Author Archives: Daniel Serrano

Improving Your IT Skills

Daniel Serrano
By Education

An important concern when helping clients troubleshoot their software is minimizing down time. And rightly so. Accountants need to enter a great number of transactions into their systems, they need to create reports, and they also need to meet deadlines. In order to resolve an issue quickly, the user of the software and the technician must engage in efficient communications. A user who has a basic understanding of Information Technology (IT) and accounting increases the efficiency of the communications and therefore increases productivity. In my opinion, this is why a well-rounded and life-long education is imperative.

Technology continues to become a greater part of everyday life in most professions, and professionals must adapt or get left behind. Fortunately, multiple resources are available over the internet to be used for self-study. I personally do not think certification in IT is important unless IT is your career path. Learning the material is much more important.

A few resources for self-study are these:

CompTIA.com

While the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) offers a variety of IT certifications, the A+ certification is designed to guarantee a level of knowledge and skills in people needing at least a minimum of  IT expertise. The training, recognized globally, is described as enabling a certificate holder “to manage, maintain, troubleshoot, install, operate and configure office computing equipment; describe computing technologies and basic principles; adhere to professional standards; and use testing tools.” The subject matter of the A+ certification is more than enough for an accountant, and it is a basic requirement for IT professionals.

Currently, CompTIA’s website does not provide direct training or self-study material. Instead, it provides links to its training partners. While these training partners have the most up-to-date materials, registration and purchase are required to access them.

YouTube.com

An amazing amount of content is available on YouTube. The site is a great resource for individuals who do not need a certification but have a desire to learn. The disadvantage of using YouTube as a self-study tool is finding the videos; all the reviews of the A+ certification are unavoidable. Nevertheless, there are several CompTIA A+ course videos that cover IT fundamentals and there is also an interesting brief history on how IT has evolved over the years.

ProfessorMesser.com

Another excellent site for both non-IT and entry-level IT professionals is ProfessorMesser.com. No filtering of material is necessary since the site is dedicated to IT training. It provides free videos for several of the CompTIA certifications, including A+. Downloadable content is also available for a flat fee.

If you have a passion for learning, as I do, or if you would like to increase your productivity by minimizing down time, I recommend that you take advantage of these resources. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”

7 Benefits of a Private Data Center

Daniel Serrano
By Technology

Given the constant evolution of technology, we should all be on the lookout for ways to improve how we do our work. Often this means replacing an old system and moving to a new approach that will increase speed and efficiency. As a family office software and technology provider, we believe it is helpful for us to recommend new solutions to our family office clients and trust and estate managers when we find an innovation we think can benefit them.

Earlier this year we wrote that using a Private Data Center was a better, more reliable way for certain FN 9.5 clients to meet their computing needs. In light of the outstanding success some clients have experienced with this approach over the last few months, we thought it was worthwhile to bring this idea to your attention again.

What is a Private Data Center (PDC)?

In its basic form, a PDC is a collection of servers in a remote location that provides all the computing power a client requires. All of your software applications (such as Financial Navigator, Microsoft Office, database, email, etc.) and data files are stored at the private data center and are accessed via a reliable Internet connection. This method of network management is powerful because a virtually unlimited number of servers can be utilized to support the applications you need to run.  

How is It Better?

The following are seven benefits we have seen our clients gain from this approach:

1. Fully Remote Access
Clients really enjoy the ease and convenience of being able to use their programs and data from any location that offers Internet access. And anywhere means anywhere in the world: main office, remote office, accounting office, home office, vacation home, hotel, car, yacht. Because all the computing is done at the PDC, this is equally true for Mac users and Windows users. The result is that no one needs to carry backup files of data or to install programs on multiple computers.    

2. All Applications in One Place
Certain offices run some applications on the desktop, others off the local server and still more in the cloud. Because access protocols and security procedures differ for each source, confusion and frustration can easily result. All of these conflicts go away, however, when you use a PDC to host all your applications. With the PDC, there is one log-in and one set of security procedures. This allows you to easily share data between apps (e.g. export from Financial Navigator to an Excel spreadsheet, open up the spreadsheet with Excel, modify it, print it, attach it to an email message and send it – all from one virtual PDC desktop). Life is simpler and users are happier.  

