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Internal audit potential for
not-for-profit
organizations

By:

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
    Principal
    Education, Healthcare, Not-for-profit
    T 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

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

Article
Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?

Read is you use QuickBooks Online.

Your customers are your company’s lifeblood. Make sure their records are thorough and up-to-date.

When companies buy other companies, the customer list is often considered the most critical asset. When a business is damaged and data possibly lost, the customer list is the set of records do they most hope to recover.

You probably spend most of your time in QuickBooks Online working with transactions and reports, but your customer records deserve equal time. If they’re incomplete or otherwise not well maintained, you lose time filling in the blanks when you’re trying to complete a task that requires complete customer profiles. Your searches and reports may not tell the whole picture. Your relationships can suffer, and you may miss out on sales opportunities.

QuickBooks Online provides excellent tools for creating and maintaining comprehensive customer and sub-customer records. Here’s a look at how it all works.

Moving your customer data in

There are two ways to create customer records in QuickBooks Online. If you have an existing database in Outlook, Excel, Gmail, or Google Sheets, you can import it. This will save you an enormous amount of time, but it’s a challenging process. You select the file you want to import, and then you have to “map” it by matching the fields in your database to fields in QuickBooks Online. You’ll likely need our help with this.


To import a customer file into QuickBooks Online, you’ll have to “map” its fields. We can help you with this.

Your other option is to enter records manually. This is time-consuming, but the more information you can include about your customers from the start, the better. You can always edit your records to add, delete, or modify what you originally entered.

To get started, hover over Sales in the toolbar and click on Customers. Then click on New Customer in the upper right corner to open the Customer information window. The only field you’re required to complete is Display name as. You may want to do this if you have a new customer on the phone and you want to concentrate on the conversation. You can take notes about their contact information and fill in the record later, when you’re off the phone.

But wherever possible, as we’ve already said, complete as many fields as you can. You’ll enter name and billing and shipping address and phone number(s) on the opening screen. You can also supply contact details like fax number and website. 

Creating sub-customers

You’ll notice a checkbox that says Is sub-customer. QuickBooks Online lets you “nest” related records under the “parent” record. This can be an actual customer, but many people use it to document jobs they’re doing for the customer. So if you’re a contractor, for example, you might have sub-customers like Sun deck and Spa

If you want to set up such a record, enter the job name and click in the box next to Is sub-customer. Two fields will open below that allow you to select the parent customer and to indicate the sub-customer’s billing status. The remainder of the fields will automatically fill in with the parent customer’s contact information.


You can set up jobs as sub-customers in QuickBooks Online. 

Supplying details

When you’re setting up individual customers, you should add as much detail as you possibly can to each record, beyond basic contact information. QuickBooks Online’s record templates display a number of tabs running horizontally across the window. The most important of these are:

  • Tax info. Are the customers taxable or exempt? If taxable, what is his or her Default tax code? (If you haven’t set up sales taxes yet and need to, please let us help. It’s complicated.)
  • Payment and billing. Do they have preferred payment and/or delivery methods? Will you be assigning default payment terms, like Net 30 or Due on receipt? What is their Opening balance? If they’re brand-new customers who have never ordered from you, this will be $0.00. If they’re existing, active customers, enter any outstanding balance they have with you as of the date that you enter. This must be correct, to avoid any problems with the customers’ ongoing balances. Questions? Ask us.

Other tabs here are self-explanatory. When you’ve entered everything you can, click Save. The new record will now appear in the Customers list and will be available to select from the drop-down list in transactions.

There will be times when you have to refer back to these forms to answer questions. By maintaining detailed, accurate customer records, you’ll be ready to respond. If you have questions about any of the information requested, or about other elements of QuickBooks Online that are puzzling you, please contact our Outsourced Accounting team. so we can set up a consultation.

Article
How to maintain customer records in QuickBooks Online

Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

Article
COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

Read this if you use QuickBooks Online.

Are you finding that you need more flexibility in an area of QuickBooks Online? Maybe it’s time to try an integrated app.

When you first started using QuickBooks Online, you probably found it supplied the tools you needed to manage your accounting—and then some. But as your business grows or becomes more complex, you may need more functionality and flexibility in one or more areas, like time tracking and billing.

