The Economy and Your Labor Management

In a recent presentation by an economist from the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, I learned their carefully studied view of the economy over the next couple years, particularly as it impacts your ability to hire and keep good workers. The news was not great for companies looking to grow, but then it wasn’t surprising either. While the data and conclusions are national in scope, we think they are valid pretty much everywhere our clients do business. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Business will stay strong, continuing to exceed the historical trend rate for GDP growth.
  2. Inflation will rise slightly, getting to the 2% range over the next couple years.
  3. Employment will stay historically high, unemployment historically low.

That last one is the one I want you to focus on, because it affects your cost of labor. The presenter showed charts and statistics that demonstrate:

  1. Half of all businesses don’t have enough qualified job applicants.
  2. Over 1/3 of businesses raised worker compensation in the past quarter, with the result that average hourly wages are approaching 3% higher than they were one year ago.
  3. Another 20% are planning to increase worker compensation in the next quarter.

So, if you’re in that 50% of businesses with job openings you can’t fill with the kinds of people you want to attract, take a look at your average starting pay rates and see if they’re keeping up with your industry, your demographic area, and your desired hiring quality. It seems clear that waiting for the right time is going to be a losing strategy for the next few years. Instead look at ways to modify your cost structure or your pricing structure to enable you to get what you need. For example:

  • Are your processes as efficient as they could be, both operations and administrative, or have you become satisfied with the status quo and given up on raising productivity?
  • Is hiring underqualified people to fill open positions and letting them grow into the job really in the best interest of your bottom line?
  • Are your customers really averse to modest price increases, or would they gladly pay more for an improvement in customer service, product quality, turnaround time, etc.?
  • Does your financial and operational reporting system give you the information you need to even answer those questions?

If you’d like some support in answering any of these questions, the phone number is 888.788.6534 – Your CFO for Rent.

Your mortgage interest deduction has changed!

This note is for the personal tax planning of our clients and friends.

With the passage of the new tax law, the interest expense you pay on any home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) is no longer deductible on your federal return. However you can carry up to $750,000 in a first mortgage and still deduct all the interest paid on your first mortgage. Couple that with the rising trend of interest rates, including mortgage loan interest, and the message for this year’s tax planning might be this:

If your first mortgage and your HELOC combined are $750K or less, it may make sense to refinance now and roll that HELOC into a new first mortgage. You can even afford a bit of an increase in the new first mortgage rate if it is more than offset by the retained tax deduction for HELOC interest expense. An exception might be if your first mortgage interest rate is significantly lower than today’s available rates, and your HELOC balance is fairly low. Then you may be better off by just foregoing the HELOC deduction. The key calculation: your combined mortgage interest expense  less your tax deduction before a refinance compared to that same number after a refinance.

As always, tax planning ideas like this one should always be discussed with your tax adviser who is familiar with your particular situation. We are not tax advisors, but we are Your CFO for Rent.

California Labor Law Update Checklist

For employers who don’t regularly check on updates to California’s ever-changing labor law landscape, here are some areas where recent changes to the law may affect your hiring/management practices:

1. ICE job site inspection constraints – AB450
2. Applicant salary history questions banned – AB168
3. New gender recognition rules – SB179
4. Parental leave changes – SB63
5. Employee relief from retaliation punishment – SB306
6. Applicant criminal history ban – AB1008
7. Sexual harassment training – SB396

And you thought the minimum wage law was the only thing you had to worry about.

If you have any doubts about your compliance with these changes, typically applicable to all but the smallest businesses, contact your labor attorney. If you don’t have one, ask us for a referral. We are Your CFO for Rent. 

Still another reason to beware Wells Fargo and watch your credit cards!

Mark Olson, one of our seasoned CFO contractors and an experienced CPA, had a horrible experience recently when his ID was duplicated and used to defraud him out of thousands of dollars. How his long-time bank, Wells Fargo, dealt with it was so wrong and so inappropriate that he wrote about it for our blog. As Black Friday approaches and the holiday shopping season gets started in earnest, his situation needs to be known to the shopping public. Here, without any attempt to edit his words, is Mark’s story.


My Horrible Experience with Wells Fargo in Dealing with Credit Card Fraud and ID Theft – Will the Problem Improve or Only Get Worse?

