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Internal audit potential for
not-for-profit
organizations

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Colin is a Senior Consultant in BerryDunn’s Government Consulting Group with experience in communicating and executing strategic plans, coordinating membership development for various groups, and managing finance activities. He has worked on a wide range of projects with a focus on programmatic audit, forensic audit, financial process improvement, invoice review, and data analysis. He is a Certified Associate in Project Management and is currently working toward his Project Management Professional® certification.

Colin Buttarazzi
03.04.20

Editor’s note: Please read this if you are a not-for-profit board member, CFO, or any other decision maker within a not-for-profit.

In a time where not-for-profit (NFP) organizations struggle with limited resources and a small back office, it is important not to overlook internal audit procedures. Over the years, internal audit departments have been one of the first to be cut when budgets are tight. However, limited resources make these procedures all the more important in safeguarding the organization’s assets. Taking the time to perform strategic internal audit procedures can identify fraud, promote ethical behavior, help to monitor compliance, and identify inefficiencies. All of these lead to a more sustainable, ethical, and efficient organization. 

Internal audit approaches

The internal audit function can take on many different forms, depending on the size of the organization. There are options between the dedicated internal audit department and doing nothing whatsoever. For example:

  • A hybrid approach, where specific procedures are performed by an internal team, with other procedures outsourced. 
  • An ad hoc approach, where the board or management directs the work of a staff member.

The hybrid approach will allow the organization to hire specialists for more technical tasks, such as an in-depth financial analysis or IT risk assessment. It also recognizes internal staff may be best suited to handle certain internal audit functions within their scope of work or breadth of knowledge. This may add costs but allows you to perform these functions otherwise outside of your capacity without adding significant burden to staff. 

The ad hoc approach allows you to begin the work of internal audit, even on a small scale, without the startup time required in outsourcing the work. This approach utilizes internal staff for all functions directed by the board or management. This leads to the ad-hoc approach being more budget friendly as external consultants don’t need to be hired, though you will have to be wary of over burdening your staff.

With proper objectivity and oversight, you can perform these functions internally. To bring the process to your organization, first find a champion for the project (CFO, controller, compliance officer, etc.) to free up staff time and resources in order to perform these tasks and to see the work through to the end. Other steps to take include:

  1. Get the audit/finance committee on board to help communicate the value of the internal audit and review results of the work
  2. Identify specific times of year when these processes are less intrusive and won’t tax staff 
  3. Get involved in the risk management process to help identify where internal audit can best address the most significant risks at the organization
  4. Leverage others who have had success with these processes to improve process and implementation
  5. Create a timeline and maintain accountability for reporting and follow up of corrective actions

Once you have taken these steps, the next thing to look at (for your internal audit process) is a thoughtful and thorough risk assessment. This is key, as the risk assessment will help guide and focus the internal audit work of the organization in regard to what functions to prioritize. Even a targeted risk assessment can help, and an organization of any size can walk through a few transaction cycles (gift receipts or payroll, for example) and identify a step or two in the process that can be strengthened to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse.  

Here are a few examples of internal audit projects we have helped clients with:

  • Payroll analysis—in-depth process mapping of the payroll cycle to identify areas for improvement
  • Health and education facilities performance audit—analysis of various program policies and procedures to optimize for compliance
  • Agreed upon procedures engagement—contract and invoice/timesheet information review to ensure proper contractor selection and compliant billing and invoicing procedures 

Internal audits for companies of all sizes

Regardless of size, your organization can benefit from internal audit functions. Embracing internal audit will help increase organizational resilience and the ability to adapt to change, whether your organization performs internal audit functions internally, outsources them, or a combination of the two. For more information about how your company can benefit from an internal audit, or if you have questions, contact us

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  • Emily Parker
    Senior Manager
    Education, Healthcare, Not-For-Profit
    P 207.991.5182

Colin is a Senior Consultant in BerryDunn’s Government Consulting Group with experience in communicating and executing strategic plans, coordinating membership development for various groups, and managing finance activities. He has worked on a wide range of projects with a focus on programmatic audit, forensic audit, financial process improvement, invoice review, and data analysis. He is a Certified Associate in Project Management and is currently working toward his Project Management Professional® certification.

Professional
Colin Buttarazzi

As resources are released to help not-for-profit organizations navigate the rapidly changing landscape, we will add important links and information to this blog post:

We are here to help
Please contact the BerryDunn not-for-profit team if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

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Resources for not-for-profits affected by COVID-19

Read this if you are a leader at a state Medicaid agency.

Here is a summary of information we have gleaned from CMS Administrator Verma’s recent call.

CMS is implementing new rules and waivers that increase provider flexibility and free up resources to deal with a surge in COVID-19 patients. CMS is working with the provider community to provide clarity around specific changes that impact their operations.

  • The rulemaking process has been dramatically expedited to accommodate recent and forthcoming regulatory changes
  • CMS is in the process of working out details to administer CARES act provisions, including further regulatory flexibilities, expansion of accelerated payment program, and $100 billion appropriated to reimburse eligible health care providers
  • CMS clarifies 3-Day Rule Waiver for skilled nursing facilities applies throughout the country and to all patients, regardless of their COVID-19 status

Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth, and Rural Health Care and Medicaid Telehealth Flexibilities Guidance

This informational bulletin is composed of two parts: Rural Health Care and Medicaid Telehealth Flexibilities and Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth.

  • The informational bulletin identifies opportunities for telehealth delivery for services to increase access to Medicaid services. It is composed of two parts, Rural Health Care and Medicaid Telehealth Flexibilities and Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment Services Furnished via Telehealth
  • The bulletin provides SUD guidance around Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), counseling, high risk populations, and other areas critical to providing SUD services.

Long-Term Care Nursing Homes Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit

CMS is issuing an electronic toolkit regarding telehealth and telemedicine for Long Term Care Nursing Home Facilities.

  • The toolkit includes electronic links to sources of information regarding telehealth and telemedicine, including the changes made by CMS over the last week in response to the National Health Emergency.
  • Much of the toolkit’s information is intended for providers who may wish to establish a permanent telemedicine program, but there is information here that will help in the temporary deployment of a telemedicine program as well.
  • There are specific documents identified that may be useful in choosing telemedicine vendors, equipment, and software, initiating a telemedicine program, monitoring patients remotely, and developing documentation tools. 


CMS makes regulatory changes to help US healthcare system address COVID-19 patient surge

CMS has issued a number of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to assist the nation’s healthcare system with improved flexibility.

  • Increased hospital capacity. CMS will allow communities to take advantage of local ambulatory surgery centers that have canceled elective surgeries, per federal recommendations.
  • Healthcare workforce expansion. CMS’s temporary requirements allow hospitals and healthcare systems to increase their workforce capacity by removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to be readily hired from the local community as well as those licensed from other states without violating Medicare rules.
  • Paperwork requirements. CMS is temporarily eliminating paperwork requirements.
  • Telehealth in Medicare. CMS will now allow for more than 80 additional services to be furnished via telehealth.

Additional COVID-19 FAQs for state Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) agencies

CMS released an update to the COVID-19 FAQs posted on March 18, 2020 related to emergency preparedness and response, eligibility and enrollment flexibilities, benefit flexibilities, cost sharing flexibilities, financial flexibilities, managed care flexibilities, fair hearing flexibilities, health information exchange flexibilities, and COVID-19 T-MSIS coding guidance. Notably:

  • States that have CHIP disaster provisions in their state plans can activate these provisions. CMS considers a significant outbreak of an infectious disease to be a disaster. CMS also recommends that states that do not have disaster relief provisions into their CHIP state plans include language that a federal- or governor-declared emergency is considered an event that can trigger the disaster provisions.

States may not suspend use of their AVS, however CMS reminds states that they can rely on self-attestation of assets and verify financial assets using their AVS post-enrollment in Medicaid.

  • CMS can help provide technical assistance regarding approaches states can use to rapidly scale telehealth technologies.
  • CMS clarified and provided COVID-19 T-MSIS coding guidance.

For more information

We’re here to help. If you have more questions or want to have an in-depth conversation about your specific situation, please contact the team

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Takeaways from CMS national stakeholder call

Focus: Disaster Loan Program and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Background

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will provide $562 million to cover administrative expenses and program subsidy for the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans and small business programs. 

Additionally, the CARES Act specifically provides the authorization for $349 billion for the SBA 7(a) program through December 31, 2020. 

SBA disaster loan program (updated for CARES Act) highlights


General
The US Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

Eligibility 
Industry may be subject to different standards, but the general rule of thumb is that the SBA defines most small businesses as having less than 500 people, both calculated on a standalone basis and together with its affiliates (see PPP below for more information). A company’s average annual sales may also be used for the small business designation. 

Historically, businesses that are not eligible for this program included casinos, charitable organizations, religious organizations, agricultural enterprises and real estate developers that are primarily involved in subdividing real property into lots and developing it for resale for themselves (other real estate entities may apply, such as landlords). 

However, the CARES Act expanded eligibility to include (i) any individual operating as a sole proprietor or independent contractor; (ii) private non-profits and (iii) Tribal businesses, cooperatives and ESOPs with fewer than 500 employees during January 31, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

If the entity has bad credit or has defaulted on a prior SBA loan, the entity is not eligible. The CARES Act removed the credit elsewhere requirement (i.e., previously if the business had credit available through another source, such as a line of credit, it was ineligible). 

Basic terms

  • Loan amount
    The lesser of $2 million or an amount determined that that borrower can repay (i.e., underwriting requirement).
  • Maximum term
    Up to 30 years and all payments on these loans will be deferred for 12 months from disbursement date. Interest will accrue.
  • Interest rate
    3.75% for for-profit business and 2.75% for a non-profit entity.
  • Collateral
    Loans for under $25,000 do not require collateral.  Any person with an interest in the company worth 20% or more must be a guarantor; however the CARES Act eliminates the guaranty requirement on advances and loans under $200,000. 
  • Use of proceeds
    Loan proceeds may be used to pay fixed debts (including short-term notes and balloon payments that are due within the next 12 months), payroll, accounts payable, and other bills the borrower would have to pay that but for the disaster would have been paid, such as mortgage payments. Landlords and other passive entities are eligible. Agriculture-related entities are eligible, but farmers are not. Borrowers must maintain proof of how the loan proceeds were used for three years from the date of disbursement. Borrowers cannot use the proceeds to expand their business, buy assets, make repairs to real estate or refinance long-term debt. 
  • Forgiveness
    No forgiveness provision.

Applying
Loan applications are available here

Length of time for funding
Upon submittal of a completed application, it can take 18-21 days to be approved and another four to five business days for funding. However, the SBA has never dealt with this much volume so expect delays.  

If funding is needed immediately, contact any SBA partnering non-profit lender and request an SBA microloan up to $50,000 or contact a commercial lending partner to see if they offer SBA express loans up to $1,000,000 (CARES Act increases this from $350,000 to $1,000,000) and/or SBA 7(a) loans up to $5 million. The 7(a) loans are typically processed within 30 days, while microloans and express loans are processed even more quickly. 

The CARES Act has also established an emergency grant to allow eligible entities who have applied for a disaster loan because of COVID-19 to request an advance of up to $10,000 on that loan. The SBA is to distribute the advance within three days. 

This advance does not need to be repaid, even if the applicant is denied a Disaster Loan. ($10,000,000,000 is appropriated for this program and funds will be distributed on a first come, first served basis). An applicant must self-certify that it is an eligible entity prior to receiving such an advance. Advances may be used for providing sick leave to employees, maintaining payroll, meeting increased costs to obtain materials, rent or mortgage payments, and payment of business obligations that cannot be paid due to loss of revenues. Applicants must apply directly with the SBA for this program.

Other considerations
Each company should review any current loan obligations and confirm that it does not include a provision forbidding that applicant from acquiring additional debt. If the document does, the applicant will want to discuss a waiver of that provision with its current lender. The lender should be amenable to this waiver and the applicant will want the waiver verified in writing. The lender should be amenable because the SBA disaster loan can be used to satisfy monthly debt obligations and any collateral taken by the SBA would be subordinate, if the same collateral secures the lender’s loan.

Under the CARES Act, Congress has also directed the SBA to use funds to make principal and interest payments, along with associated fees that may be owed on an existing SBA 7(a), 504 or micro-loan program covered loan, for a period of six months from the next payment due date. Any loan that may currently be on deferment will receive the six months of covered payments once the deferral period has ended. This provision will also cover loans that are made up to six months after the enactment of the CARES Act. If the loan maturity date conflicts with benefiting from this amendment, the lender can extend the maturity date of the loan. 

Newly enacted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)


General
This new program will be offered with a 100% SBA guaranty through December 31, 2020, to lenders, after which the guaranty percentage will return to 75% for loans above $150,000 and 85% for loans below that amount. 

Eligibility 
A business, including a qualifying nonprofit organization, that was in operation on February 15, 2020, and either had employees for whom it paid salaries and payroll taxes or paid independent contractors, is eligible for PPP loans if it (a) meets the applicable North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code-based size standard or other applicable 7(a) loan size standard, both alone and together with its affiliates; or (b) has an employee headcount that is lower than the greater of (i) 500 employees or (ii) the employee size standard, if any, under the applicable NAICS Code. 

Businesses that fall within NAICS Code 72, which applies to accommodations and food services, are also eligible if they employ no more than 500 people per physical location. Sole proprietorships, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals are also eligible. It is unclear as of what date the size test will be applied, but historically, SBA size tests have been applied on the date of application for financing. More information on the NAICS-Code-based size standards can be found here

Borrowers are required to provide a good faith certification that the loan is necessary due to economic conditions brought about because of COVID-19 and that the borrower will use the funds to retain workers, maintain payroll and pay utilities, lease and/or mortgage payments.

The credit elsewhere test is waived under this program. 

Lenders shall base their underwriting on whether a business was operational on February 15, 2020, and had employees for whom it was responsible for or paid for services from an independent contractor. The legislation has directed lenders not to base their determinations on repayment ability at the present time because of the effects of COVID-19.

Applicants for SBA loan programs, including PPP loans, typically must include their affiliates when applying size tests to determine eligibility. That means that employees of other businesses under common control would count toward the maximum number of permitted employees. A business that is controlled by a private equity sponsor would likely be deemed an affiliate of the other businesses controlled by that sponsor and could thus be ineligible for PPP loans. However, the CARES Act waives the affiliation requirement for the following applicants:  

  1. Businesses within NAICS Code 72 with no more than 500 employees
  2. Franchises with codes assigned by the SBA, as reflected on the SBA franchise registry
  3. Businesses that receive financial assistance from one or more small business investment companies (SBIC) 

Basic terms

  • Loan amount
    Lesser of $10 million or 2.5 times the applicant’s average monthly payroll costs of the business over the year prior to the making of the loan (practically, this may become the year prior to the loan application), excluding the prorated portion of any annual compensation above $100,000 for any person. Note that under the CARES Act, “payroll costs” include vacation, parental, family, medical, and sick leave; allowances for dismissal or separation; payments for group health care benefits, including insurance premiums; and retirement benefits. Calculations vary slightly for seasonal businesses and businesses that were not in operation between February 15 and June 30, 2019. To the extent that a SBA Disaster Loan was used for a purpose other than those permitted for PPP Loans, the Disaster Loans may be refinanced with proceeds of PPP loans, in which case the maximum available PPP loan amount is increased by the amount of the Disaster Loans being refinanced. 
  • Maximum term
    Payments will be deferred for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 12. SBA is directed to issue guidance on the terms of this deferral. Any portion of the PPP loan that is not forgiven (see below) on or before December 31, 2020, shall automatically be a term loan for a maximum of 10 years. For PPP loans, the SBA has waived prepayment penalties.
  • Fees
    SBA will waive the guaranty fee and annual fee applicable to other 7(a) loans. 
  • Interest rate
    Maximum rate of 4%.
  • Collateral
    The standard requirements of collateral and a personal guaranty are waived under this program. Accordingly, there will be no recourse to owners or borrowers for nonpayment, except to the extent proceeds are used for an unauthorized purpose.
  • Use of proceeds
    This loan can be used for: (i) payroll support, excluding the prorated portion of any compensation above $100,000 per year for any person; (ii) group healthcare benefits costs and insurance premiums; (iii) mortgage interest (but not prepayments or principal payments) and rent payments incurred in the ordinary course of business, and (iv) utility payments. 
  • Forgiveness
    A borrower will be eligible for loan forgiveness related to a PPP loan in an amount equal to 8 weeks of payroll costs, and the interest on mortgage payments (not principal) made in the ordinary course of business, rent payments, or utility payments so long as all payments were obligations of the borrower prior to February 15, 2020. Payroll costs are limited to compensation for a single employee to be no more than $100,000 in wages and the amount of forgiveness cannot exceed the principal loan amount. 

    The amount of loan forgiveness will be reduced proportionally by any reduction in the borrower’s workforce, based on the full-time equivalent employees versus the period from either February 15, 2019, through June 30, 2019, or January 1, 2020, through February 29, 2020, as selected by the borrower, or a reduction of more than 25% of any employee’s compensation, measured against the most recent full quarter. If a borrower has already had to lay off employees due to COVID-19, employers are encouraged to rehire them by not being penalized for having a reduced payroll at the beginning of the covered period, which means the initial 8 week period after the loan’s origination date. 

    Accordingly, reductions in the number of employees or compensation occurring between February 15, 2020, and 30 days after enactment of the CARES Act will generally be ignored to the extent reversed by June 30, 2020. Any additional wages that may be paid to tipped workers are also covered in the calculation of payroll forgiveness. Borrowers must keep accurate records and document their payments because lenders will need to verify the payments to allow for loan forgiveness. Borrowers will not have to include any forgiven indebtedness as taxable income. 

Applying
A company needs to apply on or before June 30, 2020, with a lender who is currently approved as a 7(a) lender or who is approved by the SBA and the Treasury Department to become a PPP lender. PPP lenders have delegated authority to make and approve PPP loan, with no additional SBA approval required. 