There are hundreds of add-on applications that integrate well with QuickBooks Online in the QuickBooks Apps store, which you can find here. Many of these apps are free, but most have subscription fees. They’re designed to amplify the power of QuickBooks Online’s own features. The site will remain your home base, but you’ll have to learn enough about the add-on apps to understand how they work and how they integrate with QuickBooks Online. Here are some of the most popular add-on solutions from the QuickBooks Apps site.

Expensify

QuickBooks Online allows you to record expenses. Its thorough form templates ask you for numerous details, like the vendor, product or service, amount, and billable status. Completed expenses appear in a table. You can run any of several related reports, like Expenses by Vendor Summary. If you use the QuickBooks Online mobile app, you can snap photos of receipts that are turned into expense forms by QuickBooks Online and partially completed with the receipt data.

Using the QuickBooks Online mobile app, you can snap photos of receipts and complete the expense forms provided.

But Expensify ($5-9 per month for one user) does more. It’s a robust expense management system that handles everything from receipt processing to next-day reimbursement. Where QuickBooks Online only supports basic expense tracking, Expensify allows you to create expense reports and follow them through multi-level approvals. It features automatic credit card reconciliation and expense policy enforcement, as well as bill pay and invoices/payments. Two-way synchronization with QuickBooks Online means you can work in either application and your data will be replicated in the other, as is the case with all of these integrated solutions.

QuickBooks Time

Formerly known as TSheets, this powerful time-tracking application builds on QuickBooks Online’s time management and payroll features. QuickBooks Time ($8-10 per user per month plus $20-40 monthly base fee) is now owned by Intuit, so it’s embedded directly in QuickBooks Online. 

Your employees can track their hours on any device, from any location, and they will instantly be available in QuickBooks Online so managers can review, edit, and approve timesheets. That data can then be used in areas like invoicing, job costing, and payroll. Advanced features include scheduling capabilities, overtime monitoring, GPS tracking, and real-time reports. The Who’s Working window shows you where your staff members are working and what they’re doing, in real time. 

Method:CRM

QuickBooks Online does a good job of helping you create profiles of customers and storing them for quick retrieval. But some businesses need more than that. They need true Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Method:CRM ($28-49 per month per user; discounts for annual subscriptions) is an excellent partner for QuickBooks Online in this area.

You can record and store customer details in QuickBooks Online, but Method:CRM adds true Customer Relationship management to the site.

When you integrate Method:CRM with QuickBooks Online, you no longer have to do duplicate data entry to keep track of your customers and their sales profiles and histories. You get a shared lead list and activity tracking (emails and phone calls), and your customer records contain the information a sales team needs, like customer details, interaction, transactions, and services performed. Leads are stored in Method:CRM until they’re customers, and you can track sales opportunities from a customer’s initial interest through the final sale. 

Two more advanced integrated apps

QuickBooks Online provides basic inventory-tracking capabilities, but if your business has more complex needs, an integrated application like SOS Inventory ($49.95-149.95 per user per month) should be able to meet them. Built for QuickBooks Online from the ground up, the application offers advanced features like sales orders and order management, assemblies, serial inventory, and multiple locations. And if you need more sophisticated bill pay, invoicing, and payment processing (with multiple automated approval levels) than QuickBooks Online offers, you might look into the highly-regarded Bill.com ($39-69 per user per month).

Growth Is good, but challenging

We wanted to introduce you to a few of the hundreds of integrated apps available for QuickBooks Online because you should know that there are options for expanding on the site’s built-in capabilities. As your business grows, so does your need for more sophisticated accounting. QuickBooks Online may still be able to serve you well with the help of one or more of these add-ons.

You may also want to explore the possibility of upgrading your version of QuickBooks Online. We encourage you to consult with us if you’re outgrowing QuickBooks Online. We can help you explore the options so you can spend your time planning for your company’s future instead of wrestling with your accounting application. Please contact our Outsourced Accounting team

Article
Expand QuickBooks Online's features: Use integrated apps

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit organization.