As we now enter into the holiday season, I thought it was appropriate to share my horrible experience with recent credit card fraud and ID theft.  I have been with Wells Fargo Bank for 19 years and I have several accounts with them, personal, business and brokerage.  In October, I was notified by Wells Fargo’s fraud department of a suspicious transaction for a charge on my personal credit card for an amount in excess of $5,000 the day following the charge.  I said that I didn’t make the transaction and Wells Fargo promptly removed the charge, cancelled my card and re-issued a new card.  I thought nothing more of this and assumed that everything was fine.  I then received a call from Wells Fargo’s fraud department and they asked me a few questions on a recorded line.  The one question they asked was “Was I in possession of the credit card at the time of the fraudulent transaction?”.  I responded “yes” and again, thought nothing of it and again assumed that everything was taken care of and this would forever disappear from my account.  Wrong!

I received a letter in the mail stating that my fraud claim had been denied. I reviewed my credit card account and saw that Wells Fargo had put the charge back on my account.  I had several conversations with Wells Fargo’s fraud department and they repeatedly said that, because I had possession of the credit card at the time of the charge, I was liable and they would not remove the charge.  My credit card came with both an EMV chip and magnetic strip.  Wells Fargo claims that the transaction had been conducted using the EMV Chip and PIN and therefore, since I had the card, I was the only person who could have performed the transaction.  Wells Fargo said EMV chips are impossible to duplicate.  Wells Fargo said I could submit a letter of reconsideration, which I did after I had conversations with the Target store where this happened and the Los Angeles Police Department.  I discovered that the charge was for several gift cards at Target and that there was surveillance video of the transaction.  I explained this in my reconsideration letter to Wells Fargo and also stated that I had filed a police report with the LAPD. I attached a copy of the police report.  The LAPD told me that the bank would contact them and take over from there now that a police report had been filed.  LAPD said, based upon past experience, they expected this charge to be removed from my account.  My reconsideration was promptly denied by Wells Fargo.  I later learned from LAPD, the bank never called them to discuss my case.

I again contacted Wells Fargo fraud and they gave me the same reason for denial and cited SEC regulations that prevented Wells Fargo from removing the charge from my account.  They said that I could write a second letter for reconsideration offering new facts in the case.  I then contacted the Target store again and spoke to Assets Protection.  They said they had the surveillance video and had viewed it.  They said they would release the video and the credit card sales receipt to a police officer.  I contacted the local police department and arranged to meet with them the next day.  The next day, we met with Target security and the Officer and Target security viewed the video and discovered the charge was conducted by either a Hispanic or African American male in his 20’s and that the card had been swiped and a signature was made on the electronic signature pad and ID was presented.  I am in my early 60’s and Caucasian.  This person obviously had a fraudulent duplicate card and fake ID.  The local police officer has opened a new case.  I composed, faxed and mailed my second letter of reconsideration with these facts to Wells Fargo Fraud Claims and copied several senior executives from Wells Fargo and Target Stores, elected officials and my credit reporting agencies.  It will be very interesting to see how they respond.

Credit card fraud and ID theft are very serious crimes.  As citizens, we have a responsibility to stand up and be strong against the perpetrators and those who are supposed to protect us.  We have rights that are often trampled on.  I see this problem only getting worse as there are more security breaches and continued lack of will by executives and government officials to stop this problem.  For you bankers and retailers, please do the very best you can to help resolve these problems in the best interests of the victim and do everything you can to beef up your cyber security systems and credit card processing practices.

From Gene: Knowledge is power. Have a joyous and grateful Thanksgiving!

Term Limits – Why, Why Not, and the Scorecard

Every not-for-profit board I have been privileged to serve on had term limits in place when I left the board, if not so when I joined. That has been a strong position of mine for many years, and for good reasons, as my own experience amply demonstrated. The last board I led to change their policy in this area had been around for over 50 years, and still had some of the family members who had been instrumental in building the organization many years earlier.

The problem was that after so many years of defining policy and direction for the organization, they often considered their view the correct one and dissenting views as misguided. As they aged so did the vibrancy of the organization. Or, as a consultant quoted in the current issue of Nonprofit Business Advisor put it, “long-standing members are (frequently) too familiar with it and treat it like it’s their organization.” Our CEO maintained a solidly run organization that never ventured far from its roots. Strategic thinking revolved around doing a little more of what we’d been doing for 50 years.

