we’d love to hear from you. We’re always on the lookout for top talent—full-time and part-time. Contact Michelle Hickam at mhickam@roseryan.com.

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A defined culture and a clear strategy: How the two are a “winning” combo

Here’s a tip about growth (we have many up our sleeves): The smartest strategy ever won’t work if the company’s employees are unclear about the execution plan and don’t hum as a team.

At some companies, particularly those bound to crash and burn, senior management and employees operate on divergent paths, not completely understanding one another or what’s going on. They’re muddled by a disconnected culture.

More than 20 years in this business, we’re experiencing the opposite at RoseRyan, united by a defined culture that’s earning its fair share of accolades. We are enormously pleased to have received a spate of fabulous honors that recognize our awesome, distinctive culture, our mix of talented people and our innovative spirit. Wahoo!

 

Recognized as a high-trust, high-performing workplace

RoseRyan has recently received a new national distinction—we’ve been certified as a Great Place to Work® based on anonymous surveys by our employees. The folks behind the Great Place to Work certification come up with the annual Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For®” list every year.

Employees rated us highly for management credibility and integrity, high levels of respect and a warm sense of camaraderie, and they are proud to say they work for RoseRyan. They also feel extra effort and great work are recognized.

 

Scored a spot on the “Top 100 Workplace” list for the second year

The Bay Area News Group has once again included us on their Top 100 Workplaces list. The list is based solely on what our folks say about our leadership, direction and execution.

Our consultants raved in particular about how they know our strategy, understand how we get things done efficiently and how senior managers have a grip on what is really happening at our firm. We have a long-term strategy in place, and everyone is well informed. We’re forthcoming about our plans and keep our employees informed through regular all hands meetings, virtual chats and casual get-togethers.

 

Founder Kathy Ryan noted as an innovator

RoseRyan founder and CEO Kathy Ryan received honorable mention for CPA.com’s Innovative Practitioners 2016 Award thanks to our in-house developed software application that manages our scheduling, timesheets, skill sets and more behind the scenes. This award recognizes innovations in process, services or technology implementation in accounting firms. Our Dream Team System (DTS) has been spearheaded by Matt Lentzner, who heads our IT efforts.

 

RoseRyan tops equity list for women

For the second year in a row, we ranked high on a national equity leadership list for the accounting sector. Each year the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance and American Women’s Society of CPAs recognize firms with high proportions of women partners and principals in the accounting field. Our executive team is composed entirely of women: Kathy and vice presidents Maureen Ryan and Pat Voll—a rarity in the industry.

 

Why our culture sets us apart

Since she founded the firm in 1993, Kathy’s mission has been to gather a diverse and really smart, talented group of finance aces who provide outstanding work every time. We hire people based on experience, brains and how well they align with our values. Our emphasis on diversity and working with amazing people are both aspects of our culture.

Grounded by four core values (to be Trustworthy, to Excel, to Advocate, and to be a great Team player), RoseRyan’s winning culture is something that is reinforced and nurtured over the years by a special internal team creating special programs. It doesn’t “just happen” but is the culmination of lots of internally orchestrated effort. Our values are our center of gravity, how we get things done, and how we interact with each other and clients. It’s teamwork and open communications all the way.

Our culture is also one of the main reasons we’re able to attract and keep top people in this time of a war for talent. They like a place that is exceptionally friendly, flexible to their needs on employment arrangements, and is supportive and teamwork oriented. Not many companies are truly this way. It’s quite a feat to create this kind of company in today’s hypercompetitive world.

Like what you see here? If you think you’d fit right in with the RoseRyan culture and you have the right stuff, we’d love to hear from you. We’re always on the lookout for top talent—full-time and part-time. Contact Michelle Hickam at mhickam@roseryan.com.

For more about our winning culture, read all about how it developed, in a recent Accounting Today column by RoseRyan Vice President Pat Voll.

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3 big reasons why I love the RoseRyan culture

You know you’ve found the right job when the moment you show up, it feels like home. There’s none of the usual butterflies swirling around the belly or awkward handshakes. That was my experience when I interviewed with RoseRyan over two years ago.

Talent Manager Michelle Hickam and I clicked right away (as do most people who talk to the always friendly Michelle), and later, when I went to the Newark office to interview, I had a similar experience with everyone I met. Everyone was so easy to talk to. They were all strangers but I instantly felt like I was catching up with old friends. Even now, as time has passed and I spend most of time away from the office with clients, that connectedness is still alive.