There is no question the investment landscape is forever changing. Even before COVID-19 placed a vice grip on all aspects of society, many not-for-profit organizations were looking for ways to maximize the value of their current investment holdings. One such way of accomplishing this is through the use of alternative investments, defined for our purposes as investments outside of standard assets such as traditional stocks and bonds. Alternative investments have become increasingly specialized and are often seen in the form of foreign corporations or partnerships (often times domiciled in locales such as the Cayman Islands where tax laws are more favorable to investors) and are much more commonplace than ever before.

While promises of higher rates of return are received warmly by not-for-profit organizations, alternative investments often carry with them the potential for additional compliance costs in the form of tax filing obligations and substantial penalties should those filings be overlooked.

This article will highlight some of those potential foreign filings, as well as highlight potential consequences they carry and what you need to know in order to avoid the pitfalls. 

Potential foreign filings related to investment activities

Not-for profit organizations should be aware of the potential filings/disclosures required in regards to their ownership of investments located outside of the United States. The federal government uses a variety of forms to track transfers of property, ownership, and account balances related to foreign activity/investments. A list of some of the potential foreign filings are detailed below (not an all-inclusive list):

Form 926 – Return by a US Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation

This form is generally required when a US investor transfers more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, or any other contribution when the investor owns 10% or more of a foreign corporation. The requirement to file this form can be via a direct investment in the foreign corporation, or indirectly through another entity (such as a partnership interest). The penalty for failure to file is equal to 10 percent of the transfer amount, up to $100,000 per missed filing.

Form 8865 – Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships

Similar to Form 926, this filing arises when a US person (which includes not-for-profit organizations) transfers $100,000 or more in a given year, or if they own 10% or more of the foreign partnership. There are different levels of disclosure required for different categories of filers. Filings are also triggered by both direct and indirect investments. The penalty for failure to file varies by category type, ranging from $10,000 to up to $100,000 per missed filing.

FinCEN Form 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

Commonly referred to as the FBAR, this form tracks assets that US taxpayers hold in offshore accounts, whether they be foreign bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or mutual funds. This form is required when the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Further, any individual or entity that owns more than 50 percent of the account directly or indirectly must file the form. Lastly, individuals who have signature authority over accounts held by the organization are also required to file the FinCEN Form 114 with their individual income tax return. The penalty for failure to file can vary, but can be as high as 50 percent of the account’s value.

Please note: there is a specific definition of the term “foreign financial account” which excludes certain items from the definition. Organizations are encouraged to consult their tax advisors for more information.

Form 5471 – Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations

Form 5471 is required to be filed when ownership is at least 10% in a foreign corporation. There are different disclosures required for different categories of ownership. Organizations required to file Form 5471 are typically operating internationally and have ownership of a foreign corporation which triggers the filing, but this form would also apply to investments in foreign corporations if ownership is at least 10%. The penalty for failure to file is typically $10,000 per missed filing.

Recommendations to avoid the pitfalls of alternative investments

In order to avoid missed filing requirements, exempt organizations should ask their investment advisors if any investment will involve organizations outside of the United States. If the answer is “yes,” then your organization needs to understand any additional filing requirements up front in order to take into consideration any additional compliance costs related to foreign filings. You should review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (e.g., prospectus and any other offering materials) with your finance/accounting department, as well as your tax advisors—prior to investment.

We also recommend you engage in open and frequent communication with your investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization). Those who manage the entity’s investments should also stay in close contact with fund managers who can help communicate when assets are invested in a way that might trigger a foreign filing obligation.

As investment practices and strategies become increasingly complex, organizations need to stay vigilant and aware in this forever changing landscape. We’re here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about current investment holdings and potential foreign filings, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our not-for-profit tax team.

Article
Alternative investments: Potential pitfalls not-for-profit organizations need to know

Read this if you are an employee benefit plan fiduciary.

Fiduciary risk management

This is the final article in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with ERISA requirements. You can find the full series here.

If, as part of your involvement with an employee benefit plan, you have decision-making ability; you advise those with decision-making ability; or someone tasks you with decision-making related to the plan, you are more likely than not, a fiduciary. As discussed in the first article of the series, this status comes with responsibilities and, therefore, risks and consequences.