There are certain portions of the CARES Act that require SBA to provide further guidance so there may be some slight changes to the rules and procedures as best practices present themselves. 

We recommend contacting existing 7(a) lenders as soon as possible to learn what you will need to provide for underwriting and approving a PPP loan. 

We are here to help
Please contact a BerryDunn professional if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

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Impact of CARES Act on SBA loans

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides relief to taxpayers affected by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The CARES Act is the third round of federal government aid related to COVID-19. We have summarized the top provisions in the new legislation below, with more detailed alerts on individual provisions to follow. Click here for a link to the full text of the bill.

Compensation, benefits, and payroll relief
The law temporarily increases the amount of and expands eligibility for unemployment benefits, and it provides relief for workers who are self-employed. Additionally, several provisions assist certain employers who keep employees on payroll even though the employees are not able or needed to work. 

The cornerstone of the payroll protection aid is a streamlined application process for SBA loans that can be forgiven if an eligible employer maintains its workforce at certain levels. 

Additionally, certain employers affected by the pandemic who retain their employees will receive a credit against payroll taxes for 50% of eligible employee wages paid or incurred from March 13 to December 31, 2020. This employee retention credit would be provided for as much as $10,000 of qualifying wages, including health benefits. Eligible employers may defer remitting employer payroll tax payments that remain due for 2020 (after the credits are deducted), with half being due by December 31, 2021, and the balance due by December 31, 2022. 

Employers with fewer than 500 employees are also allowed to give terminated employees access to the mandated paid federal sick and child care leave benefits for which the employer is 100% reimbursed by the government through payroll tax credits, if the employer rehires the qualifying employees.

Any benefit that is driven off the definition of “employee” raises the issue of partner versus employee. The profits interest member that is receiving a W-2 may not be eligible for inclusion in the various benefit computations.

Eligible individuals can withdraw vested amounts up to $100,000 during 2020 without a 10% early distribution penalty, and income inclusion can be spread over three years. Repayment of distributions during the next three years will be treated as tax-free rollovers of the distribution. The bill also makes it easier to borrow money from 401(k) accounts, raising the limit to $100,000 from $50,000 for the first 180 days after enactment, and the payment dates for any loans due the rest of 2020 would be extended for a year.

Individuals do not have to take their 2020 required minimum distributions from their retirement funds. This avoids lost earnings power on the taxes due on distributions and maximizes the potential gain as the market recovers.

Two long-awaited provisions allow employers to assist employees with college loan debt through tax free payments up to $5,250 and restores over-the-counter medical supplies as permissible expenses that can be reimbursed through health care flexible spending accounts and health care savings accounts.

Deferral of net business losses for three years
Section 461(l) limits non-corporate taxpayers in their use of net business losses to offset other sources of income. As enacted in 2017, this limitation was effective for taxable years beginning after 2017 and before 2026, and applied after the basis, at-risk, and passive activity loss limitations. The amount of deductible net business losses is limited to $500,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return and $250,000 for all other taxpayers. These amounts are indexed for inflation after 2018 (to $518,000 and $259,000, respectively, in 2020). Excess business losses are carried forward to the next succeeding taxable year and treated as a net operating loss in that year.

The CARES Act defers the effective date of Section 461(l) for three years, but also makes important technical corrections that will become effective when the limitation on excess business losses once again becomes applicable. Accordingly, net business losses from 2018, 2019, or 2020 may offset other sources of income, provided they are not otherwise limited by other provisions that remain in the Code. Beginning in 2021, the application of this limitation is clarified with respect to the treatment of wages and related deductions from employment, coordination with deductions under Section 172 (for net operating losses) or Section 199A (relating to qualified business income), and the treatment of business capital gains and losses.

Section 163(j) amended for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020
The CARES Act amends Section 163(j) solely for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020. With the exception of partnerships, and solely for taxable years beginning in 2019 and 2020, taxpayers may deduct business interest expense up to 50% of their adjusted taxable income (ATI), an increase from 30% of ATI under the TCJA, unless an election is made to use the lower limitation for any taxable year. Additionally, for any taxable year beginning in 2020, the taxpayer may elect to use its 2019 ATI for purposes of computing its 2020 Section 163(j) limitation. 

This will benefit taxpayers who may be facing reduced 2020 earnings as a result of the business implications of COVID-19. As such, taxpayers should be mindful of elections on their 2019 return that could impact their 2019 and 2020 business interest expense deduction. With respect to partnerships, the increased Section 163(j) limit from 30% to 50% of ATI only applies to taxable years beginning in 2020. However, in the case of any excess business interest expense allocated from a partnership for any taxable year beginning in 2019, 50% of such excess business interest expense is treated as not subject to the Section 163(j) limitation and is fully deductible by the partner in 2020. The remaining 50% of such excess business interest expense shall be subject to the limitations in the same manner as any other excess business interest expense so allocated. Each partner has the ability, under regulations to be prescribed by Treasury, to elect to have this special rule not applied. No rules are provided for application of this rule in the context of tiered partnership structures.

Net operating losses carryback allowed for taxable years beginning in 2018 and before 2021
The CARES Act provides for an elective five-year carryback of net operating losses (NOLs) generated in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2021. Taxpayers may elect to relinquish the entire five-year carryback period with respect to a particular year’s NOL, with the election being irrevocable once made. In addition, the 80% limitation on NOL deductions arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017, has temporarily been pushed to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. 

Several ambiguities in the application of Section 172 arising as a result of drafting errors in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have also been corrected. As certain benefits (i.e., charitable contributions, Section 250 “GILTI” deductions, etc.) may be impacted by an adjustment to taxable income, and therefore reduce the effective value of any NOL deduction, taxpayers will have to determine whether to elect to forego the carryback. Moreover, the bill provides for two special rules for NOL carrybacks to years in which the taxpayer included income from its foreign subsidiaries under Section 965. Please consider the impact of this interaction with your international tax advisors. 

However, given the potential offset to income taxed under a 35% federal rate, and the uncertainty regarding the long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis on future earnings, it seems likely that most companies will take advantage of the revisions. This is a technical point, but while the highest average federal rate was 35% before 2018, the highest marginal tax rate was 38.333% for taxable amounts between $15 million and $18.33 million. This was put in place as part of our progressive tax system to eliminate earlier benefits of the 34% tax rate. Companies may wish to revisit their tax accounting methodologies to defer income and accelerate deductions in order to maximize their current year losses to increase their NOL carrybacks to earlier years.

Alternative minimum tax credit refunds
The CARES Act allows the refundable alternative minimum tax credit to be completely refunded for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2018, or by election, taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the credit was refundable over a series of years with the remainder recoverable in 2021.

Technical correction to qualified improvement property
The CARES Act contains a technical correction to a drafting error in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that required qualified improvement property (QIP) to be depreciated over 39 years, rendering such property ineligible for bonus depreciation. With the technical correction applying retroactively to 2018, QIP is now 15-year property and eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. This will provide immediate current cash flow benefits and relief to taxpayers, especially those in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries. Taxpayers that placed QIP into service in 2019 can claim 100% bonus depreciation prospectively on their 2019 return and should consider whether they can file Form 4464 to quickly recover overpayments of 2019 estimated taxes. Taxpayers that placed QIP in service in 2018 and that filed their 2018 federal income tax return treating the assets as bonus-ineligible 39-year property should consider amending that return to treat such assets as bonus-eligible. For C corporations, in particular, claiming the bonus depreciation on an amended return can potentially generate NOLs that can be carried back five years under the new NOL provisions of the CARES Act to taxable years before 2018 when the tax rates were 35%, even though the carryback losses were generated in years when the tax rate was 21%. With the taxable income limit under Section 172(a) being removed, an NOL can fully offset income to generate the maximum cash refund for taxpayers that need immediate cash. Alternatively, in lieu of amending the 2018 return, taxpayers may file an automatic Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, with the 2019 return to take advantage of the new favorable treatment and claim the missed depreciation as a favorable Section 481(a) adjustment.

Effects of the CARES Act at the state and local levels
As with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax implications of the CARES Act at the state level first depends on whether a state is a “rolling” Internal Revenue Code (IRC) conformity state or follows “fixed-date” conformity. For example, with respect to the modifications to Section 163(j), rolling states will automatically conform, unless they specifically decouple (but separate state ATI calculations will still be necessary). However, fixed-date conformity states will have to update their conformity dates to conform to the Section 163(j) modifications. 

A number of states have already updated during their current legislative sessions (e.g., Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Virginia, and West Virginia). Nonetheless, even if a state has updated, the effective date of the update may not apply to changes to the IRC enacted after January 1, 2020 (e.g., Arizona). 

A number of other states have either expressly decoupled from Section 163(j) or conform to an earlier version and will not follow the CARES Act changes (e.g., California, Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee (starting in 2020), Wisconsin). Similar considerations will apply to the NOL modifications for states that adopted the 80% limitation, and most states do not allow carrybacks. Likewise, in fixed-dated conformity states that do not update, the Section 461(l) limitation will still apply resulting in a separate state NOL for those states. 

These conformity questions add another layer of complexity to applying the tax provisions of the CARES Act at the state level. Further, once the COVID-19 crisis is past, rolling IRC conformity states must be monitored, as these states could decouple from these CARES Act provisions for purposes of state revenue.

2020 recovery refund checks for individuals
The CARES Act provides eligible individuals with a refund check equal to $1,200 ($2,400 for joint filers) plus $500 per qualifying child. The refund begins to phase out if the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers and $112,500 for head of household filers). The credit is completely phased out for individuals with no qualifying children if their AGI exceeds $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers and $136,500 for head of household filers).

Eligible individuals do not include nonresident aliens, individuals who may be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return, estates, or trusts. Eligible individuals and qualifying children must all have a valid social security number. For married taxpayers who filed jointly with their most recent tax filings (2018 or 2019) but will file separately in 2020, each spouse will be deemed to have received one half of the credit.

A qualifying child (i) is a child, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister, or a descendent of any of them, (ii) under age 17, (iii) who has not provided more than half of their own support, (iv) who has lived with the taxpayer for more than half of the year, and (v) who has not filed a joint return (other than only for a claim for refund) with the individual’s spouse for the taxable year beginning in the calendar year in which the taxable year of the taxpayer begins.

The refund is determined based on the taxpayer’s 2020 income tax return but is advanced to taxpayers based on their 2018 or 2019 tax return, as appropriate. If an eligible individual’s 2020 income is higher than the 2018 or 2019 income used to determine the rebate payment, the eligible individual will not be required to pay back any excess rebate. However, if the eligible individual’s 2020 income is lower than the 2018 or 2019 income used to determine the rebate payment such that the individual should have received a larger rebate, the eligible individual will be able to claim an additional credit generally equal to the difference of what was refunded and any additional eligible amount when they file their 2020 income tax return.

Individuals who have not filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still receive an automatic advance based on their social security benefit statements (Form SSA-1099) or social security equivalent benefit statement (Form RRB-1099). Other individuals may be required to file a return to receive any benefits.

The CARES Act provides that the IRS will make automatic payments to individuals who have previously filed their income tax returns electronically, using direct deposit banking information provided on a return any time after January 1, 2018.

Charitable contributions

  • Above-the-line deductions: Under the CARES Act, an eligible individual may take a qualified charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 against their AGI in 2020. An eligible individual is any individual taxpayer who does not elect to itemize his or her deductions. A qualified charitable contribution is a charitable contribution (i) made in cash, (ii) for which a charitable contribution deduction is otherwise allowed, and (iii) that is made to certain publicly supported charities.

    This above-the-line charitable deduction may not be used to make contributions to a non-operating private foundation or to a donor advised fund.
  • Modification of limitations on cash contributions: Currently, individuals who make cash contributions to publicly supported charities are permitted a charitable contribution deduction of up to 60% of their AGI. Any such contributions in excess of the 60% AGI limitation may be carried forward as a charitable contribution in each of the five succeeding years.

    The CARES Act temporarily suspends the AGI limitation for qualifying cash contributions, instead permitting individual taxpayers to take a charitable contribution deduction for qualifying cash contributions made in 2020 to the extent such contributions do not exceed the excess of the individual’s contribution base over the amount of all other charitable contributions allowed as a deduction for the contribution year. Any excess is carried forward as a charitable contribution in each of the succeeding five years. Taxpayers wishing to take advantage of this provision must make an affirmative election on their 2020 income tax return.

    This provision is useful to taxpayers who elect to itemize their deductions in 2020 and make cash contributions to certain public charities. As with the aforementioned above-the-line deduction, contributions to non-operating private foundations or donor advised funds are not eligible.

    For corporations, the CARES Act temporarily increases the limitation on the deductibility of cash charitable contributions during 2020 from 10% to 25% of the taxpayer’s taxable income. The CARES Act also increases the limitation on deductions for contributions of food inventory from 15% to 25%.

We are here to help
Please contact a BerryDunn professional if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your specific situation.

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The CARES Act: Implications for businesses

On March 18, 2020, the SBA issued relaxed criteria for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs).

The two immediate impacts:

  • States are now only required to certify that a minimum of five small businesses within the state/territory have suffered significant economic injury, as opposed to proof of five small businesses within each reporting county/parish.
  • Prior regulation only made disaster assistance loans available to small businesses within counties declared disaster areas by a governor. Relaxed standards state the EIDLs will be available statewide following an economic injury declaration. This applies to current and future disaster declarations related to COVID-19.

Some SBA loan specifics:

  • EIDL amounts range from $25,000 to $2,000,000, at interest rates of 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for not-for-profits.
  • Companies can use the loans to pay bills that can’t be paid due to the disaster’s impact, including but not limited to fixed debts, payroll, and accounts payable.
  • Loan terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the borrower’s ability to repay. SBA is offering repayment terms up to a maximum of 30 years.
  • EIDLs are one facet of an expanded and coordinated federal government response.

Small businesses in need of economic assistance may apply for an EIDL here. We will update as more information becomes available.

If you have questions about SBA loans, please contact your BerryDunn tax consultant
 

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Small Business Administration (SBA) eases criteria for disaster loans

Per CMS, all state Medicaid agencies, including territories, are eligible for the increased Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), provided they adhere to the conditions outlined in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). 

Key takeaways:

  • The increase in FMAP will be retroactive to January 1, 2020 and will be available to state Medicaid agencies through the end of the quarter in which the public health emergency for COVID-19 ends.
  • This guidance answers some of the following questions for states, including:
    • How long the funding will be available and when it begins
    • What costs are matchable under the enhanced funding 
    • The specific conditions under which states are eligible to claim the funds 
    • What documentation and processes will be needed in order to gain full access to funding

Trump administration releases COVID-19 checklists and tools to accelerate relief for state Medicaid & CHIP programs

In order to assist states as part of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Trump administration has released a number of tools and checklists that constitute a federal authority toolkit to support states in applying for and receiving federal waivers and other key flexibilities for their program. 

Key takeaways:
The tools released today include:

CMS issues FAQs on catastrophic health coverage and the coronavirus

A catastrophic health plan may not provide coverage of an essential health benefit prior to an enrollee meeting the deductible for that plan. In order to clarify treatment and coverage of COVID-19 for catastrophic health plans CMS has issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Key takeaways:

  • Catastrophic plans currently include coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 as they must cover the essential health benefits (EHB) as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
  • Issuers of catastrophic plans will be able to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 for enrollees who have not yet met their deductible without CMS taking enforcing action.
  • The FAQ document encourages states to take an enforcement approach and CMS does not “consider a state to have failed to substantially enforce section 1302(e) of the PPACA if it takes such an approach.”

Relief for clinicians, providers, hospitals, and facilities participating in quality reporting programs in response to COVID-19

CMS is granting exceptions from reporting requirements and extensions for clinicians and providers participating in Medicare quality reporting programs.  

Key takeaways:

  • The exceptions include pending dates for measure reporting and data submission for related programs. 
  • For data submission deadlines in April and May of 2020, submission of those data will be optional, based on the facility’s choice to report.
  • 2019 data submission
    • Deadline extended from March 31, 2020 to April 30, 2020.
    • Deadlines for October 1, 2019 - December 31, 2019 (Q4) 
    • Data submission is optional for inpatient rehabilitation and hospital-acquired conditions.

CMS releases telehealth toolkits for general practitioners and End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) providers

CMS has released two toolkits on telehealth which follow the broadened access to Medicare telehealth services under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Key takeaways:

  • The toolkit consists of electronic links to sources of information pursuant to telehealth and telemedicine. 
  • Generally directed towards providers, particularly ones who may be considering a permanent telemedicine program.
  • CMS notes that most of the resources were established prior to the current COVID-19 crisis. As a result, there are likely references to rules and regulations whose requirements may have been waived for the duration of the outbreak.

Toolkits:

For more information

We’re here to help. If you have more questions or want to have an in-depth conversation about your specific situation, please contact the team

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New guidance regarding enhanced Medicaid funding for states

Here is a summary of information we have gleaned from recent CMS updates and guidance. 

COVID-19 stakeholder call - March 16 

CMS held a National Stakeholder Call on March 16, 2020 to update the healthcare community on the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, which was declared a national emergency by President Trump on March 13, 2020.

Key takeaways:

  • Administrator Verma reaffirmed the goal of reducing administrative barriers in the way of healthcare workers and agencies and to support them as best CMS is able.
  • Acknowledging that there were questions on testing, Administrator Verma outlined that there will be a ramp-up in testing in conjunction with state and local governments. 
  • CMS is relaxing clinician enrollment requirements for Medicare and making the same option available to states in their Medicaid programs.
  • The administration has been clear that it wants agencies to focus on infection control efforts. CMS is designing a streamlined template to evaluate infection control.
  • CMS sends guidance to Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Organizations.

On March 17, 2020, CMS issued guidance to all Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Organizations (POs) on accepted policies and standard procedures with respect to infection control.