Here’s why it works: RoseRyan has the kind of business environment I haven’t experienced elsewhere. It’s not forced or fake. The talk is open, honest and down to earth, and there’s a thoughtfulness in what everyone does. We’re all practical folks who are kind, respectful and considerate in all that we do. These are my top 3 reasons why I’m loving this firm’s culture:

1. It’s supportive: You won’t find any bloated egos around here. At RoseRyan, we have a distinct culture of helpfulness. If one of us needs a second opinion on a technical issue, we have a whole group of people who will help us out—fast. Our clients know when they hire one of us, we have a supportive group of knowledgeable, savvy experts available as backup.

2. It’s flexible: This is a big reason I love working here. I’m a full-time consultant (some of my teammates work part-time hours) with a handful of clients. In our field of work, it’s tough to get a predictable schedule. At RoseRyan, however, I can plan my life around my calendar, knowing that I’ll always be busy toward the end of every month.

3. It has values that match my own: Another reason RoseRyan has clicked for me is our shared common values. We defined our values (Trustworthy, Excel, Advocate and Team) that people around here believe in and actually live by. I was amazed to receive our TrEAT Award in 2014. It’s our highest honor for living our values. Honestly, I want to nominate everyone I work with because I think we all are trustworthy in our work, we excel at what we do, we advocate for our firm and our clients, and we are team players. It’s why I’m sticking around.

RoseRyan is a unique and stimulating workplace, where collaboration and camaraderie are made possible even though we’re not physically working with each other every day. Does it sound like your kind of place? Michelle is on the hunt for seasoned pros skilled in finance and accounting who will appreciate being a part of tight-knit team and all that we have to offer. Check out our current positions here.

We’re always on the lookout for top talent—full-time and part-time. So if you like what we’re about—and you have the right stuff—contact Michelle Hickam or call her at 510.456.3056 x134.

RoseRyan consultant Jacqueline Bray is our 2014 TrEAT Award winner. She’s often on the go with emerging-growth clients, helping them with general bookkeeping and accounting.

Jazzed for the year ahead: CEO reflects on why

When times are good in the Bay Area as they have been generally over the past year, there’s energy in the air. We feel it when we’re working with our clients, and we are feeling it within RoseRyan as well.

We are proud to share some notable achievements in recent months. We ended 2015 blowing past our revenue and our profitability goals, adding many new clients. This was due in part by our continuing expansion in San Francisco, where things are booming and companies on the fast track are turning to us for sage finance advice and to fill the gaps of their resource-strapped teams.

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Our proudest moment last year was feeling like we’re getting somewhere in the talent war. It’s tough out here, competition is fierce, but we managed to increase our headcount by 23 percent. Wow. Our current employees raved about us in a confidential survey and earned us a spot on the Top 100 Workplaces list by the Bay Area News Group. And five all-star former employees returned home this summer after spending some time fine-tuning their skills in the corporate world. We’ve warmly dubbed them the “Boomerang Bunch” and are happy to have them back.

A big attraction to RoseRyan, we’ve found, is the fact our culture is so vibrant and real. The four key values that guide our work are very real: a true teamwork approach, being trustworthy, advocating for our clients and the firm, and focusing on excellence in all that we do. Our culture has become a differentiating factor when we look for job candidates and make our case to potential clients. People who work with us like to know they will be in good hands, with collaborative folks who give their all to every project.

While we have successes to report at the start of 2016, there is always room for improvement. These are just three of the many resolutions on our plate this year.

Keep learning: RoseRyan gurus thrive on a challenge and love to stock up on their expertise. It’s one of the reasons people come here—to work on a range of client experiences that keep them engaged and stimulated, and on top of their game.

Within the firm, we have a variety of ways to keep the mental juices flowing, providing opportunities for our consultants to freely share information and tips they pick up in the field. Part of this is due to our camaraderie-focused culture with an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. We also provide classes, workshops and tools for growth, with access to our Technical Accounting Group, which helps both our clients and our employees stay up-to-date on the latest accounting changes and interpretations.