The general approach to handling risk is a cycle of identifying, assessing, controlling, and reviewing controls over risks. Based on the assessment of a given risk, there are four ways to manage it: you can avoid, reduce, transfer, or accept the risk. 

Identifying and assessing fiduciary risk1 

The risks facing a plan fiduciary include, but are not limited to, the following:

Removal of fiduciary

In appropriate cases, a fiduciary may be removed and permanently prohibited from acting as a fiduciary or from providing services to ERISA plans.

Civil penalties

Among other penalties, the DOL may assess a civil penalty equal to 20% of the amounts recovered for the plan through litigation or settlement.

Criminal prosecution

Upon a conviction for a willful violation of ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements, a fiduciary may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment for not more than ten years. There is also a provision in ERISA that applies to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, that makes coercive interference with ERISA rights a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment for up to ten years. In addition, outside of ERISA, there are a number of criminal statutes that apply to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, including criminal statutes for embezzling from an ERISA plan, making false statements in ERISA documents, and taking illegal kickbacks in connection with an ERISA plan.

Participant lawsuits

Additionally, plan participants may file a lawsuit against the fiduciary for breach of their fiduciary duty. Over the past few years, this has become more common and has generally been related to the fiduciary’s failure to adequately negotiate and monitor plan fees. 

Co-fiduciary liability

ERISA's unique co-fiduciary liability provisions make each fiduciary responsible for the actions of the other plan fiduciaries but only under certain circumstances. As a general rule, fiduciaries aren’t responsible for the breach of another fiduciary unless:

  • They participate knowingly in, or knowingly undertake to conceal, an act or omission of such other fiduciary, knowing such act or omission is a breach;
  • Their failure to be prudent in the administration of their own fiduciary responsibilities enables the other fiduciary to commit a breach; or
  • They have knowledge of a breach by such other fiduciary and don’t make reasonable efforts under the circumstances to remedy the breach.

Controlling fiduciary risk

There are several ways to effectively manage fiduciary risk. When used together, they give you solid controls to greatly reduce your level of risk.

Plan documentation

A fiduciary and/or plan sponsor should reduce their exposure to the risks identified above and their first line of defense is through plan documentation (discussed in depth here). Broadly speaking, the organizers and fiduciaries of the plan should ensure that policies and procedures are laid out to ensure proper oversight and internal controls are in place to prevent any voluntary or involuntary noncompliance with ERISA and the DOL.

Oversight

Fiduciaries should meet formally on a regular basis to review the plan’s offerings, service providers, fees, and other issues that may affect the plan. A single individual who is the sole fiduciary for a plan may not have the knowledge or bandwidth to appropriately fulfill the responsibilities of the plan. Additionally, having an auditor come in and audit the plan can help identify some of the risks identified above, although an audit of the plan does not reduce your responsibility to monitor and review the plan’s activity on an ongoing basis.

Third Party Administrators (TPA) & recordkeepers

Fiduciaries may also be able to mitigate some of the risks identified above through use of a TPA and/or recordkeeper. While TPAs and recordkeepers are not generally considered fiduciaries or co-fiduciaries, TPAs have varying service offerings, including recordkeeping, that are powerful tools to plan administrators to review and operate the plan. For example, depending on the plan sponsor’s existing payroll and HR structure, inclusive of TPAs and recordkeepers, fiduciaries may be able to automate the transfer of contributions to ensure timeliness of deposits. The plan may also be able to add another layer of internal controls by incorporating the TPA’s or recordkeeper’s internal controls into the plan’s control environment assuming the fiduciary has gained an understanding and comfort around the controls present at the TPA and/or recordkeeper.