Key takeaways:

  • POs will need to create, apply, and sustain a documented infection control plan that involves procedures to recognize, examine, regulate, and avert infections in PACE centers
  • POs will need to work to prevent infections within each participant’s place of residence, as well as implement procedures to record and develop corrective actions related to incidents of infection.
  • CMS provides guidance that recognizes POs may need to undertake strategies that do not traditionally comply with CMS PACE program requirements in order to provide benefits while guarding from COVID-19. Some examples of this may include telehealth services.
  • President Trump expands telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries during COVID-19 outbreak.

CMS is expanding Medicare’s telehealth benefits under the 1135 waiver authority and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Key takeaways:

  • Under the new 1135 waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits provided via telehealth across the country and including in patient’s place of residence starting March 6, 2020. 
  • Medicare telehealth visits: These visits are considered the same as in-person visits and are paid at the same rate as regular, in-person visits.
  • Virtual check-ins: Virtual check-in services can only be reported when the billing practice has an established relationship with the member.  
  • E-visits: Such services can only be reported when the billing practice has an established relationship with the patient.  

CMS coronavirus partner virtual toolkit

CMS has released a virtual toolkit to help stakeholders stay up-to-date on CMS materials available on COVID-19. Here is specific guidance from the toolkit designed for states and health plans:

CMS approves first state request for 1135 Medicaid waiver in Florida and Washington

The 1135 waiver allows Florida and Washington to modify certain Medicaid program requirements, policies, operational procedures, and deadlines applicable to each state’s administration of its Medicaid program during the period of the national state of emergency to prevent further transmission of COVID-19. 

Key takeaways from Florida’s waiver

  • Provider participation flexibilities for Medicaid and CHIP Waiver of Service Prior Authorization (PA) Requirements for fee-for-service delivery systems
  • Waiver for Pre-Admission Screening and Annual Resident Review (PASRR) Level II Level II Assessments for 30 Days
  • Waiver to allow evacuating facilities to provide services in alternative settings, such as a temporary shelter when a provider’s facility is inaccessible
  • Waiver to temporarily delay scheduling for state fair hearing requests and appeal deadlines (NOTE: CMS was unable to waive all of Florida’s requested authorities in this area)

If you have questions or would like more information, we are here to help. Please contact us

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CMS update for the healthcare community: Our takeaways

In early March 2020, the US Department of Education (ED) issued a Dear Colleague Letter, “Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19),” posting a subsequent update March 20 to include the document “Frequently Asked Questions Related to COVID-19.” The information below has been excerpted directly from the letter and compiled with the needs of our higher education clients in mind.

This electronic announcement addresses concerns regarding how higher education leaders should comply with Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) policies for students whose activities are impacted by the coronavirus and COVID-19:

  • Either directly because the student is ill or quarantined, or 
  • Indirectly because the student was recalled from travel-abroad experiences, can no longer participate in internships or clinical rotations, or attends a campus that has temporarily suspended operations.

This information provides some flexibility for schools working to help students complete the term in which they are currently enrolled. Some of the most important changes to note:

  • Federal Work Study (FWS)
    For students enrolled and performing FWS at a campus that must close due to COVID-19, or for a FWS student who works for an employer that closes as a result of COVID-19, the institution may continue paying the student federal work-study wages during that closure if it occurred after the beginning of the term, the institution is continuing to pay its other employees (including faculty and staff), and the institution continues to meet its institutional wage share requirement.
  • Length of academic year
    If at any point an institution determines it will close as the result of a campus health emergency, it may contact the school participation team to request a temporary reduction in the length of its academic year.
  • Professional judgement
    Financial aid administrators (FAA) have statutory authority to use professional judgement to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis to the cost of attendance or to the data elements used in calculating the EFC to reflect a student’s special circumstances. The use of professional judgement where students and/or their families have been affected by COVID-19 is permitted, such as in the case where an employer closes for a period of time as a result of COVID-19. 
  • Reentering the same payment period
    If an institution that has closed subsequently re-opens during the same payment period or period of enrollment, and permits students to continue coursework that they were taking at the time of the closure, students that return to class at that time are considered to have reentered the same period and retain eligibility for Title IV aid that they were otherwise eligible to receive before the closure.

We highly recommend you read the full letter, as it outlines additional important details and includes recently added FAQ documents.

Questions? Please contact Renee Bishop, Sarah Belliveau, or Mark LaPrade. We’re here to help.

For further reading
Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) 
FAQs
COVID-19 ("Coronavirus") Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel
 

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Guidance from the US Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter

The President signed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (hereinafter the “Act”) into law on March 18th and the provisions are effective April 2nd. You can read the congressional summary here. There are two provisions of the Act that deal with paid leave provisions for employees. Here are some highlights for employers.

The provisions of the Act are only required for employers with fewer than 500 employees. Employers with over 499 employees are not required to provide the sick/family leave contained in the Act, but could voluntarily elect to follow the new rules. The expectation is that employers with over 499 employees are providing some level of sick/family leave benefits already. In any case, employers with over 499 employees are not eligible for the tax credits. 

Employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide employees with up to 80 hours of paid sick leave over a two-week period if the employee:

  • Self-isolates because of a diagnosis with COVID-19, or to comply with a recommendation or order to quarantine;
  • Obtains a medical diagnosis or care if the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Needs to care for a family member who is self-isolating due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantining due to COVID-19 symptoms; or
  • Is caring for a child whose school has closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19.

These rules apply to all employees regardless of the length of time they have worked for the employer. The 80-hours would be pro-rated for those employees who do not normally work a 40-hour week. 

Employees who take leave because they themselves are sick (i.e., the first two bullets above) can receive up to $511 per day, with an aggregate limit of $5,110. If, on the other hand, an employee takes leave to care for a child or other family member (i.e., the last two bullets above), the employee will be paid two-thirds (2/3) of their regular weekly wages up to a maximum of $200 per day, with an aggregate limit of $2,000.

Days when an individual receives pay from their employer (regular wages, sick pay, or other paid time off) or unemployment compensation do not count as leave days for the purposes of this benefit.

Family and Medical Leave Act

Employees who have been employed for at least 30-days also have the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Act requires that 10 of these 12 weeks (i.e., after the sick leave discussed above is taken) be paid at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual rate of pay. Any leave taken under this portion of the ACT will be limited to $200 per day with an aggregate limit of $10,000.

Exemptions

The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations exempting: (1) certain healthcare providers and emergency responders from taking leave under the Act; and (2) small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of the Act if it would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Expiration

The provisions of the Act are set to expire on December 31, 2020, and unused time will not carry over from one year to the next.

Tax credits 

The Act provides for refundable tax credits to help an employer cover the costs associated with providing paid emergency sick leave or paid FMLA. The tax credits work as follows:

  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified family leave wages paid under the Act.
  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified paid sick leave wages paid under the Act. 
  • The tax credits are taken on Form 941 – Employer’s Quarterly Federal Income Tax Return filed for the calendar quarter when the leave is taken and reduce the employer’s portion of the Social Security taxes due. If the credit exceeds the employer’s total liability for Social Security taxes for all employees for any calendar quarter, the excess credit is refundable to the employer.

For more information

We are here to help. Please contact our benefit plan consultants if you have any questions or would like to discuss your specific situation. 

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Highlights of the recently passed paid sick and family leave act: What you need to know

Editor’s note: Read this if you are a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, Chief Information Officer, or Controller.

Last month, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Fall 2019. The report addresses key issues facing banks and focuses on those that pose threats to their safety and soundness. According to the report:

  • Bank financial performance is strong due to a favorable credit environment and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
  • Capital levels have reached historical highs.
  • Return on equity was above its 2006 pre-crisis level for the first time at 12.7%.
  • Net income grew 8.22% from the same period a year ago; however, net interest income grew only 4%, as loan growth is below historical averages and an increasing number of banks are facing a flat or declining net interest margin.
  • There is continued weakness in residential and commercial real estate loan growth.
  • Delinquent and nonperforming loans remain below their long-term averages.


Banks can thrive even with economic uncertainty

While these trends indicate that 2019 was by and large an excellent year, banks cannot afford to be complacent, as 2019 also saw increasing risks to the industry. For instance, in 2019 there was much discussion of the future cessation of the London InterBank Offer Rate (LIBOR). The OCC has indicated it will increase its regulatory oversight regarding the anticipated cessation, to ensure banks assess their exposure to LIBOR and are appropriately planning their transition from the widely used benchmark rate. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is also working on a project to address accounting issues that could arise from the transition from LIBOR.

And, although 2019 continued the longest economic expansion in US history, economic uncertainty exists due to, in part, the US-China trade conflict and ongoing Brexit discussions. This economic uncertainty has caused volatility in the interest rate environment. Aside from the yield curve inverting in 2019, banks also saw the Federal Funds target rate increase 25 basis points prior to decreasing 50 basis points. Given the typically asset-sensitive nature of banks’ balance sheets, the current interest rate environment will also put pressure on net interest margins. The current volatility of interest rates has caused the OCC to conclude interest rate risk is currently at heightened levels. 

Net interest income continues to be the most significant driver of net revenues for community banks, comprising nearly 80% of net revenues. With a difficult interest rate environment and lackluster loan growth in residential and commercial real estate, banks may face a difficult path ahead. Banks should tread cautiously, especially if this uncertainty persists. Asset-liability management will need be a significant focus (more than usual) as banks try to position themselves to not only maintain profitability through this uncertainty, but also come out stronger than before. Specifically, if lower rates persist, asset growth will need be a priority over deposit growth to maintain profitability at lower net interest margins. If loan growth continues to wane, this will prove to be difficult.

Innovations to compete with new lending sources

Adding to the list of threats to performance is the increasing amount of alternative financial resources available to borrowers. Banks have traditionally been the only source of credit for borrowers. However, technology has rapidly changed that landscape. Person-to-person (P2P) lending (also known as crowd lending, or social lending), allows people to borrow funds directly from another person, cutting out traditional lending sources (banks). Additionally, blockchain technology, if the hype is accurate, has the potential to eliminate the need of a financial intermediary altogether. 

Banks are adapting to this competition and to customers looking for more convenience and alternative services by offering new, unique services that differentiate themselves from others and provide added value to the customer. Banks have delivered through remote deposit, ATMs, and interactive teller machines (ITMs). Banks will need to continue to adopt innovative services to remain competitive. 

For instance, banks could offer video conferencing services, in which customers could have a live conversation with a bank representative through their smartphone. This convenience would allow a customer to conduct a transaction, such as apply for a loan, from the convenience of their home, while still maintaining human interaction throughout the transaction. Such a service would help banks compete with digital channels offered by non-banks, such as Quicken Loans, which is now the largest mortgage originator in the United States.

Strategies to protect against technological risks

These services all require the use of existing and new technologies, which have caused banks to hold more personally identifiable information (PII) digitally across an increasing number of digital platforms. As noted by the OCC, this digital exposure has created persistent cybersecurity risks for banks. Adopting a robust cybersecurity framework is no longer an option. 

Banks should bring cybersecurity to the forefront of their strategic planning. Any strategic plan must consider cybersecurity implications, as a single disaster can be detrimental to a bank’s reputation. And, given this rapidly changing environment, the cybersecurity conversation must be ongoing through relevant bank committees and the board of directors.

Furthermore, these technological solutions require partnerships with businesses that banks would not traditionally partner with. Financial technology (fintech) companies don’t just pose as a competitor to traditional banks. Many fintech companies are offering their technological solutions to traditional banks. However, outsourcing technological solutions to fintech companies and other businesses does not relieve a bank from performing its own due diligence and ensuring those companies meet the bank’s standards. 

Banks should evaluate potential vendors to ensure they comply with the bank’s vendor management policy. Since environments are constantly changing, this evaluation should be ongoing. Many vendors now provide System and Organization Controls (SOC) reports which detail the control environment at the vendor and involve independent third-party testing of those controls that exist at the vendor. SOC reports can provide a useful starting point for evaluating a vendor’s ongoing compliance with the bank’s vendor management policy. However, it is not a substitute for ongoing communication with a vendor.

There is no doubt 2019 was a successful year for banks. But past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Banks face many challenges, risks, and uncertainties, of which only a few have been outlined above. The current landscape may be challenging but it is also filled with opportunity. Banks should consider expanding their services, adopting new technologies, and partnering with other companies to leverage their strengths. Doing so should help position themselves for an exciting decade ahead.

If you have specific concerns about challenges facing your institution, please contact the team

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Banking and finance: 2020 challenges and what to do to overcome them

Editor's note: read this if you are a CFO, controller, accountant, or business manager.

We auditors can be annoying, especially when we send multiple follow-up emails after being in the field for consecutive days. Over the years, we have worked with our clients to create best practices you can use to prepare for our arrival on site for year-end work. Time and time again these have proven to reduce follow-up requests and can help you and your organization get back to your day-to-day operations quickly. 

  1. Reconcile early and often to save time.
    Performing reconciliations to the general ledger for an entire year's worth of activity is a very time consuming process. Reconciling accounts on a monthly or quarterly basis will help identify potential variances or issues that need to be investigated; these potential variances and issues could be an underlying problem within the general ledger or control system that, if not addressed early, will require more time and resources at year-end. Accounts with significant activity (cash, accounts receivable, investments, fixed assets, accounts payable and accrued expenses and debt), should be reconciled on a monthly basis. Accounts with less activity (prepaids, other assets, accrued expenses, other liabilities and equity) can be reconciled on a different schedule.
  2. Scan the trial balance to avoid surprises.
    As auditors, one of the first procedures we perform is to scan the trial balance for year-over-year anomalies. This allows us to identify any significant irregularities that require immediate follow up. Does the year-over-year change make sense? Should this account be a debit balance or a credit balance? Are there any accounts with exactly the same balance as the prior year and should they have the same balance? By performing this task and answering these questions prior to year-end fieldwork, you will be able to reduce our follow up by providing explanations ahead of time or by making correcting entries in advance, if necessary. 
  3. Provide support to be proactive.
    On an annual basis, your organization may go through changes that will require you to provide us documented contractual support.  Such events may include new or a refinancing of debt, large fixed asset additions, new construction, renovations, or changes in ownership structure.  Gathering and providing the documentation for these events prior to fieldwork will help reduce auditor inquiries and will allow us to gain an understanding of the details of the transaction in advance of performing substantive audit procedures. 
  4. Utilize the schedule request to stay organized.
    Each member of your team should have a clear understanding of their role in preparing for year-end. Creating columns on the schedule request for responsibility, completion date and reviewer assigned will help maintain organization and help ensure all items are addressed and available prior to arrival of the audit team. 
  5. Be available to maximize efficiency. 
    It is important for key members of the team to be available during the scheduled time of the engagement.  Minimizing commitments outside of the audit engagement during on site fieldwork and having all year-end schedules prepared prior to our arrival will allow us to work more efficiently and effectively and help reduce follow up after fieldwork has been completed. 

Careful consideration and performance of these tasks will help your organization better prepare for the year-end audit engagement, reduce lingering auditor inquiries, and ultimately reduce the time your internal resources spend on the annual audit process. See you soon. 

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Save time and effort—our list of tips to prepare for year-end reporting

Editor’s note: read this if you work for, or are affiliated with, a charitable organization that receives donations. Even the most mature nonprofit organizations may miss one of these filings once in a while. Some items (e.g., the donor acknowledgement letter) may feel commonplace, but a refresher—especially at a particularly busy time of the year as it pertains to giving—can fend off fines.

As the holiday season is now in full swing, the season of giving is also upon us. Perhaps not surprisingly, the month of December is by far the most charitable month of the year, accounting for almost one-third of all charitable gifts made annually. And with all that giving comes the requirement of charitable organizations to provide donor acknowledgements, a formal “thank you” of the gift being received. Different gifts require differing levels of acknowledgement, and in some cases an additional IRS form (or two) may need to be filed. Doing some work now may save you time (and a fine or two) later. 

While children are currently busy making lists for Santa Claus, in the spirit of giving we present to you our list of donor acknowledgement requirements―and best practices―to help you gain control of this issue for the holiday season and beyond.

Donor acknowledgement letters

Charitable (i.e., 501(c)(3)) organizations are required to provide a donor acknowledgement letter to each donor contributing $250 or more to the organization, whether it be cash or non-cash items (i.e., publicly traded securities, real estate, artwork, vehicles, etc.) received. The letter should include the following: 

  1. Name of the organization
  2. Amount of cash contribution
  3. Description of non-cash items (but not the value) 
  4. Statement that no goods and services were provided (assuming this is the case)
  5. Description and good faith estimate of the value of goods and services provided by the organization in return for the contribution, if any
  6. Statement that goods or services provided by the organization in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefit, if any

It is not necessary to include either the donor’s social security number or tax identification number on the written acknowledgment and as a best practice should not be included in the letter.

In addition to including the elements above, the written acknowledgement is also required to be contemporaneous, that is, sent out in a timely fashion. According to the IRS, a donor must receive the acknowledgment by the earlier of:

  • The date on which the donor actually files his or her individual federal income tax return for the year of the contribution
  • The due date (including extensions) of the return in order to be considered contemporaneous

Quid pro quo disclosure statements

When a donor makes a payment greater than $75 to a charitable organization partly as a contribution and partly as a payment for goods and services, a disclosure statement is required to notify the donor of the value of the goods and services received in order for the donor to determine the charitable contribution component of their payment.

An example of this would be if the organization sold tickets to its annual fundraising dinner event. Assume the ticket costs $100 and at the event the ticketholder receives a dinner valued at $40. In this example, the donor’s tax deduction may not exceed $60. Because the donor’s payment (quid pro quo contribution) exceeds $75, the charitable organization must furnish a disclosure statement to the donor, even though the deductible amount doesn’t exceed $75.