By contrast, a regular requirement to invite new members to the board and make room for them by enacting mandatory exit of the “long-standing members” creates the opportunity for new ideas, new direction, new responses to an ever-changing world, especially when it comes to funding nonprofit services and re-inventing those services for today’s needs. Even if a board has room for new members but doesn’t remove the long-term members, those “old-timers” have great influence with the board and can often override new thinking simply by the influence on decision making that they’ve exercised over the years. In addition, potential directors with new ideas and new approaches will quickly tire of contending with the old guard every time an issue comes up. In my example the bond between the long-time members and the CEO was so strong that once the board transitioned to a more professional board, it was necessary to ask the CEO to retire in order to complete the transition to strategic thinking that ventured outside the box.

Today, according to a survey by accounting firm BDO, 26% of nonprofits with revenues over $25 million have total service durations of 10 or more years, including those with no term limits at all. Happily, only 6% of organizations below $25 million are similarly positioned.


How about yours?

It just keeps getting better! My book, that is…

New update on my foundation book, Finance for Nonfinancial Managers, 2nd Edition. A few months ago Amazon ranked it (based on sales on their site alone) among their best sellers on managerial accounting and textbooks on finance and accounting. (It’s used in entrepreneurship courses from Antioch University in Los Angeles to George Washington University in Washington D.C.)

Well, the news keeps getting better! Here are the current Amazon rankings compared to those just a few months ago:

One buyer had this to say about it: “Your book had a tremendous impact on my career.”

My question for you: Got your yet?

Healthcare companies beware!

I recently saw some statistics on the second quarter 2017 business bankruptcy filings in the United States, by industry and compared to the years since the Great Recession.

The good news: business bankruptcies as a whole are way down, a function of an improving economy, still low interest rates, and hopefully better financial management by CEOs and their teams.

The bad news: Bankruptcies in the healthcare space have dramatically spiked upwards in recent quarters, to record levels by some measures, with no sign of abating. The consultants who authored the survey, Polsinelli, said in part: “The Healthcare Services …  Index was 208.33 for the second quarter of 2017. (Ed: large numbers are bad) The Health Care Index increased significantly from last quarter, increasing by nearly 87 points. The index has experienced record or near-record highs in 5 of the last 6 quarters. Compared with the same period one year ago, which was the prior high point of the index since the benchmark of the fourth quarter of 2010, the index has increased by 45 points.”

How come? It certainly can’t be because demand has lessened. With the aging of the population, particularly the large bulge of baby boomers now reaching retirement age and beyond, demand for healthcare services is growing daily. And we can’t blame borrowing costs, as interest rates are low for every company that is bank-worthy, and in fact banks are becoming even more liberal (again) in their desire to put more of their money to work. We could attribute it to more government-mandated healthcare services to those who can’t afford to pay for them, emergency rooms and the like. But do we really think that explains record levels of business failure? Or is there a need for better financial management in the industry?

Your CFO for Rent ® has seasoned expertise in the healthcare industry, including one member of our team with over 25 years of financial and operating management of hospitals and other healthcare providers. Maybe we can help. If you know someone we should talk to, your referral will be appreciated by them and us.

Not for Profit, Not for Loss!

The title of this short piece is the mantra that I always give to our nonprofit clients and to board members of organizations on whose board I’ve been privileged to serve. It is a fact of mission and purpose that a nonprofit organization doesn’t get formed, or operate, with the idea of making a profit. Profits go to supporting the mission (as long as dry spell reserves are built). But it’s also a tenet of existence and survival that a nonprofit operate in a “not for loss” mode, at least not for any extended period of time. Running a nonprofit organization is in many ways like running a business. the big difference is the financial goal. For a for-profit business the goal is, well, a profit. For a nonprofit the goal is not making a profit but focusing all available resources on the mission WHILE ENSURING THE SURVIVAL OF THE ORGANIZATION SO THAT IT CAN CONTINUE TO PURSUE ITS MISSION.