3. Faster Processing than Older Networks
Users who have experienced a decline in the speed of running FN 9.5 on their own in-house networks find a Private Data Center completely solves this problem. If you have very large data files or generate data-intensive reports that take several minutes to run, using a PDC will greatly speed up your work. In fact, for some clients this was the main reason they switched to the PDC solution. The time savings they achieved resulted not only in increased efficiency for their staff, but also in improved employee morale.

4. Enhanced Data Security
We all know the importance of maintaining your servers with the latest security upgrades and patches to defend against virus attacks, ransomware or other malware. The looming risk of a data breach from a hacker attack is also ever-present. The PDC provides you with the highest level of protection available against such threats. In the past few years, data in small businesses and home offices has become more vulnerable to hackers because the hackers are increasingly automated while the technology security of small and medium sized businesses has evolved little. In contrast, in a PDC environment, security is regularly audited and certified by third parties and consistently improved to meet threats. The PDC’s rigorous enforcement of its state-of-the-art security protocols provides peace of mind that is hard to duplicate if you alone are responsible for securing your internal network.

5. Data Backup and Disaster Recovery
Everyone understands the critical need for procedures that ensure we maintain backup copies of data files in the event of a disaster or hardware system crash. Despite mandating such precautions, there can still be a gnawing unease about whether these procedures are being properly followed for your in-house network. That worry goes away with a PDC. The sheer number of servers in a major data center requires that its back-up procedures be automatically performed and routinely verified. For extra protection, your data is also encrypted and copies are saved in a geographically-remote data center. (For more information read our article on how we have prepared for Disaster Recovery at Financial Navigator, Inc.)

6. Reduced Pain of Lost/Stolen Laptop
One of the worst things that can happen in your technology world is if your laptop is lost or stolen. Not only is it a huge inconvenience, but important data can be compromised. Further, configuring a new laptop can take many hours of high priced consultant labor. In contrast, with a PDC environment, your laptop does not have data or application software on it, so those items do not need to be replaced. As a result, you can be back in operation quickly, cheaply and with no risk of data breach.

7. Improved Infrastructure Support
In any computing environment there will be times when it is necessary for a technical support person to have access to the server where the applications are running.  In the on-premises IT environment, this often means an expensive technician trip to your office or a waste of your time, sometimes after hours, coordinating access. With a PDC, these costs are not required because the environment is designed from the ground up to be served remotely. The advantage is that the technical support team can do their work more efficiently and can do it in the off hours, when you are not using the applications.   

For More Information

These are just a few of the benefits enjoyed by our clients who use a private data center instead of an on-premises solution. If any of these interest you, or if you would like to learn more, please contact us.  Call 800-468-3636 or email us at: customersupport@finnav.com.

We will be happy to answer your questions and can even connect you with a company that provides this service for some of our clients.

Tax Season Procedures for Family Offices

Daniel Serrano
By Family Office

While the exertions of 2016’s Tax Season are still fresh in your mind, now is a good time to take stock of the year-end reporting procedures you recently followed. The sheer volume of work at that time of year can sometimes feel overwhelming. To assist you next year, we offer some ideas to help keep you organized and to simplify your review process. The goal is to stay on-track and in control.

We believe Financial Navigator’s built-in reports, guides and features allow you to more easily manage the recurring challenge of Tax Season, next year and thereafter, if you follow the checklist of action steps below:

Year-End Family Office Tax Procedures:

  1. Backup the Database – Make a backup copy of the entire .mdb database in the root FN directory, to ensure the safety of your data.
  2. Balancing of Data File – Set Financial Navigator (FN) to Test Mode by double clicking the FN logo on the opening screen, then hitting the keyboard key “T” and clicking OK to both modal pop-ups. Under the Utilities dropdown menu in FN, first run the Compact and Repair Database option, then run the Test & Correct Files option for All of the Above.  Doing so will eliminate any errors the system catches.
  3. Reconcile Accounts – Run the Reconciliation Statement under the File dropdown menu in all journals to speed up the system’s processing.
  4. Check FMV, Cost Basis, and Unrealized Gains – Run the Cost Basis Balance Sheet report to display all three of these values for easy viewing.
  5. Check Private Equity and other Long-Term Investments – Run the Private Equity Investment Analysis and Long-Term Investment reports to display all related assets at once.
  6. Check Balances of All Other Accounts – Make sure the balance of your Unrealized Gains/Losses is zero in the Cost Basis column of the Cost Basis Balance Sheet report.
  7. Check Capital Gains and Losses – Run the Income Statement report and compare gains/losses to the broker statements and the Schedule D – Capital Gains and Losses report.
  8. Check Income and Expense Accounts – Run the Income Statement report to compare dividends, interest, expenses, and other amounts to broker statements.
  9. Review Chart of Accounts and Qualifiers – Check to see that your Qualifiers and Account Tax Codes are consistent for all grouped accounts in the Chart of Accounts report.  
  10. Review Performance Reports – Review the Security Performance Summary, Security Return vs. Indexes, and Security Growth vs. Indexes reports and confirm that all investment returns, contributions, withdrawals, and unrealized gains/losses appear reasonable.
  11. Review Consolidated Statements – Run the Consolidating Summary Balance Sheet and the Income Statement reports for each family, to ensure categories are consistent across entities and that all Due To/From Affiliates, Trust Receipts/Distributions, and Contribution to IRA accounts self-eliminate to zero.
  12. Review Transfer Clearing Account balances – Search for non-zero amounts.

Before preparing the corporate tax documents, download the FN Reference Guide (available at the FN Support Center) and review the Tax Schedules, such as Form 1040 Summary and Schedules A through F (p. 293). See below a list of items that will improve the efficiency of running these reports:

  1. Review Chart of Accounts and Tax Codes: Get information on how making changes to the Chart of Accounts and to Account Tax Codes affect reports needed for tax purposes (p.35 and p.76).
  2. Review Qualifiers: See how making changes to Qualifiers can affect reports needed for tax purposes (p.299).
  3. Review Deferred Tax Rate: Find information on how to change the Deferred Tax Rate (p.286).
  4. Review reporting options for Tax Planning purposes: Discover how to best use the options for Budgets and for Projected Amounts in reports (p.299).

Information from the following reports can also be useful when preparing corporate tax documents:

  • 12 Month Income Statement
  • 12 Month Balance Sheet
  • 12 Month Cash Flows
  • Summary Income Statement
  • Summary Balance Sheet  
  • Summary Cash Flows
  • Summary Trial Balances

While last year’s tax season is still fresh in your mind, think about these procedures relative to the family office accounting work you did. Would following these procedures make your work go better? If so, make a commitment now to do a better job next year.

Don’t worry. We will remind you with the above list again before the next tax season starts. Look for our newsletter coming out just after the year-end of 2016.

As always, Happy Navigating!

Faris Masarweh
Business Development Associate  

Editor’s Note: For an in-depth checklist of other procedures, contact our support team by emailing customersupport@finnav.com.

Further Tax Reading

family-office-sample-tax-reports

 

Tax Schedule Reports
Simplify income tax preparation and gain insights for income tax planning. Transfer tax information directly to tax preparation software for a streamlined solution.

Three Steps to Efficient Technical Support

Daniel Serrano
By Education

Because we understand the critical importance of customer support, Financial Navigator encourages users to contact us whenever you have a question about our family office software or how it works. It only takes a few minutes to ensure you are handling an issue the right way, which is far better than forging ahead and possibly creating a tangle of confusion.

You can help make the process quick and easy. By taking the following steps before you contact our Technical Support department, you could significantly reduce the amount of time required to resolve your issue.

Step 1: What’s the Problem?

Letting our support team know as many details as possible about the problem you are experiencing will speed up the process tremendously. Some questions to consider are:

  1. When did the problem first start occurring?
  2. Is there an error message that pops up in connection with your problem?
  3. Does the problem happen in only one specific entity or in multiple entities?
  4. What actions were taken in Financial Navigator (“FN”) just before this problem occurred?
  5. What actions were taken in FN immediately afterward (if any) to try to solve the problem?
  6. Do you know where your FN database is located on your system?
  7. Can you recreate the problem if asked to?
  8. How are you hosting Financial Navigator? Is it located on a local server, external server, in the cloud, etc.?