It’s important to note that there are some exclusions to these requirements if the value received is considered to be de minimis (known as the Token Exception), but the value received needs to be relatively small (ex: receiving a coffee mug with a picture of the organization’s logo on it). Please consult your tax advisor for more details.

If the organization does not issue disclosure statements, the IRS can issue penalties of $10 per contribution, not to exceed $5,000 per fundraising event or mailing. An organization may be able to avoid the penalty if reasonable cause can be demonstrated.

Receiving or selling donated noncash property? Forms 8283 & 8282 may be required.

If a charitable organization receives noncash donations, it may be asked to sign Form 8283. This form is required to be filed by the donor and included with their personal income tax return. If a donor contributes noncash property (excluding publicly traded securities) valued at over $5,000, the organization will need to sign Form 8283, Section B, Part IV acknowledging receipt of the noncash item(s) received.

By signing Form 8283, the donee organization is not only acknowledging receipt, but is also affirming that if the property being received is sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of within three years of the original donation date, the organization will be required to file Form 8282. A copy of this form is filed with the IRS and must also be provided to the original donor. Form 8282 is not required for sales of donated publicly traded securities. The penalty for failure to file Form 8282 when required is generally $50 per form.

Cars, boats, and yes, even airplanes? That would be Form 1098-C.

An airplane? Yes, even an airplane can be donated, and the donee organization must file a separate Form 1098-C, Contributions of Motor Vehicles, Boats, and Airplanes, with the IRS for each contribution of a qualified vehicle that has a claimed value of more than $500. Contemporaneous written acknowledgement requirements apply here too, and Form 1098-C can act as acknowledgement for this purpose. An acknowledgment is considered contemporaneous if it is furnished to the donor no later than 30 days after the date of the contribution if you plan to use the item for a mission-related purpose, or 30 days after the date of the sale of the item to an unrelated third party.

Penalties for failure to provide contemporaneous written acknowledgement for qualified vehicles can be pretty stiff, generally calculated as a percentage of the sale price if sold, or a percentage of the claimed value if not sold. Should you have any questions or receive a request regarding any of the forms noted above, please consult your tax advisor.

As you can see, the rules around donor acknowledgements can seem a lot like Grandma’s fruitcake―complex and perhaps a bit on the nutty side. When issuing donor acknowledgements this holiday season and beyond, be sure to review the list above and check it twice. Doing so may end up keeping you off of the IRS’s naughty list!

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Donor acknowledgements: We have to file what?

Editor's note: Read this if you are a CTO, CIO, or administrator at a college or university. This is the first blog in a series on business lessons and best practices from American literature. For this series, interviewees select from a list of American literary quotes through which to view, and discuss, their focus or industry. The goal? To generate some novel insight.

The interviewees: David Houle and Joseph Traino, consultants at BerryDunn
The focus: Higher education
The quote: “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys . . . They are but improved means to an unimproved end.”  -- Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods

Thoreau wrote this shortly after the Industrial Revolution. How does its cynicism apply to higher education during the Digital Revolution?

David Houle (DH): It speaks to my basic philosophy about applying technology to the needs of higher education clients. I’m not a “technology for the sake of technology” cheerleader. 

Joseph Traino (JT): People often believe that applying new technology to a business problem is going to solve the business problem. That rarely happens. For example, most higher education clients have a student information system. These clients often feel that, in order to resolve certain issues, they should update the system software, whereas the issues are often resolved by updating business practices to be more efficient and effective. 

DH: Right. We are often brought in to identify needed technology changes but end up stressing practices, processes, and people. If staff can’t correctly use a new technology, then the technology will not provide a real, valuable service.

When implementing a new technology, what’s the #1 thing that a higher education institution can do to prevent or avoid “an unimproved end”?

JT: Fully understand the technology’s impact on stakeholders, such as students, faculty, and staff, and answer the “why?”

DH: Keep people in mind and gain their buy-in when making technology decisions.

What technology, or technology-related change, is going to have the biggest effect on higher education over the next five years?

DH: Clients love to ask us this question (laughs). And if I truly knew the answer, I’d be on some Caribbean island right now, filthy rich and sipping a piña colada. That said, I think the technology demands of the new workforce are going to have the biggest effect. To paraphrase the new workforce: “I don’t want to stare at a green screen. And what in the world is DOS?” Conversely, the personnel who used to support these homegrown, in-house “green screen” products want to retire and leave the workforce. 

JT: I agree that the demands of the new workforce will continue to affect higher education and steer institutions away from term-based courses and programs and toward more flexible, student-centric courses and programs. From a technology standpoint, I think AI and bots are going to replace many of the manual processes that we still see today in higher education. These new technologies will create greater efficiencies—but also possibly reduce jobs—at institutions.

DH: Higher education leaders with vision have already grasped this idea of cutting administrative costs wherever possible, because those costs are not what place students in seats—or in front of screens. On the flip side, advising is currently an underserved area in higher education. So there is an opportunity for leaders to reallocate administrative resources to fulfill advising roles and to help students—such as at-risk and first-generation students—not just in the classroom, but through their learning journey.

Circling back to the Thoreau quote, I’m sure many higher education staff fear technology will lead to “unimproved ends” for their careers. How do you navigate those fears when working with clients? 

JT: It’s certainly a challenge. We currently face some of those fears when working with IT departments—more services are being moved to the cloud, and there is less of a need for on-site database administrators and system administrators, as an example. Alluding to what Dave said about advising, I think many higher education jobs can be shifted to provide interactive high-tech, high-touch services to students.

DH: And to be blunt, some people don’t want to shift, don’t want to change. The people part is the most challenging part of technology adoption. 

In this discussion about technology, we keep returning to people—and the people side of change. Are higher education clients typically responsive to the concept of change management?

JT: There’s typically some reticence, and a lack of understanding about the value of change management. In most cases, change management requires an investment beyond the technology investment. But change management is key to success. 

DH: Reticence is a good word. Yet I do think that views about change management are changing rapidly. Higher education leaders who have been through a significant system or process change now seem to understand the value of change management and know that change management is a necessity, not a luxury. 

In the end, are you confident that new technology is going to benefit students and their educational goals? 

DH: I’m unsure if technology improves the quality of education. However, I am sure that technology increases the options for the delivery of education. And greater flexibility in education delivery is certainly beneficial, especially because the traditional student is now non-traditional. Ongoing and 24/7 access demands in education are here to stay.

JT: I agree with Dave wholeheartedly. I think technology will help improve the means to the end, but I’m not sure if technology is going to improve the end. Technology is just one part of the education equation. 
 

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Technology ≠ Education

This spring, I published a blog about the importance of data governance in higher education institutions. In the summer, a second blog covered implementing baseline principles for data governance. With fall upon us, it is time to transition to discussing three critical steps to create a data governance culture. 

1.    Understand the people side of change.

The culture of any organization begins and ends with its people. As you know, people are notoriously finicky when it comes to change (especially change like data governance initiatives that may alter the way we have to understand or interact with institutional data). I recommend that any higher education institution apply a change management methodology (e.g., Prosci®, Lewin’s Change Management Model) in order to gauge the awareness of, the desire for, and the practical realities of this change. If you apply your chosen methodology in an effective and consistent manner, change management will help you increase buy-in and break down resistance. 

2.    Identify and empower the right people for the right roles.

Higher education institutions often focus on data governance processes and technologies. While this is necessary, you can’t overlook the people part of data governance. In fact, you can argue it is the most important part, because without people, there will be no one to follow the processes you create or use the technologies you implement. 

To find the right people, you need to identify and establish three specific roles for your institution: data trustees, data stewards, and data managers. Once you have organized these roles and responsibilities, data governance becomes easier to manage. Some definitions:

Data trustees (the sponsors) – senior leadership (or designees) who oversee data policy, planning, and management. Their responsibilities include: 

  • Promoting data governance 
  • Approving and updating data policies​​
  • Assigning and overseeing data stewards
  • Being responsible for data governance

Data stewards (the owners) – directors, managers, associate deans, or associate vice presidents who manage one or more data types. Their responsibilities include:

  • Applying and overseeing data governance policies in their functional areas
  • Following legal requirements pertaining to data in their functional areas
  • Classifying data and identifying data safeguards
  • Being accountable for data governance

Data managers (the caretakers) – data system managers, senior data analysts, or functional users (registrar, financial aid, human resources, etc.) who perform day-to-day data collection and management operations. Their responsibilities include:

  • Implementing data governance policies in their functional areas
  • Resolving data issues in their functional areas 
  • Provide training and appropriate documentation to data users
  • Being informed and consulted about data governance

3.    Be consistent and hold people accountable.

Ultimately, your data governance team needs accountability in order to thrive. Therefore, it is up to data trustees, data stewards, and data managers to hold regular meetings, take and distribute meeting notes, and identify and follow up on meeting action items. Without this follow through, data governance initiatives will likely stall or stop altogether. 

More information on data governance 

Are you still curious about additional guiding principles of data governance in higher education? Please contact the team
 

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People Power: Enacting Sustainable Data Governance

A version of this article was previously published on the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network

Editor’s note: while this blog is not technical in nature, you should read it if you are involved in IT security, auditing, and management of organizations that may participate in strategic planning and business activities where considerations of compliance and controls is required.

As we find ourselves in a fast-moving, strong business growth environment, there is no better time to consider the controls needed to enhance your IT security as you implement new, high-demand technology and software to allow your organization to thrive and grow. Here are five risks you need to take care of if you want to build or maintain strong IT security.

1. Third-party risk management―It’s still your fault

We rely daily on our business partners and vendors to make the work we do happen. With a focus on IT, third-party vendors are a potential weak link in the information security chain and may expose your organization to risk. However, though a data breach may be the fault of a third-party, you are still responsible for it. Potential data breaches and exposure of customer information may occur, leaving you to explain to customers and clients answers and explanations you may not have. 

Though software as a service (SaaS) providers, along with other IT third-party services, have been around for well over a decade now, we still neglect our businesses by not considering and addressing third-party risk. These third-party providers likely store, maintain, and access company data, which could potentially contain personally identifiable information (names, social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses), financial information (credit cards or banking information), and healthcare information of your customers. 

While many of the third-party providers have comprehensive security programs in place to protect that sensitive information, a study in 2017 found that 30% of data breaches were caused by employee error or while under the control of third-party vendors.1  This study reemphasizes that when data leaves your control, it is at risk of exposure. 

In many cases, procurement and contracting policies likely have language in contracts that already establish requirements for third-parties related to IT security; however the enforcement of such requirements and awareness of what is written in the contract is not enforced or is collected, put in a file, and not reviewed. What can you do about it?

Improved vendor management

It is paramount that all organizations (no matter their size) have a comprehensive vendor management program that goes beyond contracting requirements in place to defend themselves against third-party risk which includes:

  1. An inventory of all third-parties used and their criticality and risk ranking. Criticality should be assigned using a “critical, high, medium or low” scoring matrix. 
  2. At time of onboarding or RFP, develop a standardized approach for evaluating if potential vendors have sufficient IT security controls in place. This may be done through an IT questionnaire, review of a Systems and Organization Controls (SOC report) or other audit/certifications, and/or policy review. Additional research may be conducted that focuses on management and the company’s financial stability. 
  3. As a result of the steps in #2, develop a vendor risk assessment using a high, medium and low scoring approach. Higher risk vendors should have specific concerns addressed in contracts and are subject to more in depth annual due diligence procedures. 
  4. Reporting to senior management and/or the board annually on the vendors used by the organization, the services they perform, their risk, and ways the organization monitors the vendors. 

2. Regulation and privacy laws―They are coming 

2018 saw the implementation of the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) which was the first major data privacy law pushed onto any organization that possesses, handles, or has access to any citizen of EU’s personal information. Enforcement has started and the Information Commissioner’s Office has begun fining some of the world’s most famous companies, including substantial fines to Marriott International and British Airways of $125 million and $183 million Euros, respectively.2  Gone are the days where regulations lacked the teeth to force companies into compliance. 

With thanks to other major data breaches where hundreds of millions’ consumers private information was lost or obtained (e.g., Experian), more regulation is coming. Although there is little expectation of an American federal requirement for data protection, individual states and other regulating organizations are introducing requirements. Each new regulation seeks to protect consumer privacy but the specifics and enforcement of each differ. 

Expected to be most impactful in 2019 is the California Consumer Privacy Act,  which applies to organizations that handle, collect, or process consumer information and do business in the state of California (you do not have to be located in CA to be under the umbrella of enforcement).

In 2018, Maine passed the toughest law on telecommunications providers for selling consumer information. Massachusetts’ long standing privacy and data breach laws were amended with stronger requirements in January of 2019. Additional privacy and breach laws are in discussion or on the table for many states including Colorado, Delaware, Ohio, Oregon, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington, amongst others.      

Preparation and awareness are key

All organizations, no matter your line of business must be aware of and understand current laws and proposed legislation. New laws are expected to not only address the protection of customer data, but also employee information. All organizations should monitor proposed legislation and be aware of the potential enforceable requirements. The good news is that there are a lot of resources out there and, in most cases, legislative requirements allow for grace periods to allow organizations to develop a complete understanding of proposed laws and implement needed controls. 

3. Data management―Time to cut through the clutter 

We all work with people who have thousands of emails in their inbox (in some cases, dating back several years). Those users’ biggest fears may start to come to fruition―that their “organizational” approach of not deleting anything may come to an end with a simple email and data retention policy put in place by their employer. 

The amount of data we generate in a day is massive. Forbes estimates that we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day and that 90% of all the world’s data was generated in the last two years alone.3 While data is a gold mine for analytics and market research, it is also an increasing liability and security risk. 

Inc. Magazine says that 73% of the data we have available to us is not used.4 Within that data could be personally identifiable information (such as social security numbers, names, addresses, etc.); financial information (bank accounts, credit cards etc.); and/or confidential business data. That data is valuable to hackers and corporate spies and in many cases data’s existence and location is unknown by the organizations that have it. 

In addition to the security risk that all this data poses, it also may expose an organization to liability in the event of a lawsuit of investigation. Emails and other communications are a favorite target of subpoenas and investigations and should be deleted within 90 days (including deleted items folders). 

Take an inventory before you act

Organizations should first complete a full data inventory and understand what types of data they maintain and handle, and where and how they store that data. Next, organizations can develop a data retention policy that meets their needs. Utilizing backup storage media may be a solution that helps reduce the need to store and maintain a large amount of data on internal systems. 

4. Doing the basics right―The simple things work 

Across industries and regardless of organization size, the most common problem we see is the absence of basic controls for IT security. Every organization, no matter their size, should work to ensure they have controls in place. Some must-haves:

  • Established IT security policies
  • Routine, monitored patch management practices (for all servers and workstations)
  • Change management controls (for both software and hardware changes)
  • Anti-virus/malware on all servers and workstations
  • Specific IT security risk assessments 
  • User access reviews
  • System logging and monitoring 
  • Employee security training

Go back to the basics 

We often see organizations that focus on new and emerging technologies, but have not taken the time to put basic security controls in place. Simple deterrents will help thwarting hackers. I often tell my clients a locked car scares away most ill-willed people, but a thief can still smash the window.  

Smaller organizations can consider using third-party security providers, if they are not able to implement basic IT security measures. From our experience, small organizations are being held to the same data security and privacy expectations by their customers as larger competitors and need to be able to provide assurance that controls are in place.  

5. Employee retention and training 

Unemployment rates are at an all-time low, and the demand for IT security experts at an all-time high. In fact, Monster.com reported that in 2019 the unemployment rate for IT security professionals is 0%.5 

Organizations should be highly focused on employee retention and training to keep current employees up-to-speed on technology and security trends. One study found that only 15% of IT security professionals were not looking to switch jobs within one year.6  

Surprisingly, money is not the top factor for turnover―68% of respondents prioritized working for a company that takes their opinions seriously.6 

For years we have told our clients they need to create and foster a culture of security from the top down, and that IT security must be considered more than just an overhead cost. It needs to align with overall business strategy and goals. Organizations need to create designated roles and responsibilities for security that provide your security personnel with a sense of direction―and the ability to truly protect the organization, their people, and the data. 

Training and support goes a long way

Offering training to security personnel allows them to stay abreast of current topics, but it also shows those employees you value their knowledge and the work they do. You need to train technology workers to be aware of new threats, and on techniques to best defend and protect from such risks. 

Reducing turnover rate of IT personnel is critical to IT security success. Continuously having to retrain and onboard employees is both costly and time-consuming. High turnover impacts your culture and also hampers your ability to grow and expand a security program. 

Making the effort to empower and train all employees is a powerful way to demonstrate your appreciation and support of the employees within your organization—and keep your data more secure.  

Our IT security consultants can help

Ensuring that you have a stable and established IT security program in place by considering the above risks will help your organization adapt to technology changes and create more than just an IT security program, but a culture of security minded employees. 

Our team of IT security and control experts can help your organization create and implement controls needed to consider emerging IT risks. For more information, contact the team
 

Sources:
[1] https://iapp.org/news/a/surprising-stats-on-third-party-vendor-risk-and-breach-likelihood/  
[2] https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/first-big-gdpr-fines/
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/05/21/how-much-data-do-we-create-every-day-the-mind-blowing-stats-everyone-should-read/#458b58860ba9
[4] https://www.inc.com/jeff-barrett/misusing-data-could-be-costing-your-business-heres-how.html
[5] https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/tech-cybersecurity-zero-percent-unemployment-1016
[6] https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/88833-what-will-improve-cyber-talent-retention

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Five IT risks everyone should be aware of

Read this if you are a police executive, city/county administrator, or elected government official, responsible for a law enforcement agency. 

“We need more cops!”  

Do your patrol officers complain about being short-staffed or too busy, or that they are constantly running from call to call? Does your agency struggle with backed-up calls for service (CFS) or lengthy response times? Do patrol staff regularly find themselves responding to another patrol area to handle a CFS because the assigned officer is busy on another call? Are patrol officers denied leave time or training opportunities because of staffing issues? Does the agency routinely use overtime to cover predictable shift vacancies for vacations, holidays, or training? 