It’s that last part that sometimes gets nonprofit folks stuck. If they can’t raise enough money through services or donations to continue to provide a service, maybe they should not be providing that service. And if the service is of value to the mission, maybe they should help others to offer it instead. Harsh language for some, but we recognize that an organization that cannot balance its finances will never achieve its mission, it will only drain resources from other organizations perhaps better suited to achieve the mission,

Our firm has for the past 30 years helped both for-profit and non-for-profit organizations achieve their mission by providing high value financial guidance to management.  Our clients have included these southern California nonprofit organizations, some of which you may recognize:

  • Exceptional Children’s Foundation
  • Beit T’Shuvah
  • California Lutheran University
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic Society
  • Memorial Hospital of Gardena
  • New Horizons
  • NTMA Training Centers
  • Pediatric Therapy Network
  • Southern California Municipal Athletic Foundation
  • Westside Children’s Center

If you’d like some assistance in running your organization in a “not for profit, not for loss” manner, we’d welcome your call. 888.788.6534

Beware your bank’s stolen check policies! You may be paying for their mistakes!

True Story: A company mailed a check to one of its suppliers in payment for services. The check never arrived. The company placed a stop payment order on the check and issued a new one, which was cashed by the supplier in the normal course. All good? Not quite.

Seven months later the original check was cashed by an unknown person who took it to another bank, scribbled a signature on the back, and collected the face amount of the check. The issuing company saw the check on their bank statement and reported it to their bank, pointing out the stop payment order and the stale date on the check, and requesting reimbursement.  The bank advised the company that they have no obligation to check for or honor their own stale dated check policy, but they are scrupulous about honoring the stop payment order expiration (both 6 months in theory). The company agrees to fill out the forms the bank required to document the loss, including a notarized signature. The company is advised they can expect reimbursement in 2-3 weeks.

Six weeks later in a follow up call the company is told the bank employee taking the report checked the wrong box on the form, and a replacement form must be completed before the claim can be processed. The company duly submits the revised form and waits some more, wondering what else can get in the way of getting reimbursed for the bank’s error.

Following up more closely after two more weeks, the company is told that the bank will now also need a form signed by the intended payee – the original supplier – that they didn’t get and cash both checks fraudulently. Upon receiving that form, with notarized signature, they may agree to issue a “provisional credit,” which means the bank will lend the company their own money while they, the bank, attempt to collect from the other bank, who has also implemented their own policies to keep the money they paid out in error.

As it stands today: after several months, the only entity out any money is the only entity that did it all right. Stay tuned to learn what else their bank can come up with to stall their reimbursement obligation. EMAIL  TO REQUEST THE NAME OF THE BANK IN QUESTION.

“I didn’t know” is still a loser’s defense

When I wrote my first book, Finance for Non-Financial Managers, it opened with then-current stories of CEOs whose companies had been caught gaming their financial reporting, while the CEOs claimed they didn’t know because they weren’t accountants, or some such excuse. I posited that CEOs could no longer afford to be non-financial, that they could no longer simply say “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Well, Oops! It’s still happening, despite our best efforts to turn the tide. Only now it’s not hitting the news about major companies like Enron, and it’s not even intentional manipulation. It’s happening in smaller, privately owned companies that are the backbone of American business. And most often it’s not that the numbers are bad (we don’t think so, anyway), it’s that the people running the company can’t read them and don’t know how to use them. Many of these companies are run not by their founder, but by a new generation of the founding family, the son or daughter or grandson or someone else who accepted the mantle of management as part of the succession plan of the company’s founders.

And that’s often a big part of the problem. Successor family members are often anxious to keep the business in the family, in part because the income opportunities that the family business presents are often harder to come by elsewhere, where the competition is keener and the advantage of the family name doesn’t exist. All well and good, and some wonderful companies are being run by the second generation, a few even by the third generation. But some of them are slowly running their wonderful companies into the ground without knowing it. They can’t read the financial reports they get each month, and as long as everyone is busy and customers are still coming around they think everything is just fine. Their finance department is underpowered because no one wants to spend precious profits to produce reports on “bean counting;” better to spend it on new products or marketing or management bonuses. No reflection on those perfectly valid choices, of course, unless it’s money that should be spent on financial management or worse, financial education.

Now I hate to beat a dead horse, but apparently some folks are still trying to ride it. If you are in a leadership position in your company, i.e., if it’s YOUR company, you need to KNOW that your numbers are basically sound, AND you need to be able to read and understand them. For yourself, for your banker, for the IRS, or for the investment bankers when you decide it’s time to exit with a handsome profit.

I’m not talking about audit-proof or precise to the penny. But they need to be reasonably close and honestly recorded, and you need to know that. If you’re not sure, please read the first paragraph again. And then consider that our Controller for Rent™ service can help. Better to hear it from people who are on your side of the table, don’t you think?

As always I welcome your comments and feedback.