Category Archives: Education

The Importance of Skill Development

Ed Van Deman
By Education

“The tool is no better than the craftsperson!”

At Financial Navigator, it is just as important to us as it is to you that you are successful with our reporting platform. As we add the features you want and as the complexity of the family office software program increases, we accept the responsibility to assist your staff in increasing their proficiency. This article describes some of the options we have found to be most valuable to both principals and staff who operate our system.  

Knowledge and Skills Required

As a user of the Financial Navigator accounting and financial reporting platform, you know the breadth of the product. It enables you to manage the following areas:

In a small firm, you may have major responsibilities for all of these—and for seeing that the computer systems are updated appropriately. The fewer the staff in an office, the more expertise each member must have–and constantly improve–to keep the office working effectively.  

Of course, some staff within an office may well be able to provide helpful suggestions when, for example, a routine report shows unexpected results. Outside contractors, too, can solve problems. As long as these others are available and the staff can describe the problem that is occurring, work will proceed in a timely and efficient manner. The Technical Support Team at FNI supports all users regardless of their expertise; however, when your staff has the vocabulary to describe a problem and understand the solution proposed, our team is faster and more thorough in its assistance to you.  

Criteria for Selecting a Training Program

We understand the challenge of staff development. After all, you call us with your most difficult problems, and we have to be prepared to help you. So training our staff is extremely important for us. Perhaps the training solutions that work for us will work for you.

Two criteria loom large when we judge training programs for our staff: Make sure the material is easy to access and make sure it is excellent. Our stance is that the cost of the program is secondary to its quality.  

Online
For working professionals, computer-based, online learning makes sense. The materials can be studied at a time convenient for the person doing the course, in or outside the office.

The disadvantage of online training is that it is not always easy for the student to get answers to questions or encouragement to stick with the program. Designating another person in the office to serve as a mentor to the student can motivate both people. At FNI, senior professionals are encouraged to familiarize themselves with introductory programs just so they can serve as effective mentors for young staff.   

Well-Developed Curriculum
Materials must be current and relevant to a specific focus. Any high-quality program will define student learning goals clearly. It will include a test of those same goals at the conclusion of the program. Performing well on the final exam confirms to students that they have mastered the material they set out to learn.

If the program provides a certificate of completion, so much the better! Programs sponsored by recognized professional organizations may even motivate students to proceed faster and more seriously than those that do not have such backing.

Two Specific Training Programs

In addition to specific training in software systems, at Financial Navigator we focus our training on two additional areas, overall financial skills and IT staff skills.

Overall Financial Skills
To increase the expertise levels of entry-level professional staff seeking finance careers, we like the Investment Foundations certificate program developed by the CFA Institute. Read about the program.

IT Staff Skills
We also recommend the series of certificate programs developed by CompTIA (short for Computer Technology Industry Association). The entry course for the A+ certificate is effective in providing computer and networking skills that staff should master.  Many other courses in related areas of IT management are available for staff wanting to enhance their technical expertise. Read more on the A+ course.

Experience has shown us that a serious commitment to training and skill development of your staff is an invaluable investment from which you will reap many rewards.

 

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.”

Validating Your Credibility as a Professional

Monida Sieng
By Education

Earning a college degree in a specialized field shows a student’s ability to learn and understand the core concepts behind the subject. In the financial industry, a graduate must expand from just the basic understandings and concepts of the modern financial world. As the industry changes constantly and rapidly, the struggle to keep current can seem difficult and exhausting. However, we can maintain our expertise. We can stand out from the crowd by obtaining the knowledge and skill-sets needed to retain our credibility.

Credibility allows clients to take us seriously, to trust our opinions. We must be able to prove to them that they have chosen the right person to perform the task at hand. To do this, we must understand the issue and effectively communicate back. One of the key steps in making this possible and allowing the client to know that we have what it takes is to prove our professional competency.

What better way to prove that we are the right fit for the job than by obtaining the professional certificates pertinent to our career? A number of professional certification programs are offered to meet the flexibility and convenience of our schedule. Some of these take years to complete while others require only a couple of months. One of the programs I find suitable for any entry-level professional is the CFA Institute’s Investment Foundations.