If one or more of these concerns sound familiar, you may need additional patrol resources, as staffing levels are often a key factor in personnel deployment challenges. Flaws in the patrol schedule design may also be responsible, as they commonly contribute to reduced efficiency and optimal performance, and design issues may be partially responsible for some of these challenges, regardless of authorized staffing levels.
 
With community expectations at an all-time high, and resource allocations remaining relatively flat, many agencies have growing concerns about managing increasing service volumes while controlling quality and building/maintaining public trust and confidence. Amid these concerns, agencies struggle with designing work schedules that efficiently and optimally deploy available patrol resources, as patrol staff become increasingly frustrated at what they consider a lack of staff.

The path to resolving inefficiencies in your patrol work schedule and optimizing the effective deployment of patrol personnel requires thoughtful consideration of several overarching goals:

  • Reducing or eliminating predictable overtime
  • Eliminating peaks and valleys in staffing due to scheduled leave
  • Ensuring appropriate staffing levels in all patrol zones or beats
  • Providing sufficient staff to manage multiple and priority CFS in patrol zones or beats
  • Satisfying both operational and staff needs, including helping to ensure a proper work/life balance and equitable workloads for patrol staff

Scheduling alternatives

One common design issue that presents an ongoing challenge for agencies is the continued use of traditional, balanced work schedules, which spread officer work hours equally over the year. Balanced schedules rely on over-scheduling and overtime to manage personnel allocation and leave needs and, by design, are very rigid. Balanced work schedules have been used for a very long time, not because they’re most efficient, but because they’re common, familiar, and easily understood―and because patrol staff are comfortable with them (and typically reluctant to change). However, short schedules offer a proven alternative to balanced patrol work schedules, and when presented with the benefits of an alternative work schedule design (e.g., increased access to back-up, ease of receiving time off or training, consistency in staffing, less mandatory overtime), many patrol staff are eager to change.

Short schedules

Short schedules involve a more contemporary design that includes a flexible approach that focuses on a more adaptive process of allocating personnel where and when they are needed. They are significantly more efficient than balanced schedules and, when functioning properly, they can dramatically improve personnel deployments, bring continuity to daily staffing, and reduce overtime, among other operational benefits. Given the current climate, most agencies are unlikely to receive substantial increases in personnel allocations. If that is true of your agency, it may be time to explore the benefits of alternative patrol work schedules.

A tool you can use

Finding scheduling strategies that work in this climate requires an intentional approach, customized to your agency’s characteristics (e.g., staffing levels, geographic factors, crime rates, zone/beat design, contract/labor rules). To help guide you through this process, BerryDunn has developed a free tool for evaluating patrol schedules. Click here to measure your patrol schedule against key design components and considerations.

If you are curious about alternative patrol work schedules, our dedicated justice and public Safety consultants are available to discuss your organization’s needs.

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Efficient police patrol work schedules―By design

In light of the recent cyberattacks in higher education across the US, more and more institutions are finding themselves no longer immune to these activities. Security by obscurity is no longer an effective approach—all  institutions are potential targets. Colleges and universities must take action to ensure processes and documentation are in place to prepare for and respond appropriately to a potential cybersecurity incident.

BerryDunn’s Rick Gamache recently published several blog articles on incident response that are relevant to the recent cyberattacks. Below I have provided several of his points tailored to higher education leaders to help them prepare for cybersecurity incidents at their institutions.

What are some examples of incidents that managers need to prepare for?

Examples range from external breaches and insider threats to instances of malfeasance or incompetence. Different types of incidents lead to the same types of results—yet you can’t have a broad view of incidents. Managers should work with their teams to create incident response plans that reflect the threats associated with higher education institutions. A handful of general incident response plans isn’t going to cut it.

Managers need to work with their teams to develop a specific incident response plan for each specific type of incident. Why? Well, think of it this way: Your response to a careless employee should be different from your response to a malicious employee, for a whole host of legal reasons. Incident response is not a cookie-cutter process. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This is one of the reasons I highly suggest security teams include staff members outside of IT. When you’re responding to incidents, you want people who can look at a problem or situation from an external perspective, not just a technical or operational perspective within IT. These team members can help answer questions such as, what does the world see when they look at our institution? What institutional information might be valuable to, or targeted by, malicious actors? You’ll get some valuable fresh perspectives.

How short or long should the typical incident response plan be?

I often see good incident response plans no more than three or four pages in length. However, it is important that incident response plans are task oriented, so that it is clear who does what next. And when people follow an incident response plan, they should physically or digitally check off each activity, then record each activity.

What system or software do you recommend for recording incidents and responses?

There are all types of help desk software you can use, including free and open source software. I recommend using help desk software with workflow capabilities, so your team can assign and track tasks.

Any other tips for developing incident response plans?

First, managers should work with, and solicit feedback from across the academic and administrative areas within the institution when developing incident response plans. If you create these documents in a vacuum, they will be useless.

Second, managers and their teams should take their time and develop the most “solid” incident response plans possible. Don’t rush the process. The effectiveness of your incident response plans will be critical in assessing your institution’s ability to survive a breach. Because of this, you should be measuring your response plans through periodic testing, like conducting tabletop exercises.

Third, keep your students and external stakeholders in mind when developing these plans. You want to make sure external communications are consistent, accurate, and within the legal requirements for your institution. The last thing you want is students and stakeholders receiving conflicting messages about the incident. 

Are there any decent incident response plans in the public domain that managers and their teams can adapt for their own purposes?

Yes. My default reference is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has many special publications that describe the incident response process, how to develop a solid plan, and how to test your plan.

Should institutions have dedicated incident response teams?

Definitely. Institutions should identify and staff teams using internal resources. Some institutions may want to consider hiring a reputable third party to act as an incident response team. The key with hiring a third party? Don’t wait until an incident occurs! If you wait, you’re going to panic, and make panic-based decisions. Be proactive and hire a third party on retainer.

That said, institutions should consider hiring a third party on an annual basis to review incident response plans and processes. Why? Because every institution can grow complacent, and complacency kills. A third party can help gauge the strengths and weaknesses of your internal incident response teams, and provide suggestions for general or specific training. A third party can also educate your institution about the latest and greatest cyber threats.

Should managers empower their teams to conduct internal “hackathons” in order to test incident response?

Sure! It’s good practice, and it can be a lot of fun for team members. There are a few caveats. First, don’t call it a hackathon. The word can elicit negative or concerned reactions. Call it “active testing” or “continuous improvement exercises.” These activities allow team members to think creatively, and are opportunities for them to boost their cybersecurity knowledge. Second, be prepared for pushback. Some managers worry if team members gain more cybersecurity skills, then they’ll eventually leave the institution for another, higher-paying job. I think you should be committed to the growth of your team members―it’ll only make your institution more secure.

What are some best practices managers should follow when reporting incidents to their leadership?

Keep the update quick, brief, and to the point. Leave all the technical jargon out, and keep everything in an institutional context. This way leadership can grasp the ramifications of the event and understand what matters. Be prepared to outline how you’re responding and what actions leadership can take to support the incident response team and protect the institution. In the last chapter, I mentioned what I call the General Colin Powell method of reporting, and I suggest using that method when informing leadership. Tell them what you know, what you don’t know, what you think, and what you recommend. Have answers, or at least a plan.

How much institution-wide communication should there be about incidents?

That’s a great question, but a tough one to answer. Transparency is good, but it can also unintentionally lead to further incidents. Do you really want to let your whole institution know about an exploitable weakness? Also, employees can spread information about incidents on social media, which can actually lead to the spread of misinformation. If you are in doubt about whether or not to inform the entire institution about an incident, refer to your Legal Department. In general, institution-wide communication should be direct: We’ve had an incident; these are the facts; this is what you are allowed to say on social media; and this is what you’re not allowed to say on social media.

Another great but tough question: When do you tell the public about an incident? For this type of communication, you’re going to need buy-in from various sources: senior leadership, Legal, HR, and your PR team or external PR partners. You have to make sure the public messaging is consistent. Otherwise, citizens and the media will try to poke holes in your official story. And that can lead to even more issues.

What are the key takeaways for higher education leaders?

Here are key takeaways to help higher education leaders prepare for and respond appropriately to cybersecurity incidents:

  1. Understand your institution’s current cybersecurity environment. 
    Questions to consider: Do you have Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and/or a dedicated cybersecurity team at your institution? Have you conducted the appropriate audits and assessments to understand your institution’s vulnerabilities and risks?
  2. Ensure you are prepared for cybersecurity incidents. 
    Questions to consider: Do you have a cybersecurity plan with the appropriate response, communication, and recovery plans/processes? Are you practicing your plan by walking through tabletop exercises? Do you have incident response teams?

Higher education continues to face growing threats of cybersecurity attacks – and it’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Leaders can help mitigate the risk to their institutions by proactively planning with incident response plans, communication plans, and table-top exercises. If you need help creating an incident response plan or wish to speak to us regarding preparing for cybersecurity threats, please reach out to us.
 

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Cyberattacks in higher education—How prepared are you?

Phew! We did it—The Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) 2019 is one for the books! And, it was a great one. Here is my perspective on objectives and themes that will guide our work for the year.

Monday 

My day started in the fog—I live on an island in Maine, take a boat to get into Portland, and taxi to the airport. Luckily, I got to Portland, and, ultimately Chicago, on time and ready to go. 

Public Sector Technology Group (PSTG) meeting

At the PSTG meetings, we reviewed activities from the previous year and did some planning for the coming year. Areas for consideration included:

  • Modernization Schedule
  • Module Definitions
  • Request for Proposal (RFP) Requirements
  • National Association of State Procurement Officers

Julie Boughn, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Director, Data and Systems Group (DSG) introduced her new boss, Karen Shields, who is the Deputy Director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) within CMS. Karen shared her words of wisdom and encouragement with us, while Julie reminded us that being successful in our work is about the people. CMS also underscored the goal of speeding up delivery of service to the Medicaid program and asking ourselves: “What is the problem we are trying to resolve?” 

CMS’ “You be the State” officer workshop

Kudos to CMS for creating this open environment of knowledge sharing and gathering input.  Areas for discussion and input included:

  • APD Processes
  • Outcomes-Based Certification
  • Increasing and Enhancing Accountability

Tuesday
Opening Plenary

I was very touched by the Girls Inc. video describing the mission of Girls Inc. to inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With organizations like this, and our awareness and action, I am optimistic for the future. Thank you to NESCSO for including this in their opening program.

John Doerr, author of Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth and famed investor, shared his thoughts on how to create focus and efficiency in what we do. Julie’s interview with him was excellent, and I appreciated how John’s Objectives and Key Results (OKR) process prompted Julie to create objectives for what we are trying to do. The objectives Julie shared with us:

  • Improve the quality of our services for users and other stakeholders 
  • Ensure high-quality data is available to manage the program and improve policy making 
  • Improve procurement and delivery of Medicaid technology projects

Sessions

The sessions were well attended and although I can't detail each specific session I attended, I will note that I did enjoy using the app to guide me through the conference. NESCSO has uploaded the presentations. 

Auxiliary meetings

Whether formal or informal, meetings are one of the big values of the conference—relationships are key to everyone’s success, and meeting with attendees in one-on-one environments was incredibly productive. 

Poster session

The poster sessions were excellent. States are really into this event, and it is a great opportunity for the MESC community to engage with the states and see what is going on in the Medicaid Enterprise space.

Wednesday

Some memorable phrases heard in the sessions:

  • Knowledge is power only if you share it
  • We are in this together and want the same outcomes, so let’s share more
  • Two challenges to partnering projects—the two “P”s—are purchasing and personnel
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good
  • Small steps matter
  • Sharing data is harder than it needs to be—keep in mind the reason for what you are doing

Our evening social event was another great opportunity to connect with the community at MESC and the view of Chicago was beautiful.

Julie Boughn challenged us to set a goal (objective) in the coming year, and, along with it, to target some key results in connection with that goal. Here are some of her conference reflections:

  • Awesome
    • Several State Program and Policy leaders participated at MESC—impressed with Medicaid Director presence and participation
    • Smaller scoped projects are delivering in meeting the desired improved speed of delivery and quality
    • Increased program-technology alignment
  • Not so awesome
    • Pending state-vendor divorces
    • Burden of checklists and State Self-Assessments (SS-As)—will have something to report next year
    • There are still some attempts at very large, multi-year replacement projects—there is going to be a lot of scrutiny on gaining outcomes. Cannot wait five years to change something.

OKRs and request for states and vendors

  • Objective: Improve the quality of services for our users and other stakeholders
    • Key Result (KR): Through test results and audits, all States and CMS can state with precision, the overall accuracy of Medicaid eligibility systems.
    • KR: 100% of State electronic visit verification (EVV) systems are certified and producing annual performance data.
    • KR: 100% of States have used CMS-required testing guidance to produce testing results and evidence for their eligibility systems.
  • Objective: Ensure high-quality data is available to manage the program and improve policy making
    • KR: Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data is of sufficient quality that it is used to inform at least one key national Medicaid policy decision that all states have implemented.
    • KR:  Eliminate at least two state reporting requirements because T-MSIS data can be used instead.
    • KR: At least five states have used national or regional T-MSIS data to inform their own program oversite and/or policy-making decisions.
  • Objective: Improve how Medicaid technology projects are procured and delivered
    • KR: Draft standard language for outcomes metrics for at least four Medicaid business areas.
    • KR:  Five states make use of the standard NASPO Medicaid procurement.
    • KR:  CMS reviews of RFPs and contracts using NASPO vehicle are completed within 10 business days.
    • KR:  Four states test using small incremental development phases for delivery of services.
  • Request: Within 30 days, states/vendors will identify at least one action to take to help us achieve at least one of the KRs within the next two years.

Last thoughts

There is a lot to digest, and I am energized to carry on. There are many follow-up tasks we all have on our list. Before we know it, we’ll be back at next year’s MESC and can check in on how we are doing with the action we have chosen to help meet CMS’s requirements. See you in Boston!

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MESC 2019―Reflections and Daily Recap

Read this if you are a City/County Administrator, Building Official, Community Development Director, Planning Director, Development Services Manager or work with customers providing a service for a fee.

Planning and development service fees are, for many municipalities, often discussed but rarely changed. There are a number of reasons you might need to consider or defend your fee structure―complaints from developers, rising costs of operation, and changes in code or process are just a few. 

But when is the right time for a formal review of your service fees? There are several key organizational factors that should prompt an in-depth study of your fees, either internally or with the assistance of an objective advisor. It may be time for an update if:

  • You’re considering a new permitting system. New technology may streamline your workflows, simplify processes for your customers, or necessitate changes in your staffing. All of these secondary changes can impact the cost of your services. In addition, if you’re anticipating significant changes to your fee structure or methodology (e.g., moving to full cost recovery), you’ll want to configure your new system to support that going forward.
  • You have an enterprise development fund. Development fees are collected to cover the cost of providing a service. The methodology you use to charge fees should be based on defensible formulas that can withstand the scrutiny of your customers and cover the cost to provide the service. In addition, reserve funds should be adequate to ensure your development service is funded through the completion of the project. 
  • The regulations in your municipality are changing. Perhaps your organization is moving to a unified or form-based code or making changes to the International Building or Fire Codes. Changes in the process and requirements for development may require a reevaluated fee structure.
  • It’s been a while. Even if your organization is not experiencing any significant or sweeping change, small shifts can accumulate over the years, resulting in significant fee adjustments that may be tough for you to implement and for your customers to understand. Periodically reviewing service demand and benchmarking your individual fees against those of neighboring communities can help to avoid sticker shock.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you may want to consider a fee review, which may consist of benchmarking against similar jurisdictions. Not sure what level of review your organization needs? Our dedicated government consultants include former planners and community development leaders who have walked in your shoes and can talk through the considerations with you.
 

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When time is money: Reviewing your planning and development service fees

Read this if you are a state Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, State Procurement Officer, or work in a State Medicaid Program Integrity Unit.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) Final Rule on July 5, 2017, that made several changes to the PERM requirements. One important change was the updates to the Medicaid Eligibility Quality Control (MEQC) requirement. 

The Final Rule restructures the MEQC program into a pilot program that requires states to conduct eligibility reviews during the two years between PERM cycles. CMS has also introduced the potential for imposing disallowances or reductions in federal funding percentage (FFP) as a result of PERM eligibility error rates that do not meet the national standard. One measure states can use to lessen the chance of this happening is by successfully carrying out the requirements of the MEQC pilot. 

What states should know―important points to keep in mind regarding MEQC reviews:

  • Each state must have a team in place to conduct MEQC reviews. The individuals responsible for the MEQC reviews and associated activities must be separate from the state agencies and personnel responsible for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) policy and operations, including eligibility determinations.
  • States can apply for federal funding to help cover the costs of the MEQC activities. CMS encourages states to partner with a contractor in conducting the MEQC reviews.
  • The deadline to submit the state planning document to CMS is November 1 following the end of your state’s PERM cycle. If you are a Cycle 2 state, your MEQC planning document is due by November 1, 2019. 
  • If you are a Cycle 1 state, you are (or should be) currently undergoing the MEQC reviews.
  • There are minimum sample size requirements for the MEQC review period: 400 negative cases and 400 active cases (consisting of both Medicaid and CHIP cases) over a period of 12 months.
  • Upon conclusion of all MEQC reviews, states must submit a final findings report along with a corrective action plan that addresses all error findings identified during the MEQC review period.

CMS encourages states to utilize federal funding to carry out and fulfill MEQC requirements. BerryDunn has staff with experience in preparing Advanced Planning Documents (APD) and can assist your state in submitting an APD request to CMS for these MEQC activities. 

Check out the previously released blog, “PERM: Prepared or Not Prepared?” and stay tuned for upcoming blogs about specific PERM topics, including the financial impacts of PERM, and how each review phase will affect your state.   