There is also some information you might need to get from your IT team, such as:

  1. Do you have administrative access on your computer?
  2. Are there any restrictions to being able to log into an FTP server?
  3. Can a third party, like Financial Navigator, remote into your system via GoToMeeting?
  4. Have any restrictions been placed on the root FN directory?
  5. Are your User Account Control settings as low as possible?

Step 2: Back Up Your Database

Before calling in for support, always back up your FN database, in order to save and protect your most recent work.

In fact, we strongly recommend that you routinely back up your whole FN directory. This will need to be done internally, so contact your company’s IT team if necessary. Backing up your computer’s files on a daily basis is an important practice for everyone.

Step 3: Prepare for GoToMeeting®

GoToMeeting is a web-hosted service created by Citrix Systems® for online meetings, desktop sharing, and video conferencing. Our support team utilizes GoToMeeting every day for training, support calls and to solve user problems. To make sure that logging onto GoToMeeting will be fast and easy for you, download the GoToMeeting launcher to your computer.

Now, you will be ready if we need to remote into your computer to see its desktop. If so, we will ask you to go to this website: www.joingotomeeting.com, which will present the screen below:

goto-meeting-screen

To start an online meeting, our customer service representative will provide you with a 9-digit code to type into the “Meeting ID” box, indicated above. We have found that using a headset via your computer provides the best sound clarity for these meetings. Alternatively, however, you can call in with your telephone, using the phone number that will be provided on the screen by GoToMeeting. Either way, you will be connected and able to show us where you are having a problem.

Your time is valuable, so we want to be as efficient as we can. By taking these three steps ahead of time, you will enable our support team to address your technical problem as quickly as possible, to get you back on track as soon as we can.

Financial Technology Survey Results

Daniel Serrano

family-office-financial-technology-survey-results-thumbStaying close to our customers is a critical component for success in fulfilling our company mission. One of the tools we use to keep an open dialogue with current and prospective clients is a survey that allows us to poll a broad range of people in our target market.

Responses to these survey questions provide us with insight into customers’ changing attitudes, preferences, needs and challenges.

The Survey

Earlier this year, we conducted a survey in partnership with the Institute for Private Investors (IPI). We asked IPI members about the financial technology needs of private investors. Here are a few of the major findings from that survey, as well as our response to each:

1. User Satisfaction

Of those polled, the overall satisfaction rate with their current software solution was not high. In fact, almost two-thirds (64.3%) of family offices were only mildly satisfied with the financial technology systems they currently use.

Our Response

There is always room for improvement, but knowing that the next version of our software will provide significant upgrades in terms of both feature set and ease of use tells us we are on the right track. Continuing to enhance and simplify the user experience is the best way for us to satisfy our clients’ needs.

2. Most Important Features

The two most important software product features cited by family office executives were:

  • Better consolidated reporting across all asset classes (Requested by 78.6% of survey respondents)
  • Ability to evaluate the performance of investment managers (Requested by over 75% of survey respondents)

Our Response

These survey results are very exciting for us to see, since the ability to provide consolidated reporting has been part of our software’s core competency for decades. Plus, we long ago provided tools that allow users to measure the results of an investment manager and then compare them to the performance of other managers or to market or custom indices. This attention to the needs of family office users is a hallmark of our software and allows us to develop solutions to help our customers with the challenges they face now and in the future.

3. The Cloud

The security of Cloud Computing is a hot topic, so it was interesting to see that 16.7% of family offices said they had no plans to use Cloud Computing due to their fear of security breaches, while an equal amount said they use the Cloud now and are comfortable with its security. Another 8.3% are also using the Cloud currently, but do have reservations about its security. The biggest group however, 58.3%, has not yet formed an opinion. They are either seriously considering a switch to the Cloud, or are at least planning to evaluate the option.

Our Response

These survey results are very consistent with the experience we have seen first-hand. There is clearly interest in Cloud Computing. However, most users still need to be convinced it will be as safe as the current systems they are using.

Full Results

The above discussion is just a quick overview of the survey’s results. A complete explanation of the findings is available in a 9-page summary found on our Financial Navigator Resource Center in the Family Office Management section.

We hope this information is as helpful to you as it is to us.

Editor’s Note: We are always interested in your comments and feedback. You can write to us at: editor@finnav.com.