The Investment Foundation program is a global educational certificate offering a clear basic understanding of the investment industry. The program was designed for people with or without background knowledge about the financial world. It allows those with little knowledge to develop a framework for understanding the vocabulary and institutions within the financial realm. It gives those who already have such an understanding the confidence to identify key issues and develop sound opinions.

Whether we are an accountant, financial analyst or even an information technology expert, the program allows us to become more comfortable with speaking to clients and colleagues regarding topics in finance. Since it provides a clear explanation of industry functions and structure, it enables us to work more effectively in our roles, build stronger relationships and raise our professional competence.

The program is divided into seven modules, as indicated in the chart below:

The program is available free of charge on the CFA Institute’s webpage after registering for an account. However, to receive the certificate, a person must pay an examination fee of $250, a worthwhile cost, in my opinion.

We all know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Completing the program and obtaining the certificate are actions that will increase our competence and add credibility to the words we speak.

FinTech Trends

Ed Van Deman
By Education, Technology

We pride ourselves on being a solutions-oriented family office software company so it is not surprising that our newsletters address such varied topics as private data centers, efficiency tools for the family office, and disaster recovery procedures. Today, however, let’s step back from operational issues and take a broad look at some “big picture” trends in our home space of technology and financial management, also known as the “FinTech” industry.

FinTech Growing

The FinTech sector is red hot, with the Venture Capital community funding many new entrants to this field. These new players are taking advantage of the latest technological advancements in Cloud Computing and Big Data to offer new services like “robo advisory” portfolio management, investment analytics including risk metrics, data aggregation and much more. Such developments present excellent opportunities for us to integrate our bedrock services with these new innovations, in order to continue to add value for our family office clients.

Push for the Comprehensive Product

With the advent of such new technology, it is possible to do more with one product. Efficiencies can be achieved by integrating with other systems that provide complementary capabilities like bill payments, document management, customer relationship management, etc. We clearly see this trend and are working to include as much functionality as we can.

The World Is Flat

There was a time when the United States led the world both as developers and users of financial technology. That is no longer true. Many parts of the world are now just as sophisticated as the U.S. and want the same data management tools to address their financial reporting concerns. At the same time, software developers in other parts of the world are also creating excellent products for their local markets. They seek broader distribution opportunities and see the U.S. as an attractive market to enter. These dynamics increase the choices available to clients while keeping downward pressure on prices.

Outsourcing Is In

Cloud Computing has revolutionized FinTech in terms of matching talent with requirements. The need to find local talent is gone and so is the need to relocate. Now you can easily access skilled personnel far away from your physical location. Having a well-trained, in-house software development staff is one solution. But, there is no need to stop there. Another approach is to outsource part of the task to an outside consultant who works for only a limited time to address a specific issue. Likewise, you can use an outside staff person to perform on-going record keeping and produce reports. This person could work for an accounting firm or have their own practice. Any of these arrangements can be successful, as long as they meet the needs of all the parties involved.

Security Never Sleeps

As products become more comprehensive and operate in a remote environment, the need for security grows even more. Fortunately, the power of the environment can be used to protect your data. Data encryption, private virtual networks, and two-factor authentication are just a few of the system-based measures that can be utilized to ensure privacy. As technology continues to evolve, this issue will remain in constant focus for the entire FinTech industry for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

The emergence of new technology may be exciting, but it does not guarantee any benefit to the customer. Customer utility will ultimately determine which developments are truly viable and which are merely interesting.

Much of our corporate attention is therefore directed to improving product functionality in order to make our clients’ work lives better. Rest assured, however, that we also remain alert to developments in the overall FinTech industry. Only by doing so can we continue to chart a course to future success for our family office softwareCPAs serving high net worth clients and our Company.

7 Steps for Closing out the Year and Creating a (Happier) New Year

Rosalina Lopez
By Education, Family Office

First published Nov. 16, 2015. Updated Nov. 11, 2016

Tips for improving your internal year-end procedures

As the current year winds down, it is a good time to look ahead. We are always trying to help our family office software and accounting users increase their efficiency, so here are some tips for improving your internal year-end procedures for closing out the books and creating a new year in Financial Navigator 9.5. Please note the order of the following steps is simply a suggestion and could vary for some users.