For questions or to find out more, contact the team

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PERM: Does MEQC affect states?

Read this if you are an Institutional Research (IR) Director, a Registrar, or are in the C-Suite.

In my last blog, I defined the what and the why of data governance, and outlined the value of data governance in higher education environments. I also asserted data isn’t the problem―the real culprit is our handling of the data (or rather, our deferral of data responsibility to others).

While I remain convinced that data isn’t the problem, recent experiences in the field have confirmed the fact that data governance is problematic. So much, in fact, that I believe data governance defies a “solid,” point-in-time solution. Discouraged? Don’t be. Just recalibrate your expectations, and pursue an adaptive strategy.

This starts with developing data governance guiding principles, with three initial points to consider: 

  1. Key stakeholders should develop your institution’s guiding principles. The team should include representatives from areas such as the office of the Registrar, Human Resources, Institutional Research, and other significant producers and consumers of institutional data. 
  2. The focus of your guiding principles must be on the strategic outcomes your institution is trying to achieve, and the information needed for data-driven decision-making.
  3. Specific guiding principles will vary from institution to institution; effective data governance requires both structure and flexibility.

Here are some baseline principles your institution may want to adopt and modify to suit your particular needs.

  • Data governance entails iterative processes, attention to measures and metrics, and ongoing effort. The institution’s governance framework should be transparent, practical, and agile. This ensures that governance is seen as beneficial to data management and not an impediment.
  • Governance is an enabler. The institution’s work should help accomplish objectives and solve problems aligned with strategic priorities.
  • Work with the big picture in mind. Start from the vantage point that data is an institutional asset. Without an institutional asset mentality it’s difficult to break down the silos that make data valuable to the organization.
  • The institution should identify data trustees and stewards that will lead the data governance efforts at your institution
    • Data trustees should have responsibility over data, and have the highest level of responsibility for custodianship of data.
    • Data stewards should act on behalf of data trustees, and be accountable for managing and maintaining data.
  • Data quality needs to be baked into the governance process. The institution should build data quality into every step of capture and entry. This will increase user confidence that there is data integrity. The institution should develop working agreements for sharing and accessing data across organizational lines. The institution should strive for processes and documentation that is consistent, manageable, and effective. This helps projects run smoothly, with consistent results every time.
  • The institution should pay attention to building security into the data usage cycle. An institution’s security measures and practices need to be inherent in the day-to-day management of data, and balanced with the working agreements mentioned above. This keeps data secure and protected for the entire organization.
  •  Agreed upon rules and guidelines should be developed to support a data governance structure and decision-making. The institution should define and use pragmatic approaches and practical plans that reward sustainability and collaboration, building a successful roadmap for the future. 

Next Steps

Are you curious about additional guiding principles? Contact me. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for a future blog that digs deeper into the roles of data trustees and stewards.
 

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Governance: It's good for your data

Federal contractors with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have begun performing Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) reviews under the Final Rule issued in July 2017—a rule that many states may not realize could negatively impact their Medicaid budgets.

PERM is a complex process—states must focus on several activities over a recurring three-year period of time—and states may not have the resources needed to make PERM requirements a priority. However, with the Final Rule, this PERM eligibility review could have financial implications. 

After freezing the eligibility measurement for four years while undergoing pilot review, CMS has established new requirements for the eligibility review component and made significant changes to the data processing and medical record review components. As part of the Final Rule, CMS may implement reductions in the amount of federal funding provided to a state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs based on the error rates identified from the eligibility reviews. 

Since the issuance of the Final Rule in July 2017, Cycle 1 states are the first group of states to undergo a PERM cycle, including reviews of the data processing, medical record, and eligibility components. These states are wrapping up the final review activities, and Cycle 2 states are in the early stages of their PERM reviews.

How can your state prepare?

Whether your state is a Cycle 1, Cycle 2, or Cycle 3 state, there are multiple activities your Medicaid departments should engage in throughout each three-year period of time during and between PERM cycles: 

  • Analyzing prior errors cited or known issues, along with the root cause of the error
  • Identifying remedies to reduce future errors
  • Preparing and submitting required questionnaires and documents to the federal contractors for an upcoming review cycle
  • Assisting federal contractors with current reviews and findings
  • Preparing for and undergoing Medicaid Eligibility Quality Control (MEQC) planning and required reviews
  • Corrective action planning

Is your state ready?

We’ve compiled a few basic questions to gauge your state’s readiness for the PERM review cycle:

  • Do you have measures in place to ensure all eligibility factors under review are identifiable and that all federal and state regulations are being met? The eligibility review contractor (ERC) will reestablish eligibility for all beneficiaries sampled for review. This process involves confirming all verification requirements are in the case file, income requirements are met, placement in an accurate eligibility category has taken place, and the timeframe for processing all determinations meets federal and state regulations. 
  • Do you have up-to-date policy and procedures in place for determining and processing Medicaid or CHIP eligibility of an individual? Ensuring eligibility policies and procedures meet federal requirements is just as important as ensuring the processing of applications, including both system and manual actions, meet the regulations. 
  • Do you have up-to-date policy, procedures, and system requirements in place to ensure accurate processing of all Medicaid/CHIP claims? Reviewers will confirm the accuracy of all claim payments based on state and federal regulations. Errors are often cited due to the claims processing system allowing claims to pay that do not meet regulations.
  • Do you have a dedicated team in place to address all PERM requirements to ensure a successful review cycle? This includes staff to answer questions, address review findings, and respond to requests for additional information. During a review cycle, the federal contractors will cite errors based on their best understanding of policies and/or ability to locate required documentation. Responding to requests for information or reviewing and responding to findings in a timely manner should be a priority to ensure accurate findings. 
  • Have you communicated all PERM requirements and updates to policy changes to all Medicaid/CHIP providers? Providers play two integral roles in the success of a PERM review cycle. Providers must understand all claims submission requirements in order to accurately submit claims. Additionally, the medical record review component relies on providers responding to the request for the medical records on a sampled claim. Failure to respond will result in an error. Therefore, states must maintain communication with providers to stress the importance of responding to these requests.
  • Have you begun planning for the MEQC requirement? Following basic requirements identified by CMS during your state’s MEQC period, your state must submit a case planning document to CMS for approval prior to the MEQC review period. After the MEQC review, your state should be prepared to issue findings reports, including a corrective action plan as it relates to MEQC findings.

Need help piloting your state’s PERM review process?

BerryDunn has subject matter experts experienced in conducting PERM reviews, including a thorough understanding of all three PERM review components—eligibility, data processing, and medical record reviews. 

We would love to work with your state to see that measures are in place that will help ensure the lowest possible improper payment error rate. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs where we will discuss other PERM topics, including MEQC requirements, the financial impacts of PERM, and additional details related to each phase of PERM. For questions or to find out more, please email me
 

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PERM: Prepared or not prepared?

Best practices for financial institution contracts with technology providers

As the financial services sector moves in an increasingly digital direction, you cannot overstate the need for robust and relevant information security programs. Financial institutions place more reliance than ever on third-party technology vendors to support core aspects of their business, and in turn place more reliance on those vendors to meet the industry’s high standards for information security. These include those in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Sarbanes Oxley 404, and regulations established by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC).

On April 2, 2019, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter (FIL) 19-2019, which outlines important requirements and considerations for financial institutions regarding their contracts with third-party technology service providers. In particular, FIL-19-2019 urges financial institutions to address how their business continuity and incident response processes integrate with those of their providers, and what that could mean for customers.

Common gaps in technology service provider contracts

As auditors of IT controls, we review lots of contracts between financial institutions and their technology service providers. When it comes to recommending areas for improvement, our top observations include:

  • No right-to-audit clause
    Including a right-to-audit clause encourages transparency and provides greater assurance that vendors are providing services, and charging for them, in accordance with their contract.
  • Unclear and/or inadequate rights and responsibilities around service disruptions
    In the event of a service incident, time and transparency are vital. Contracts that lack clear and comprehensive standards, both for the vendor and financial institution, regarding business continuity and incident response expose institutions to otherwise avoidable risk, including slow or substandard communications.
  • No defined recovery standards
    Explicitly defined recovery standards are essential to ensuring both parties know their role in responding and recovering from a disaster or other technology outage.

FIL-19-2019 also reminds financial institutions that they need to properly inform regulators when they undertake contracts or relationships with technology service providers. The Bank Service Company Act requires financial institutions to inform regulators in writing when receiving third-party services like sorting and posting of checks and deposits, computation and posting of interest, preparation and mailing of statements, and other functions involving data processing, Internet banking, and mobile banking services.

Writing clearer contracts that strengthen your institution

Financial institutions should review their contracts, especially those that are longstanding, and make necessary updates in accordance with FDIC guidelines. As operating environments continue to evolve, older contracts, often renewed automatically, are particularly easy to overlook. You also need to review business continuity and incident response procedures to ensure they address all services provided by third-parties.

Senior management and the Board of Directors hold ultimate responsibility for managing a financial institution’s relationship with its technology service providers. Management should inform board members of any and all services that the institution receives from third-parties to help them better understand your operating environment and information security needs.

Not sure what to look for when reviewing contracts? Some places to start include:

  • Establish your right-to-audit
    All contracts should include a right-to-audit clause, which preserves your ability to access and audit vendor records relating to their performance under contract. Most vendors will provide documentation of due diligence upon request, such as System and Organization Control (SOC) 1 or 2 reports detailing their financial and IT security controls.

    Many right-to-audit clauses also include a provision allowing your institution to conduct its own audit procedures. At a minimum, don’t hesitate to perform occasional walk-throughs of your vendor’s facilities to confirm that your contract’s provisions are being met.
  • Ensure connectivity with outsourced data centers
    If you outsource some or all of your core banking systems to a hosted data center, place added emphasis on your institution’s business continuity plan to ensure connectivity, such as through the use of multiple internet or dedicated telecommunications circuits. Data vendors should, by contract, be prepared to assist with alternative connectivity.
  • Set standards for incident response communications 
    Clear expectations for incident response are crucial  to helping you quickly and confidently manage the impact of a service incident on your customers and information systems. Vendor contracts should include explicit requirements for how and when vendors will communicate in the event of any issue or incident that affects your ability to serve your customers. You should also review and update contracts after each incident to address any areas of dissatisfaction with vendor communications.
  • Ensure regular testing of defined disaster recovery standards
    While vendor contracts don’t need to detail every aspect of a service provider’s recovery standards, they should ensure those standards will meet your institution’s needs. Contracts should guarantee that the vendor periodically tests, reviews, and updates their recovery standards, with input from your financial institution.

    Your data center may also offer regular disaster recovery and failover testing. If they do, your institution should participate in it. If they don’t, work with the vendor to conduct annual testing of your ability to access your hosted resources from an alternate site.

As financial institutions increasingly look to third-party vendors to meet their evolving technology needs, it is critical that management and the board understand which benefits—and related risks—those vendors present. By taking time today to align your vendor contracts with the latest FFIEC, FDIC, and NCUA standards, your institution will be better prepared to manage risk tomorrow.

For more help gaining control over risk and cybersecurity, see our blog on sustainable solutions for educating your Board of Directors and creating a culture of cybersecurity awareness.
 

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Are your vendor contracts putting you at risk?

LIBOR is leaving—is your financial institution ready to make the most of it?

In July 2017, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority announced the phasing out of the London Interbank Offered Rate, commonly known as LIBOR, by the end of 20211. With less than two years to go, US federal regulators are urging financial institutions to start assessing their LIBOR exposure and planning their transition. Here we offer some general impacts of the phasing out, some specific actions your institution can take to prepare, and, finally, background on how we got here (see Background at right).

How will the phase-out impact financial institutions?

The Federal Reserve estimates roughly $200 trillion in LIBOR-indexed notional value transactions in the cash and derivatives market2. LIBOR is used to help price a variety of financial services products,  including $3.4 trillion in business loans and $1.3 trillion in consumer loans, as well as derivatives, swaps, and other credit instruments. Even excluding loans and financial instruments set to mature before 2021—estimated by the FDIC at 82% of the above $200 trillion—LIBOR exposure is still significant3.

A financial institution’s ability to lend money is largely dependent on the relative stability of its capital position, or lack thereof. For institutions with a significant amount of LIBOR-indexed assets and liabilities, that means less certainty in expected future cash flows and a less stable capital position, which could prompt institutions to deny loans they might otherwise have approved. A change in expected cash flows could also have several indirect consequences. Criticized assets, assessed for impairment based on their expected future cash flows, could require a specific reserve due to lower present value of expected future cash flows.

The importance of fallback language in loan agreements

Fallback language in loan agreements plays a pivotal role in financial institutions’ ability to manage their LIBOR-related financial results. Most loan agreements include language that provides guidance for determining an alternate reference rate to “fall back” on in the event the loan’s original reference rate is discontinued. However, if this language is non-existent, contains fallbacks that are no longer adequate, or lacks certain key provisions, it can create unexpected issues when it comes time for financial institutions to reprice their LIBOR loans. Here are some examples:

  • Non-existent or inadequate fallbacks
    According to the Alternative Reference Rates Committee, a group of private-market participants convened by the Federal Reserve to help ensure a successful LIBOR transition, "Most contracts referencing LIBOR do not appear to have envisioned a permanent or indefinite cessation of LIBOR and have fallbacks that would not be economically appropriate"4.

    For instance, industry regulators have warned that without updated fallback language, the discontinuation of LIBOR could prompt some variable-rate loans to become fixed-rate2, causing unanticipated changes in interest rate risk for financial institutions. In a declining rate environment, this may prove beneficial as loans at variable rates become fixed. But in a rising rate environment, the resulting shrink in net interest margins would have a direct and adverse impact on the bottom line.

  • No spread adjustment
    Once LIBOR is discontinued, LIBOR-indexed loans will need to be repriced at a new reference rate, which could be well above or below LIBOR. If loan agreements don’t provide for an adjustment of the spread between LIBOR and the new rate, that could prompt unexpected changes in the financial position of both borrowers and lenders3. Take, for instance, a loan made at the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR), generally considered the likely replacement for USD LIBOR. Since SOFR tends to be lower than three-month LIBOR, a loan agreement using it that does not allow for a spread adjustment would generate lower loan payments for the borrower, which means less interest income for the lender.

    Not allowing for a spread adjustment on reference rates lower than LIBOR could also cause a change in expected prepayments—say, for instance, if borrowers with fixed-rate loans decide to refinance at adjustable rates—which would impact post-CECL allowance calculations like the weighted-average remaining maturity (WARM) method, which uses estimated prepayments as an input.

What can your financial institution do to prepare?

The Federal Reserve and the SEC have urged financial institutions to immediately evaluate their LIBOR exposure and expedite their transition. Though the FDIC has expressed no intent to examine financial institutions for the status of LIBOR planning or critique loans based on use of LIBOR3, Federal Reserve supervisory teams have been including LIBOR transitions in their regular monitoring of large financial institutions5. The SEC has also encouraged companies to provide investors with robust disclosures regarding their LIBOR transition, which may include a notional value of LIBOR exposure2.

Financial institutions should start by analyzing their LIBOR exposure beyond 2021. If you don’t expect significant exposure, further analysis may be unnecessary. However, if you do expect significant future LIBOR exposure, your institution should conduct stress testing using LIBOR as an isolated variable by running hypothetical transition scenarios and assessing the potential financial impact.

Closely examine and assess fallback language in loan agreements. For existing loan agreements, you may need to make amendments, which could require consent from counterparties2. For new loan agreements maturing beyond 2021, lenders should consider selecting an alternate reference rate. New contract language for financial instruments and residential mortgages is currently being drafted by the International Securities Dealers Association and the Federal Housing Finance Authority, respectively3—both of which may prove helpful in updating loan agreements.

Lenders should also consider their underwriting policies. Loan underwriters will need to adjust the spread on new loans to accurately reflect the price of risk, because volatility and market tendencies of alternate loan reference rates may not mirror LIBOR’s. What’s more, SOFR lacks abundant historical data for use in analyzing volatility and market tendencies, making accurate loan pricing more difficult.

Conclusion: Start assessing your LIBOR risk soon

The cessation of LIBOR brings challenges and opportunities that will require in-depth analysis and making difficult decisions. Financial institutions and consumers should heed the advice of regulators and start assessing their LIBOR risk now. Those that do will not only be better prepared―but also better positioned―to capitalize on the opportunities it presents.

Need help assessing your LIBOR risk and preparing to transition? Contact BerryDunn’s financial services specialists.

1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2017/07/27/acdd411c-72bc-11e7-8c17-533c52b2f014_story.html?utm_term=.856137e72385
2 Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Newsstand April 10, 2019
3 https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/examinations/supervisory/insights/siwin18/si-winter-2018.pdf
4 https://bankingjournal.aba.com/2019/04/libor-transition-panel-recommends-fallback-language-for-key-instruments/
5 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fed-libor/fed-urges-u-s-financial-industry-to-accelerate-libor-transition-idUSKCN1RM25T

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When one loan rate closes, another opens

Who has the time or resources to keep tabs on everything that everyone in an organization does? No one. Therefore, you naturally need to trust (at least on a certain level) the actions and motives of various personnel. At the top of your “trust level” are privileged users—such as system and network administrators and developers—who keep vital systems, applications, and hardware up and running. Yet, according to the 2019 Centrify Privileged Access Management in the Modern Threatscape survey, 74% of data breaches occurred using privileged accounts. The survey also revealed that of the organizations responding:

  • 52% do not use password vaulting—password vaulting can help privileged users keep track of long, complex passwords for multiple accounts in an encrypted storage vault.
  • 65% still share the use of root and other privileged access—when the use of root accounts is required, users should invoke commands to inherent the privileges of the account (SUDO) without actually using the account. This ensures “who” used the account can be tracked.
  • Only 21% have implemented multi-factor authentication—the obvious benefit of multi-factor authentication is to enhance the security of authenticating users, but also in many sectors it is becoming a compliance requirement.
  • Only 47% have implemented complete auditing and monitoring—thorough auditing and monitoring is vital to securing privileged accounts.