Professional investment advisors and co-fiduciaries

Employee benefit plans must meet certain requirements with regard to their investment offerings. For instance, the plan must allow participants to invest in a diversified portfolio. The plan may try to transfer some of these risks and employ the help of a professional investment advisor to help ensure the plan’s investment offerings meet such criteria. This could involve hiring either an ERISA 3(21) fiduciary or an ERISA 3(38) fiduciary. The former serves as an advisor and a co-fiduciary, but does not have any authority by themselves, while the latter is an investment manager and therefore authorized to select investments for the plan. Doing so may help demonstrate to regulators that a fiduciary has fulfilled their duty in this regard. Alternatively, a plan may hire a 3(16) Fiduciary. 3(16) Fiduciaries are individuals or organizations that are charged with running plans as the plan administrator. A company may be able to shift most of their fiduciary risk to such a fiduciary. 

In any case, the plan fiduciary must continue to monitor a 3(16), 3(21) or 3(38) advisor to make sure it is still prudent to use that advisor.

Bonding and fiduciary liability insurance

Bonding is required for most EB plans and does not protect the fiduciary from any risk. It does however protect the plan from fraud or dishonesty. On the other hand, fiduciary liability insurance can protect the fiduciary in the case of breach of fiduciary duty. This type of insurance is not required but is another option to transfer fiduciary risk.

As mentioned in our second article, much like owning a car, regular preventative maintenance can help you avoid the need for costly repairs. Plan fiduciaries should periodically refresh their understanding of ERISA requirements and re-evaluate their current and future business activities on an ongoing basis. Doing so will help mitigate any risks associated with non-compliance with the DOL and IRS and keep the plan running smoothly. 

Need help navigating the fiduciary road? Reach out to the BerryDunn employee benefit consulting team today.

1From Fidelity’s Plan Sponsor Webstation: Consequences of breach of fiduciary duties 

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Fiduciary risk: Five ways to control and reduce it

Read this if you are an employer that gives employee gifts.

The holiday season is officially in full swing! Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, many employers are looking for ways to recognize the dedication and hard work of their employees. This gratitude often comes in the form of a holiday gift of some fashion. While this generosity is well-intended, gifts to employees can be fraught with potential tax consequences organizations should be aware of. This article will attempt to demystify the rules surrounding employee gifts to ensure organizations and their employees have a joyous holiday season.

Holiday gifts: Taxable or not?

So, are holiday gifts to employees taxable? The answer, as is so often the case with tax questions, is it depends. The IRS is very clear that cash and cash equivalents (specifically including gift cards) are always included as taxable income when they are provided by the employer, regardless of amount, with no exceptions. This means that if you plan to give your employees cash or a gift card this year, the value must be included in the employees’ wages and is subject to all payroll taxes. Bah humbug indeed!

Nontaxable gift options

There are however, a few ways to make nontaxable gifts to employees. In each instance the gift must be noncash (nor convertible to cash). IRS Publication 15 offers a variety of examples of de minimis (minimal) benefits, defined as any property or service you provide to an employee that has a minimal value, making the accounting for it unreasonable and administratively impracticable. Examples include holiday or birthday gifts with a low market value (a card and flowers, fruit baskets, a box of chocolates, etc.), or occasional tickets for theater or sporting events, among others. Again, cash and cash equivalents never qualify. The key is that the gift must be occasional or unusual in its frequency and must not be a form of disguised compensation. While de minimis benefits can be a gray area, the IRS has generally deemed items with a value exceeding $100 as too large to qualify as de minimis.

Holiday gifts can also be nontaxable if they are in the form of a gift coupon, if given for a specific item (with no redeemable cash value). A common example would be issuing a coupon to your employee for a free ham or turkey redeemable at the local grocery store. Nontaxable employee gifts can also come in the form of achievement awards, either for length of service or for safety achievements. The proverbial gold watch upon retirement is a classic example of such a gift. Here too, the award must always be tangible personal property—never cash or a cash equivalent. There are additional rules and value thresholds on any such gift. Please contact a member of your tax team to discuss these specific details further.

Whether employers are considering supplying gift cards, turkeys, or something in between, we hope all find this guidance helpful and still in the giving spirit! Coincidentally, at the end of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer himself gives Bob Cratchit a turkey on Christmas day. Of course Mr. Scrooge would be aware of the potential tax consequences! We wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season!

Not-for-profit resources

If you are a not-for-profit organization receiving charitable gifts, read Donor Acknowledgements: We have to file what?

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What employers need to know before making gifts to employees