  1. Reconciliation
  2. Enter Adjusting Entries
  3. Test and Correct Files
  4. Limit Access with Closed Period
  5. Create a Backup
  6. Begin a New Year
  7. Re-Update Starting Balances

Step 1: Reconciliation

Verify all your bank, broker and credit card accounts as of December 31st, or as of the end of your Fiscal Year, by ensuring all transactions are entered and then reconciling Financial Navigator’s records to the statement from the bank or custodian.

Of course, many users may need to begin the new year before completing their reconciliations for all the accounts, but there should at least be a priority on reconciling those accounts with the most outstanding transactions, like checking accounts. This will allow you to identify the outstanding items and transfer them to the new year, where you can track them as they clear.

Step 2: Enter Adjusting Entries

Enter adjusting entries as of the end of the year. These transactions include accrued items, bond amortization adjustments, depreciation, etc. Other adjustments, such as tax and K1 income adjustments, may be entered either in: (a) the new year, as the information is received; or (b) the prior year, and you can carry forward the revised ending balances by using our Update Starting Balances feature. Please refer to Step 7 of this article to find more information on how to change prior years.

Step 3: Test and Correct Files

Run the utility “Test and Correct Files” to correct any corrupted data before creating a new year.  This utility can easily be found in the drop-down menu under “Utilities” from the main Financial Navigator menu.

The Test and Correct Files utility re-computes the account balances for the current year by summarizing all the transactions.  Any errors caused by unsupported changes to account balances will be eliminated when this utility is run.  It is also a good idea to run this test periodically throughout the year.  Of course, you should always create a backup file of the entity’s data before you run this utility.

For instructions on how to run Test and Correct Files, please see Testing and Correcting Files in our online Customer Support Center.

fni-fn95-410Step 4: Limit Access with Closed Period

Utilize our “Closed Period” feature to lock the year and prevent any further changes. This function will disable the transactions grid, so no further entries or changes can be made to the closed year.  However, the user will still be able to see all transactions for that year.

This function can be found in the drop-down menu under “Transactions” from Financial Navigator’s main menu.

For instructions on how to set Closed Periods, please refer to Setting Closed Periods in FNI’s online Customer Support Center.

Step 5: Create a Backup

Create a backup file for each entity by using the “Back Up” function and then store them in a safe place, preferably off-site.  Backing up your entities at the end of each year, and periodically throughout the year, will protect you from losing data in case something unexpected happens to your network or computer.

The Back Up function is located in the drop-down menu under “File” from the Financial Navigator main menu.

For instructions on how to create a backup file, please read Backing Up Entity Data in our online Customer Support Center.

Step 6: Begin the New Year

Create the new year by using the “Begin a New Year” function to transfer your information from the current year to the new year.  You do not have to worry about making closing entries since our system automatically performs this tedious process.  In Financial Navigator, creating a new year includes, but is not limited, to the following:

  • Transferring balances of asset and liability accounts
  • Zeroing out income and expense accounts
  • Adding the old year’s net income to either a cumulative or a separate net income equity line item
  • Transferring last year’s budget or actual amounts to serve as a budget for the new year
  • Transferring outstanding transactions

The system also performs many other actions automatically when creating a new year.  For a complete list, please see Beginning a New Year in our online Customer Support Center.

This function can be found in the drop-down menu under “Utilities” from Financial Navigator’s main menu.

Step 7: Re-Update Starting Balances

Because users often need to make monthly payments in the new year or to just continue with their day-to-day work, it is common to create a new year in Financial Navigator before all the above steps have been completed for the old year. In such a case, when all the above steps are finally completed, the old year’s ending balances may have changed from what they were when the new year was initially created.

The utility function “Update Starting Balances and Update Asset & Liability Info” will enable you to update the starting balances for the new year to the proper amounts if the prior year’s ending balances have changed.  This function is located in the drop-down menu under “Utilities” from the main Financial Navigator menu.

For instructions on how to use this function, please refer to Updating Starting Balances in our online Customer Support Center.

We hope the above tips help you to avoid problems and achieve a smooth transition when closing out the current year and starting a new one in 2016.