So how does one even begin to trust privileged accounts in today’s environment? 

1. Start with an inventory

To best manage and monitor your privileged accounts, start by finding and cataloguing all assets (servers, applications, databases, network devices, etc.) within the organization. This will be beneficial in all areas of information security such as asset management, change control and software inventory tracking. Next, inventory all users of each asset and ensure that privileged user accounts:

  • Require privileges granted be based on roles and responsibilities
  • Require strong and complex passwords (exceeding those of normal users)
  • Have passwords that expire often (30 days recommended)
  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Are not shared with others and are not used for normal activity (the user of the privileged account should have a separate account for non-privileged or non-administrative activities)

If the account is only required for a service or application, disable the account’s ability to login from the server console and from across the network

2. Monitor—then monitor some more

The next step is to monitor the use of the identified privileged accounts. Enable event logging on all systems and aggregate to a log monitoring system or a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system that alerts in real time when privileged accounts are active. Configure the system to alert you when privileged accounts access sensitive data or alter database structure. Report any changes to device configurations, file structure, code, and executable programs. If these changes do not correlate to an approved change request, treat them as incidents and investigate.  

Consider software that analyzes user behavior and identifies deviations from normal activity. Privileged accounts that are accessing data or systems not part of their normal routine could be the indication of malicious activity or a database attack from a compromised privileged account. 

3. Secure the event logs

Finally, ensure that none of your privileged accounts have access to the logs being used for monitoring, nor have the ability to alter or delete those logs. In addition to real time monitoring and alerting, the log management system should have the ability to produce reports for periodic review by information security staff. The reports should also be archived for forensic purposes in the event of a breach or compromise.

Gain further assistance (and peace of mind) 

BerryDunn understands how privileged accounts should be monitored and audited. We can help your organization assess your current event management process and make recommendations if improvements are needed. Contact our team.

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Trusting privileged accounts in the age of data breaches

“The world is one big data problem,” says MIT scientist and visionary Andrew McAfee.

That’s a daunting (though hardly surprising) quote for many in data-rich sectors, including higher education. Yet blaming data is like blaming air for a malfunctioning wind turbine. Data is a valuable asset that can make your institution move.

To many of us, however, data remains a four-letter word. The real culprit behind the perceived data problem is our handling and perception of data and the role it can play in our success—that is, the relegating of data to a select, responsible few, who are usually separated into hardened silos. For example, a common assumption in higher education is that the IT team can handle it. Not so. Data needs to be viewed as an institutional asset, consumed by many and used by the institution for the strategic purposes of student success, scholarship, and more.

The first step in addressing your “big” data problem? Data governance.

What is data governance?

There are various definitions, but the one we use with our clients is “the ongoing and evolutionary process driven by leaders to establish principles, policies, business rules, and metrics for data sharing.”

Please note that the phrase “IT” does not appear anywhere in this definition.

Why is data governance necessary? For many reasons, including:

  1. Data governance enables analytics. Without data governance, it’s difficult to gain value from analytics initiatives which will produce inconsistent results. A critical first step in any data analytics initiative is to make sure that definitions are widely accepted and standards have been established. This step allows decision makers to have confidence in the data being analyzed to describe, predict, and improve operations.
     
  2. Data governance strengthens privacy, security, and compliance. Compliance requirements for both public and private institutions constantly evolve. The more data-reliant your world becomes, the more protected your data needs to be. If an organization does not implement security practices as part of its data governance framework, it becomes easier to fall out of compliance. 
     
  3. Data governance supports agility. How many times have reports for basic information (part-time faculty or student FTEs per semester, for example) been requested, reviewed, and returned for further clarification or correction? And that’s just within your department! Now add multiple requests from the perspective of different departments, and you’re surely going through multiple iterations to create that report. That takes time and effort. By strengthening your data governance framework, you can streamline reporting processes by increasing the level of trust you have in the information you are seeking. Understanding the value of data governance is the easy part/ The real trick is implementing a sustainable data governance framework that recognizes that data is an institutional asset and not just a four-letter word.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series: The how of data governance in higher education. In the meantime, reach out to me if you would like to discuss additional data governance benefits for your institution.

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Data is a four-letter word. Governance is not.

Not-for-profit board members need to wear many hats for the organization they serve. Every board member begins their term with a different set of skills, often chosen specifically for those unique abilities. As board members, we often assist the organization in raising money and as such, it is important for all members of the board to be fluent in the language of fundraising. Here are some basic definitions you need to know, and the differences between them.

Gifts with donor restriction

While many organizations can use all donations for their operating costs, many donors prefer to specify how―or when―they can use the donation. Gift restrictions come in several forms:

1.    Purpose-restricted gifts are, as their name implies, for a specific use. These can be in response to a request from your organization for that specific purpose or the donor can indicate its purpose when they make the gift. Consider how you solicit gifts from donors to be sure you don’t inadvertently apply restrictions. Not all gifts need to (or even should) be accepted by an organization, so take care in considering if specific restrictions are in line with your mission. 

2.    Time-restricted gifts can come with or without a restricted purpose. You can treat gifts for future periods as revenue today, though the funds would be considered restricted for use until the time restrictions have lapsed. These are often in the form of pledges of gifts for the future, but can also be actual donations provided today for use in coming years.

3.    Some donors prefer the earnings of their gift be available for use, while their actual donation be held in perpetuity. These are often in the form of endowments and specific restrictions may or may not be placed by the donor on the endowment’s earnings. Laws can differ from state-to-state for the treatment of those earnings, but your investment policy should govern the spending from these earnings.

The bottom line? Restricted-purpose gifts must be used for that restricted purpose.

Gifts without restriction are always welcome by organizations. The board has the ability to direct the spending of these gifts, and may designate funds for a future purpose, but unlike gifts with donor restrictions, the board does have the discretion to change their own designations.

Whether raising money or reviewing financial information, understanding fundraising language is key for board members to make the most out of donations. See A CPA’s guide to starting a capital campaign and Accounting 101 for development directors blogs for more information. Have questions or want to learn more? Please contact Emily Parker or Sarah Belliveau.

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The language of fundraising: A primer for NFP board members

Of all the changes that came with the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in late 2017, none has prompted as big a response from our clients as the changes TCJA makes to the qualified parking deduction. Then, last month, the IRS issued its long-waited guidance on this code section in the form of Notice 2018-99

We've taken a look at both the the original provisions, and the new guidance, and have collected the salient points and things we think you need to consider this tax season. For not-for-profit organizations, visit my article here. And for-profit companies can read here.  

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IRS guidance on qualified parking: Our take

Your government agency just signed the contract to purchase and implement a shiny new commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software to replace your aging legacy software. The project plan and schedule are set; the vendor is ready to begin configuration and customization tasks; and your team is eager to start the implementation process.

You are, in a word, optimistic. But here comes the next phase of the project—the gap analysis, in which your project team and the vendor’s project team test the new software to see how well it fulfills your requirements. Spending sufficient time and energy on the gap analysis increases the likelihood the resulting software is configured to support the desired workflows and processes of the agency, while taking advantage of the software’s features and benefits. Yet this phase can be stressful because it will identify some gaps between what you want and what the software can provide.

While some of the gaps may be resolved by simple adjustments to software configuration, others may not—and can result in major issues impacting project scope, schedule, and/or cost. How do you resolve these major gaps?

Multiple Methods. Don’t let your optimism die on the vine. There are, in fact, multiple ways to address major gaps to keep you on schedule and on budget. They include:

Documenting a change request through a formal change control process. This will likely result in the vendor documenting the results of the new project scope. This, in turn, may impact the project’s schedule and cost. It promotes best practice by formally documenting approved changes to project scope, including any impact on schedule and cost. However, the change request process may take longer than you may originally anticipate, as it includes:

Documenting the proposed change
Scoping the change, including the impact on cost and schedule
Review of the proposed scope change with the project team and vendor
Final approval of the change before the vendor can begin work

Collaborating with the vendor on a solution that fits within the confines of the selected software. With no actual customization required, this may result in a functionality compromise, and may also involve compromise by the project team and the vendor. However, it does not require a formal process to document and approve a change in scope, schedule or cost, since there are no impacts on these triple constraints.

Collaborating with the vendor and internal project stakeholders to redefine business processes. This may or may not result in a change request. It also promotes best practice, as the business processes become more efficient, and are supported by the selected software product without customization. This will require a focus on organizational change management, since the resulting processes are not reflective of the “way things are done today.”

Accepting the gap—and doing nothing. If the gap has little or no impact on business process efficiency or effectiveness, this method is likely the least impactful on the project, as there are no changes to scope, schedule, or cost. However, the concept of “doing nothing” to address the gap may have the same organizational change ramifications as the previous point.

Of course, there are other methods for addressing major software gaps. The BerryDunn team brings experience in facilitating discussions with agencies and their vendors to discuss gaps, their root causes, and possible solutions. We leverage a combination of project management discipline, organizational change management qualifications, and deep expertise to help clients increase the success likelihood for COTS software implementations—while maintaining their vital relationships with vendors.

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Grappling with software gaps

As 2018 is about to come to a close, organizations with fiscal year ends after December 15, 2018, are poised to start implementing the new not-for-profit reporting standard. Here are three areas to address before the close of the fiscal year to set your organization up for a smooth and successful transition, and keep in compliance:

  1. Update and approve policies—organizations need to both change certain disclosures and add new ones. The policies in place at the end of the year will be pivotal in creating the framework within which to draft these new disclosures (for example, treatment of board designations, underwater endowments, and liquidity).
  2. Functional expense reporting—if you have not historically reported expenses by natural and functional classification, develop the methodology for cost allocation. If you already have a framework in place, revisit it to determine if this still fits your organization. Finally, determine where you will present this information in the financial statements.
  3. Internal investment costs—be sure you have a methodology to segregate the organization’s internal investment costs such as internal staff time (remember, this is the cost to generate the income, not account for it) and consider the overall disclosure.

While the implementation of the new reporting standard will not be without cost (both internal costs and audit costs), if your organization considers this an opportunity to better tell your story, the end result will be a much more useful financial narrative. Don’t forget to include the BerryDunn implementation whitepaper in your implementation strategy.

We at BerryDunn are helping organizations gain momentum with a personal touch, through our not-for-profit reporting checkup. This checkup includes initial recast of the prior financial statements to the new format, a personalized review of the checklist to identify opportunities for success, and consideration of the footnotes to be updated. Contact me and find out how you can join the list of organizations getting ahead of the new standard.

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Three steps to ace the new not-for-profit reporting standard

IRS Notice 2018-67 Hits the Charts
Last week, in addition to The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) album becoming the highest selling album of all time, overtaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the IRS issued Notice 2018-67its first formal guidance on Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(6), one of two major code sections added by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directly impacts tax-exempt organizations. Will it too, be a big hit? It remains to be seen.

Section 512(a)(6) specifically deals with the reporting requirements for not-for-profit organizations carrying on multiple unrelated business income (UBI) activities. Here, we will summarize the notice and help you to gain an understanding of the IRS’s thoughts and anticipated approaches to implementing §512(a)(6).

While there have been some (not so quiet) grumblings from the not-for-profit sector about guidance on Code Section 512(a)(7) (aka the parking lot tax), unfortunately we still have not seen anything yet. With Notice 2018-67’s release last week, we’re optimistic that guidance may be on the way and will let you know as soon as we see anything from the IRS.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note last week’s notice is just that—a notice, not a Revenue Procedure or some other substantive legislation. While the notice can, and should be relied upon until we receive further guidance, everything in the notice is open to public comment and/or subject to change. With that, here are some highlights:

No More Netting
512(a)(6) requires the organization to calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI), including for purposes of determining any net operating loss (NOL) deduction, separately with respect to each such trade or business. The notice requires this separate reporting (or silo-ing) of activities in order to determine activities with net income from those with net losses.

Under the old rules, if an organization had two UBI activities in a given year, (e.g., one with $1,000 of net income and another with $1,000 net loss, you could simply net the two together on Form 990-T and report $0 UBTI for the year. That is no longer the case. From now on, you can effectively ignore activities with a current year loss, prompting the organization to report $1,000 as taxable UBI, and pay associated federal and state income taxes, while the activity with the $1,000 loss will get “hung-up” as an NOL specific to that activity and carried forward until said activity generates a net income.

Separate Trade or Business
So, how does one distinguish (or silo) a separate trade or business from another? The Treasury Department and IRS intend to propose some regulations in the near future, but for now recommend that organizations use a “reasonable good-faith interpretation”, which for now includes using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) in order to determine different UBI activities.

For those not familiar, the NAICS categorizes different lines of business with a six-digit code. For example, the NAICS code for renting* out a residential building or dwelling is 531110, while the code for operating a potato farm is 111211. While distinguishing residential rental activities from potato farming activities might be rather straight forward, the waters become muddier if an organization rents both a residential property and a nonresidential property (NAICS code 531120). Does this mean the organization has two separate UBI rental activities, or can both be grouped together as rental activities? The notice does not provide anything definitive, but rather is requesting public comments?we expect to see something more concrete once the public comment period is over.

*In the above example, we’re assuming the rental properties are debt-financed, prompting a portion of the rental activity to be treated as UBI.

UBI from Partnership Investments (Schedule K-1)
Notice 2018-67 does address how to categorize/group unrelated business income for organizations that receive more than one partnership K-1 with UBI reported. In short, if the Schedule K-1s the organization receives can meet either of the tests below, the organization may treat the partnership investments as a single activity/silo for UBI reporting purposes. The notice offers the following:

De Minimis Test
You can aggregate UBI from multiple K-1s together as long as the exempt organization holds directly no more than 2% of the profits interest and no more that 2% of the capital interest. These percentages can be found on the face of the Schedule K-1 from the Partnership and the notice states those percentages as shown can be used for this determination. Additionally, the notice allows organizations to use an average of beginning of year and end of year percentages for this determination.

Ex: If an organization receives a K-1 with UBI reported, and the beginning of year profit & capital percentages are 3%, and the end of year percentages are 1%, the average for the year is 2% (3% + 1% = 4%/2 = 2%). In this example, the K-1 meets the de minimis test.

There is a bit of a caveat here—when determining an exempt organization's partnership interest, the interest of a disqualified person (i.e. officers, directors, trustees, substantial contributors, and family members of any of those listed here), a supporting organization, or a controlled entity in the same partnership will be taken into account. Organizations need to review all K-1s received and inquire with the appropriate person(s) to determine if they meet the terms of the de minimis test.

Control Test
If an organization is not able to pass the de minimis test, you may instead use the control test. An organization meets the requirements of the control test if the exempt organization (i) directly holds no more than 20 percent of the capital interest; and (ii) does not have control or influence over the partnership.

When determining control or influence over the partnership, you need to apply all relevant facts and circumstances. The notice states:

“An exempt organization has control or influence if the exempt organization may require the partnership to perform, or may prevent the partnership from performing, any act that significantly affects the operations of the partnership. An exempt organization also has control or influence over a partnership if any of the exempt organization's officers, directors, trustees, or employees have rights to participate in the management of the partnership or conduct the partnership's business at any time, or if the exempt organization has the power to appoint or remove any of the partnership's officers, directors, trustees, or employees.”

As noted above, we recommend your organization review any K-1s you currently receive. It’s important to take a look at Line I1 and make sure your organization is listed here as “Exempt Organization”. All too often we see not-for-profit organizations listed as “Corporations”, which while usually technically correct, this designation is really for a for-profit corporation and could result in the organization not receiving the necessary information in order to determine what portion, if any, of income/loss is attributable to UBI.

Net Operating Losses
The notice also provides some guidance regarding the use of NOLs. The good news is that any pre-2018 NOLs are grandfathered under the old rules and can be used to offset total UBTI on Form 990-T.

Conversely, any NOLs generated post-2018 are going to be considered silo-specific, with the intent being that the NOL will only be applicable to the activity which gave rise to the loss. There is also a limitation on post-2018 NOLs, allowing you to use only 80% of the NOL for a given activity. Said another way, an activity that has net UBTI in a given year, even with post-2017 NOLs, will still potentially have an associated tax liability for the year.

Obviously, Notice 2018-67 provides a good baseline for general information, but the details will be forthcoming, and we will know then if they have a hit. Hopefully the IRS will not Take It To The Limit in terms of issuing formal guidance in regards to 512(a)(6) & (7). Until they receive further IRS guidance,  folks in the not-for-profit sector will not be able to Take It Easy or have any semblance of a Peaceful Easy Feeling. Stay tuned.

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Tax-exempt organizations: The wait is over, sort of

Over the course of its day-to-day operations, every organization acquires, stores, and transmits Protected Health Information (PHI), including names, email addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, and social security numbers.

Yet the security of each organization’s PHI varies dramatically, as does its need for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Organizations that meet the definition of a covered entity or business associate under HIPAA must comply with requirements to protect the privacy and security of health information.

Noncompliance can have devastating consequences for an organization, including:

  • Civil violations, with fines ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation
  • Criminal penalties, with fines ranging from around $50,000 to $250,000, plus imprisonment

All it takes is just one security or privacy breach. As breaches of all kinds continue to rise, this may be the perfect time to evaluate the health of your organization’s HIPAA compliance. To keep in compliance and minimize your risk of a breach, your organization should have:

  • An up-to-date and comprehensive HIPAA security and privacy plan
  • Comprehensive HIPAA training for employees
  • Staff who are aware of all PHI categories
  • Sufficiently encrypted devices and strong password policies

HIPAA Health Check: A Thorough Diagnosis

If your organization doesn’t have these safeguards in place, it’s time to start preparing for the worst — and undergo a HIPAA health check.

