Covid

Paperless-ish Office and Excel Detectives

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
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Client management

The pandemic has brought many American mainstays to the brink: the movie theater, the department store, the salad bar.

Anyway, I can’t say this for sure, but I have to imagine that at least a few accountants were silently hoping to say goodbye to another stalwart that has been a hassle for decades: the paper office. Finally, the pandemic would force everyone to get comfortable doing everything online and put the need for paper copies and in-person meetings to collect physical signatures to rest for good. More efficiency! Less waste!

Nope:

[T]he biggest tech problem for Enrolled Agent John Dundon, president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colorado, has been “really an introspection into human nature” — convincing established clients of the safety of encrypted file transfer portals and applications for e-signing. “My older clients prefer to conduct tax form review and signature in person and it’s been an uphill struggle,” he said. 


I doubt Mr. Dundon reads this newsletter, but I’m curious as to what he’s specifically been contemplating about human nature. If it were me, the thing that I’d be trying to figure out is: Why are my clients more worried about the security of the internet than a deadly virus? I know for some people the act of signing a tax return every year is like taking a little bit of their heart, but still! I admit that cybersecurity is complex and not easy to understand, but at least it’s not potentially lethal

Excel detectives

I’m sure many of you are Excel wizards, and while it is an essential tool for you, you don’t really make a living from that wizardry. Not, at least, like these “Excel warriors saving the world from spreadsheet disaster”:

David Lyford-Smith is an expert at solving spreadsheet mysteries. Once, in a previous job, he was sent a payroll form to look over for a new starter. It had the number 40,335 in a random box, and payroll wasn’t clear why it was there. “So they assumed it was a joining bonus for the employee and drew up a draft pay slip with a £40,335 bonus,” he says. But, when it comes to spreadsheets, assumptions can be costly.

Lyford-Smith isn’t just a spreadsheet enthusiast. He’s the technical manager for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), running its Excel community group — and as such has always been suspicious of numbers in that range. “That’s how Excel stores dates, as serial numbers,” he says. He was right: that wasn’t a generous signing bonus, but the new hire’s starting date.

The whole article is a gem, and I’m sure it will inspire at least a few of you to give up your day job, buy a vintage van, grab your dog and a few of your Excel friends to drive around and solve Excel mysteries. If so, I fully support you.

A note of caution, however: There’s a noticeable lack of Excel villains. So you and the rest of Excel Mystery Inc. might be disappointed if you are looking forward to yanking a mask off the mastermind who exclaims, “I would’ve gotten that £40,335 bonus if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids.”

Unsolicited life advice: Eat a weird peanut butter sandwich

Alright, now before any of you smash that reply button to yell at me about your child’s peanut allergy, I see you. I recognize and respect that you cannot have any Skippy, Jif, or Justin’s packs within 10 square miles of your kitchen. To you, peanut butter is the devil’s brew, and I sympathize. My oldest daughter won’t touch the stuff, so maybe she knows something I don’t?

Be that as it may, many of us do like peanut butter, so I feel that it is incumbent upon me to recommend to the other PB people subscribing to this newsletter the wonderfully bizarre combination of the PB&…pickle. We’re probably going to be stuck inside all winter, so live a little and ditch your raspberry or strawberry jam—or, God forbid, grape jelly—and find a new favorite twist on an old classic:

[T]here’s a consistent but low-level Internet buzz about the [peanut butter & pickle sandwich], just as there is about the other unlikely things people like to marry with peanut butter and place between bread slices: mayonnaise, olives, thick onion slices (this was Hemingway’s favorite sandwich), horseradish, bacon, Marmite (in England) and Vegemite (in Australia), to name but a few.

Okay, two things: 1) The Hemingway thing checks out, and 2) you must use bread and butter pickles. I know that this recommendation will disgust the dill pickle people just as much as the households with peanut allergies, but just think about it. The sweet pickles contrast the savory peanut butter perfectly. The mere thought of dill pickles combined with peanut butter makes me shudder. Sub the peanut butter and bread with bourbon, and then you’ll have something, obviously.

If the PB&P is too much to bear, then the other combinations listed may be worth trying, but you’ll have to tell me how the olives work out. I’m not going near that one.

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Updated: January 21, 2021

Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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