We expect all our consultants to spend a certain number of hours each year on learning and developing not only their technical skills but their soft skills as well. On that note, we are launching a new internal program, Survive & Thrive, to share best practices in the field and the innerworkings of our firm. It’ll also help us onramp new employees into the fold.

Make new friends: Speaking of new employees, we expect to keep hiring in the months ahead. We are looking for stellar finance aces to join our strong team of “A” players. (If you have top accounting chops and operational finance experience to match, Michelle Hickam, our talent manager, would love to connect with you at mhickam@roseryan.com.)

We also plan to add to the stable of fast-moving companies we work with in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, continuing to focus on the technology and life sciences field. Every new client has an intriguing financial challenge, and we’re fascinated to fix the next one.

Be open to change: This wonderful firm I co-founded is getting older in age (22 years and counting) and continues to evolve and change. The world around us is shifting at rapid velocity, and we need to move quickly to remain ahead.

One of the changes we have been seeing is the increased acceptance and demand for remote workers. Some job candidates place high on their priority list, for example, the flexibility to work both on site and off site. It minimizes long commutes, helps a family situation or allows a guru to work on a great engagement with a great company that happens to be several hours away from home.

We want to give our clients access to smart minds and excellent resources in finance no matter where they are located. Let’s say we have access to a brilliant finance mind with a particular expertise who is living four states away. We’ll take it! In some cases our clients have been amenable to remote work situations and have embraced it. We will continue to explore the possibilities, including the latest technologies that make it easier (we can thank our tech-savvy clients for that).

Changes and progress all around—it’s an exciting time. We are propelling into 2016 with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum. More than two decades into this fascinating firm, we are really hitting our stride, and I look forward to everything that’s in store for us this year.

Kathy Ryan is the CEO and CFO of RoseRyan. Since co-founding the firm in 1993, she has served as interim CFO at more than 50 companies. She was honored by the San Francisco Business Times in 2015 as one of the most influential women in Bay Area business.

Perks nice, but focus on corporate culture to attract talent and improve your bottom line

What makes a company succeed? High on the list is corporate culture, a newly hot topic since Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced her controversial decision to abolish the Internet giant’s work-from-home policy with the intent to spur collaboration and innovation and, ultimately, increase profits. Mayer’s move runs counter to the culture of many companies such as Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and American Express, which embrace telecommuting as a tool for increasing productivity and morale as well as attracting and retaining talent. No matter where you land on the telecommuting debate, the larger point, I would argue, is that corporate success hinges on creating and consistently communicating your corporate culture.

Attracting and retaining great employees who will boost your bottom line has a lot less to do with ping pong tables and free snacks or sky-high salaries than with corporate culture. I’m talking about articulating your company’s core values, defining the employee behaviors that align with them and ensuring that managers support and recognize these behaviors.

In a Q&A for the Build Network, RoseRyan CEO Kathy Ryan discusses how to draw—and keep—top talent by embedding your core values in every facet of your organization. At RoseRyan, she created a team of values champions responsible for reflecting and integrating our company’s values into hiring practices, work performance, colleague relationships and recognition, just to name a few areas. The result? RoseRyan has successfully recruited and retained highly qualified individuals in one of the most competitive marketplaces for finance professionals in Silicon Valley.

Two of RoseRyan’s values have been critical to my success as a dream team member: professional growth (what we refer to as “Excel,” or “Stretch, Grow and Innovate”) and trustworthy and honest communication. The former signals that management supports me when I try new things and challenge myself in my role. The latter assures me that I’m informed because the dealings of my colleagues and company are transparent. Out with office politics and hidden agendas.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of companies where corporate culture is a draw for employees and a large factor in corporate success. Take San Francisco-based eco-friendly cleaning products maker Method Products. In their book, The Method Method, the two co-founders describe how they struggled to hire top talent. To differentiate itself, the company created an offbeat corporate culture that dictates that every job candidate be asked this question: how will you help keep Method weird? Having created its weirdness value, Method identified the behaviors it would support: feedback, transparency, creativity and caring. The Method method clearly works: the 2000 startup is now a $100 million giant that competes with Fortune 500 companies.

Here’s the take away: creating a corporate culture—articulating values and identifying prized behaviors—is an investment in your organization’s future. A well-defined and deeply embedded corporate culture tells employees what to expect and how to succeed in your organization. Set the expectation, and you’ll likely get a happier, more productive work environment that boosts your bottom line.