Organizations need to understand what they have in place, and where they need to bolster their practice. Here are a variety of fact-finding methods and tools we recommend, including (but not limited to):

  • Administrative, technical, and physical risk analyses
  • Policy, procedure, and business documentation reviews
  • Staff surveys and interviews
  • IT audits and testing of data security

Once you have diagnosed your organization’s “as-is” status, you need to move your organization toward the “to-be” status — that is, toward HIPAA compliance — by:

  • Prioritizing your HIPAA security and privacy risks
  • Developing tactics to mitigate those risks
  • Providing tools and tactics for security and privacy breach prevention and minimization
  • Creating or updating policies, procedures, and business documents, including a HIPAA security and privacy plan

As each organization is different, there are many factors to consider as you go through these processes, and customize your approach to the HIPAA-compliance needs of your organization.

The Road to Wellness

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t let a security or privacy breach jump-start the compliance process. Reach out to us for a HIPAA health check. Contact us if you have any questions on how to get your organization on the road to wellness.

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How healthy is your organization's HIPAA compliance?

Good Practices Are Not Enough

When it comes to IT security, more than one CEO running a small organization has told me they have really good people taking care of “all that.” These CEOs choose to believe their people perform good practices. That may be true, but who defines good practices and how they administer them? And when? If “security is everyone’s job,” then nobody is responsible for getting specific things done. Good practices require consistency, and consistency requires structure.

From an audit perspective, a control not written down does not exist. Why? Because it can’t be tested, measured, or validated. An IT Auditor can’t assess controls if they were never defined. Verbal instruction carries by far the most risk. “I told him to do that,” doesn’t pass the smell test in court.

Why Does it Matter?

Because it’s not IT’s job to write policies. Their job is to implement IT decisions made by management. They’re not at the right level to make decisions that impact the entire organization. Why should small organizations concern themselves with developing policies and procedures? Here are two very good reasons:

1. Regulatory Requirements
2. Lawsuits

No matter how small your organization, if you have a corporate network (even cloud-based) and you store credit card transactions, personal health information, client financial information or valuable intellectual property, being aware of state and federal regulatory requirements for protecting that information is vital. It is the responsibility of management to research and develop a management framework for addressing risk.

Lawsuits happen when information is stolen and/or employees are terminated for inappropriate activities. If you have no policies that mandate what is and isn’t acceptable, and what the penalties are for violations, your terminated employee has grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit: policy should not be written by the IT Department.

If confidential data you are responsible for is stolen and clients sue you, standing up in court and saying “We don’t have any written policies or procedures,” is a sure way to have both significant financial losses and a negative impact on your reputation. For a small organization, that could mean going out of business.

Even if data is stolen from a third-party vendor who stores your data, your organization owns the data and is responsible for ensuring the data is secure with the vendor and meets organizational requirements. Do you have a vendor management policy? If you work with vendors, you need one.

Consider, too, that every organization expects to grow its business. The longer management doesn’t pay attention to policies and procedures, the more difficult it becomes to develop and implement them.

Medium and Large Organizations Need to Pay Attention, too

A policy document provides a framework for defining activities and decision-making by everyone in the organization. A policy contains standards for the organization, and outlines penalties for non-performance. The organization’s management team or board of directors must drive their creation.
Policies also maintain accountability in the eyes of internal and external stakeholders. Even the smallest organization wants their customers and employees to have confidence the organization is protecting important information. By defining the necessary controls for running business operations that address risk and compliance requirements (and reviewing them annually), your management team demonstrates a commitment to good practices.

Procedures are the “How”

Procedures don’t belong in a policy. Departments need to be able to design their own procedures to meet policy requirements and definitions. HR will have procedures for employee privacy and financial information, finance must manage credit card, student, banking or client financial documentation, and IT will need to develop specific technical procedures to document their compliance with policy.

If all those procedures are in a policy, it makes for unwieldy policy documents that management must review and approve. Departments need to change and update their procedures quickly in order to remain effective. For example, a policy may mandate the minimum number of characters in a password, but IT needs to develop the procedures to implement that requirement on many platforms and devices.

What is a “Plan” Used For?

Consider that organizations commonly have a Business Continuity Plan as well as an Incident Response Plan. How is a “plan” different from a policy or procedure?

A plan (for example, an Information Security Plan, or Privacy Plan, etc.) is a collection of related procedures with a specific focus. I have seen these collections called “programs,” but most organizations use “plan” (plus, the Federal government uses that term). The term “program” implies a beginning and an end, as well as tending to be a little too generic (think “School Lunch Program”).

Three Ways Not to Develop Policies, Procedures and Plans

1.

Getting templates from the Internet. Doing a Google search delivers an overwhelming number of approaches, examples and material. Policy templates found online may not be applicable to your organization’s purpose, or require so much editing they defeat the template’s purpose. 

2.

Alternatively, going to organizational peers can endlessly replicate one poorly developed approach to documentation.

3.

Writing policies and procedures totally focused on meeting one regulatory requirement frequently necessitates a total re-write as soon as the next regulation comes along.

Consider the Unique Aspects of Your Organization

What electronic information does your organization consider valuable? During an assessment with a state university, we discovered that the farm research the agriculture school was performing was extremely valuable. While we started out with questions about student health and financial information, the university realized the research data was equally critical. The information might not have federal or state regulations attached to it, but if it is valuable to your organization, you need to protect it. By not taking a one-size fits all approach to our assessment, we were able to meet their specific needs.

Multiple Departments or Locations? Standardize.

Whether your organization is a university, non-profit organization, government agency, medical center or business, you frequently have sub-entities. Each sub-entity or location may have different terms for different functions. For example, at a recent engagement for another university, Information Security “Programs,” “Plans” and “Policies” meant different things on different campuses. This caused confusion on the part of all stakeholders. It also showed a lack of cohesion in the approach to security of the university as a whole. Standardizing language is one of the best ways to have everyone in the organization on the same page, even if the documents are unique to a location, agency or site. This makes planning, implementation, and system upgrade projects run more effectively.

Demonstrate Competence

No matter what terms your organization chooses, using consistent terms is a good way to demonstrate a thoughtful approach. Everyone needs to be talking the same language. Having documents that specify management decisions provides assurance to internal and external stakeholders. Good policies, procedures and plans can mean the difference between a manageable crisis and a business failure.

To receive IT security updates, please sign up here.

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Policies, procedures, and plans—defining the language of your organization

We humans have a complex attitude toward change. In one sense, we like finding it. For instance: “Now I can buy something from the vending machine!” In reality, we try to avoid change as much as possible. Why? Because it’s frightening. Consider this quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

The key word in that quote is “sudden.” Because the more we prepare for change, the less painful it becomes. One crucial way to prepare for change is to assess how ready we are for something new.

Which brings us to you. The fact you are reading a blog post with the words “Readiness for Enterprise Systems” in its title suggests that you have considered, or are considering, changing your institution’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or other enterprise software, such as LMS, SIS, CRM, etc. This change is no minor adjustment.

Enterprise systems are complex, impacting institutional activities at many levels, from managing student records, finances, and human resources, to enabling student enrollment and registration. Is your institution prepared for transformation across the organization? To find out, assess your institution’s readiness for change. To help illustrate what an assessment might entail, I’ll outline BerryDunn’s method.

Step #1: Understanding Key Indicators for Readiness
When assisting a client to determine readiness, BerryDunn begins engaging stakeholders from across the institution (e.g., staff, faculty, and students) to understand the current environment. This allows us to address seven key indicators for change readiness:

  1. Stakeholder Buy-In. The key to success in changing an ERP platform is for users to understand the value that the change will bring. “Do stakeholders know how the new system will benefit them? Or, from their perspective, ‘What’s in it for me (aka, WIIFM)?’”
  2. Executive Sponsorship. In order to obtain stakeholder buy-in, leaders have to communicate effectively with various parties about change. They will be required to display strong and consistent leadership when stakeholders are faced with challenges with vendors, timing, scope creep, or other issues. “Are leaders prepared to lead the charge? Are they committed to change?”
     
  3. Vendor Ability. Each institution has specific operational needs and programmatic objectives. ERP vendors will highlight their strengths and may de-emphasize weaknesses that may exist in their products. “Are vendors actually able to meet the institution’s functional needs and align their software with strategic objectives?”
     
  4. Business Process Redesign. As mentioned above, it can be a struggle to align operational needs and programmatic objectives with vendor software. It’s even harder to achieve this while ensuring that, in implementing a new ERP system, an institution won’t lose valuable functionality that had been provided by the previous ERP. “Does the client fully understand the impact of a new ERP system on their processes?”
     
  5. Project Management. Proactive project management is critical when changing an ERP system. Project managers need to engage institutional stakeholders, project sponsors, and vendors to keep them apprised of progress. “Are project managers empowered to maintain strong communication with all stakeholders?”
     
  6. Data Governance. Another key indicator of ERP readiness is how well-defined data management is before implementation. ERP replacement projects are jeopardized when institutions don’t understand their data assets, or don’t know what level of data migration is necessary. “Is the institution prepared for data migration?”
     
  7. Software Change Management. As ERP vendors move their products to the cloud, the software they sell will become less customizable, but more configurable. In other words, customers won’t necessarily be able to modify the base software code, but they will have more options in regards to defined fields, workflow, and user interface. Although this sounds limiting, it is actually an opportunity to streamline operations, add discipline to software update timelines, and require organizations to consider how to best complete their administrative functions. It is critical that an institution adapt its software change management practices to meet this reality. “Do the institution’s software change management practices reflect how software is delivered by vendors today?”

Step #2: Establish Agreed-Upon Metrics
Based on our analysis from Step #1, we then score these indicators of readiness based on a maturity scale from 0 – 5, using the following parameters:

0  Non-existent
1  Aware, but not ready to change
2  Aware and open to change, but lack understanding of path forward
3  Accept that change is needed, but clear action plan is not in place
4  Accept that change is imminent and is being planned for
5  Readiness for change has broad understanding, is accepted, and is being executed 

Step #3: Score the Readiness of Your Organization
When you work with a consulting firm to assess your institution’s readiness for change, you should expect tangible takeaways that will inform stakeholders and provide a baseline metric. For example, we prepare a brief report that outlines a score for each of the seven maturity indicators of ERP readiness and provides supporting information for the basis of each score.

Here is an example of a Software Change Management section from a hypothetical ERP Readiness Report:

READINESS INDICATORS

BASIS FOR SCORE

SCORE (0 – 5)

Software Change Management

The University does have an effective software change management methodology, and a standard process for prioritizing requests to its current ERP system. This model may change significantly if a cloud system is chosen, and will require a new approach to configuration and asset management.

3


Finally, based on the weighted aggregate score of the report, BerryDunn determines the institution’s readiness for change, and provides recommendations on how to remediate low scores, and sustain higher scores.

Now for the good news. By setting a baseline early in your readiness planning, the scoring can be revisited over time to measure progress and provide project leadership with a simple, but effective, approach to tracking change management within the organization.

Next Steps
As you can see, implementing a new ERP doesn’t have to be a monstrous experience. You simply need to determine your ERP readiness, and follow a common-sense plan for change management. If you’d like to talk more about this process, send me an email: dhoule@berrydunn.com. I look forward to learning about the great changes your institution has planned.

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Assessing organizational readiness for enterprise systems

As we begin the second year of Uniform Guidance, here’s what we’ve learned from year one, and some strategies you can use to approach various challenges, all told from a runner's point of view.

A Runner’s Perspective

As I began writing this article, the parallels between strategies that I use when competing in road races — and the strategies that we have used in navigating the Uniform Guidance — started to emerge. I’ve been running competitively for six years, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that implementing real-time adjustments to various challenges that pop up during a race makes all the difference between crossing — or falling short of — the finish line. This lesson also applies to implementing Uniform Guidance. On your mark, get set, go!

Challenge #1: Unclear Documentation

Federal awarding agencies have been unclear in the documentation within original awards, or funding increments, making it hard to know which standards to follow: the previous cost circulars, or the Uniform Guidance?

Racing Strategy: Navigate Decision Points

Take the time to ask for directions. In a long race, if you’re apprehensive about what’s ahead, stop and ask a volunteer at the water station, or anywhere else along the route.

If there is a question about the route you need to take in order to remain compliant with the Uniform Guidance, it’s your responsibility to reach out to the respective agency single audit coordinators or program officials. Unlike in a race, where you have to ask questions on the fly, it’s best to document your Uniform Guidance questions and answers via email, and make sure to retain your documentation.  Taking the time to make sure you’re headed in the right direction will save you energy, and lost time, in the long run.    

Challenge #2: Subrecipient Monitoring

The responsibilities of pass-through entities (PTEs) have significantly increased under the Uniform Guidance with respect to subaward requirements. Under OMB Circular A-133, the guidance was not very explicit on what monitoring procedures needed to be completed with regard to subrecipients. However, it was clear that monitoring to some extent was a requirement.

Racing Strategy: Keep a Healthy Pace

Take the role of “pacer” in your relationships with subrecipients. In a long-distance race, pacers ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing. By taking on this role, you can more efficiently fulfill your responsibilities under the Uniform Guidance.

Under the Uniform Guidance, a PTE must:

  • Perform risk assessments on its subrecipients to determine where to devote the most time with its monitoring procedures.
  • Provide ongoing monitoring, which includes site visits, provide technical assistance and training as necessary, and arrange for agreed-upon procedures to the extent needed.
  • Verify subrecipients have been audited under Subpart F of the Uniform Guidance, if they meet the threshold.
  • Report and follow up on any noncompliance at the subrecipient level.
  • The time you spend determining the energy you need to expend, and the support you need to lend to your subrecipients will help your team perform at a healthy pace, and reach the finish line together.

Challenge #3: Procurement Standards

The procurement standards within the Uniform Guidance are similar to those under OMB Circular A-102, which applied to state and local governments. They are likely to have a bigger impact on those entities that were subject to OMB Circular A-110, which applied to higher education institutions, hospitals, and other not-for-profit organizations.

Racing Strategy: Choose the Right Equipment

Do your research before procuring goods and services. In the past, serious runners had limited options when it came to buying new shoes and food to boost energy. With the rise of e-commerce, we can now purchase everything faster and cheaper online than we can at our local running store. But is this really an improvement?

Under A-110, we were guided to make prudent decisions, but the requirements were less stringent. Now, under Uniform Guidance, we must follow prescribed guidelines.

Summarized below are some of the differences between A-110 and the Uniform Guidance:

A-110 UNIFORM GUIDANCE
Competition
Procurement transaction shall be conducted in a manner to provide, to the maximum extent practical, open and free competition.
Competition
Procurement transaction must be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition consistent with the standards of this section.
 
Procurement
Organizations must establish written procurement procedures, which avoid purchasing unnecessary items, determine whether lease or purchase is most economical and practical, and in solicitation provide requirements for awards.
Procurement
Organizations must use one of the methods provided in this section:
  1. Procurement by Micro Purchase (<$3,000)
  2. Procurement by Small Purchase Procedures (<$150,000)
  3. Procurement by Sealed Bids
  4. Procurement by Competitive Proposal
  5. Procurement by Noncompetitive Proposal

While the process is more stringent under the Uniform Guidance, you still have the opportunity to choose the vendor or product best suited to the job. Just make sure you have the documentation to back up your decision.

A Final Thought
Obviously, this article is not an all-inclusive list of the changes reflected in the Uniform Guidance. Yet we hope that it does provide direction as you look for new grant awards and revisit internal policies and procedures.

And here’s one last tip: Do you know the most striking parallel that I see between running a race and implementing the Uniform Guidance? The value of knowing yourself.

It’s important to know what your challenges are, and to have the self-awareness to see when and where you will need help. And if you ever need someone to help you navigate, set the pace, or provide an objective perspective on purchasing equipment, let us know. We’re with you all the way to the finish line.

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A runner's guide to uniform guidance, year two

With the most recent overhaul to the Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, the IRS has made clear its intention to increase the transparency of a not-for-profit organization’s mission and activities and to promote active governance. To point, the IRS asks whether a copy has been provided to an organization’s board prior to filing and requires organizations to describe the process, if any, its board undertakes to review the 990.

This lack of ambiguity aside, it is just good governance to have an understanding of the information included in your organization’s Form 990. After all, it is available to anyone who wants a copy. But the volume of information included in a typical return can be daunting.

Where do you even start? Let’s take a look at the key components of a Form 990 that warrant at least a read-through:

  • Income and expense activity (Page 1 and Schedule D) – Does this agree to, or reconcile to, the financial reporting of the organization?
  • Narratives on Page 2 – Does it accurately describe your mission and “tell your story”?
  • Questions in Part VI about governance, management, and disclosures – If any governance or policy questions are answered in the negative, have you given consideration to implementing changes?
  • Part VII – Board information and key employee/contractor compensation – Is the list complete? Does the information agree with compensation set by the board? Does it seem appropriate in light of responsibilities and the organization’s activities

Depending on how questions were answered earlier in the Form 990, several schedules may be required. Key schedules include:

  • Schedule C – Political and lobbying expenditures
  • Schedule F – Foreign transactions and investments reported (alternative investments may have pass-through foreign activity)
  • Schedule J – Detailed compensation reporting for employees whose package exceeds $150,000
  • Schedule L – Transactions with officers, board members, and key employees (conflict-of-interest disclosures)

In addition to the Form 990, an organization may be required to file a Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return, if it earns unrelated business income. In general, it’s good practice to review the Form 990 with the organization’s management or tax preparer to be able to ask questions as they arise.

Filing and reviewing the Form 990 can be more than a compliance exercise. It’s an opportunity for a good conversations about your mission, policies, and compensation—a “health check-up” that can benefit more areas than just compliance. Understanding your not-for-profit’s operations and being an engaged and informed board member are essential to effectively fulfilling your fiduciary responsibilities.

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Good governance: Understanding your organization's Form 990