How California's new privacy and contractor laws could affect you

We dive deep into two laws that took effect January 1: 1) California's Consumer Privacy Act and 2) AB-5, which reclassifies many independent contractors as employees. Even if you aren't based in California, these laws could affect you or your firm, especially if you do business or employ California residents. Also, Moss Adams reported a data breach, Receipt Bank raised $73 million, Google has developed an AI system that can match or outperform radiologists, how to keep your customers for a decade or longer, small businesses are generally getting hosed by terrible interest rates on business loans, what's up at FASB, and how much it should cost to run finance as a percentage of revenue.



OnPay is offering an exclusive promo code only for the listeners of The Cloud Accounting Podcast to get three free months of OnPay payroll service for any of your clients that you set up by February of 2020! Visit the sponsor link, and use code "CAP3FREE" to take advantage of this offer!

Show Notes
  • 01:48 – When it comes to staying organized, there’s only OneNote for Blake
  • 04:24 – This one time, at Pod Camp ... David’s reminiscing about the early days of podcasting
  • 06:00 – Laws, laws, everywhere – We talk about what’s new for 2020 in California - Assembly Bill 5, and the California Consumer Privacy Act
  • 10:31 – Who's gonna drive you home? Uber argues that they’re not “really” a ride service
  • 13:34 – Time to get your CPA? Certain recognized professions, such as accounting, may be exempt from the AB 5 requirements
  • 14:23 – A refresher on European data protection laws | European Commission 
  • 16:48 – The devil’s in the data – just how much data will businesses be required to provide to consumers? | NYT Bits Newsletter
  • 21:11 – Multifactor authentication, anyone? Moss Adams is the latest to report a data breach | Accounting Today
  • 25:27 – Receipt Bank rakes in $73M in new funding with an eye towards tackling the US market | Enterprise Times
  • 27:58 – Show me your AI … Google’s latest AI innovation targets breast cancer detection | WSJ 
  • 32:15 – Face value – H&R Block targets our need for personal interaction with its new software offering | Accounting Today
  • 34:01 – Top tips for 10-year Customers here | SaaStr
  • 34:33 – Apparently, accounting clients do not have commitment issues! | Accounting Today
  • 37:06 – There’s gotta be better way than a 100-percent interest rate on small-biz loan! biz | PYMNTS 
  • 39:02 – They’re going the distance – the IRS updates 2020 mileage rate |Small Business Trends
  • 39:13 – Perhaps the FASB fears change? WSJ
  • 40:31 – In the meantime, however, this is what FASB’s working on for 2020 | WSJ 
  • 43:21 – Big Four, Big Tech, Big To-Do About Nothing? | Bloomberg Tax 
  • 46:46 – Stats abound 
  • 50:20 – Stayed tuned! Predictions are coming! Really! Before the end of the year! We promise! 
Get in Touch

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Blake Oliver:
Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver.
David Leary: And I'm David Leary. Happy New Year, Blake! 
Blake Oliver: Happy New Year to you, David. Did you stay up and watch the fireworks at midnight?
David Leary: No, I was in bed by 11:30.
Blake Oliver: I actually did. I didn't intend to, but I was up at midnight and then immediately asleep. The annoying thing here, in California, is that [00:00:30] all the stations delay all the coverage so that you can't do that. They want you to stay up and watch the whole thing, but if you stream it from your phone to your TV, you can get around that.
David Leary: Oh, I should have done that, because that's what we noticed is they actually stopped coverage. You don't even get to see the ball drop in New York City. They stopped coverage completely. They showed Dr. Oz or something. Then they turn it back on later on in the evening.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: It used to get beyond the whole evening. I don't know ... 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, no, they want you to stay up and watch so they can sell more ads. 
David Leary: There [00:01:00] was only ads for Planet Fitness though ...
Blake Oliver: The whole Times Square is Planet Fitness No Judgment Zone. Everybody's wearing the stupid hats. You're waiting ... You're standing on your feet for 12 hours or more in Times Square in freezing weather to be a billboard for a mediocre gym. Why would anyone do this?
David Leary: But, if Planet Fitness wants to sponsor The Cloud Accounting Podcast, we're more than happy to allow you to do that. I'll wear that hat. 
Blake Oliver: We're [00:01:30] a 'No Judgment Zone' podcast here. No judgment. Meanwhile, of course, all of our accountant friends are entering busy season, so all of those diet and exercise resolutions ... I never did it when I was in practice because I just- I'm too stressed out. Although- 
David Leary: You just can't commit.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, exactly. Probably a good thing. Well, anyway, I have something new that I'm doing this year, which is, as I tend to do, I have switched note-taking applications yet again. So, I'm back to OneNote because [00:02:00] Evernote couldn't do it for me; Google Keep couldn't do it for me; I even tried Notion - - didn't work. I'm back to my good old OneNote.
David Leary: I think, back in the day, when I was looking at OneNote, it was still just on your machine only, and that was one of the reasons I went with Evernote because it was in the cloud, and just whatever device I picked up, my stuff was there. OneNote, I am assuming now, with Office 365, is just the same way. Whatever you pick up, your notes are there. 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, it syncs to OneDrive, and it's on your phone, your tablet, [00:02:30] your laptop; it's in the cloud. I think there's a cloud  you can access via the web. There's a clipper for Google Chrome. So, yeah, it works fine. It works great. So, I got all my articles here, organized in OneNote, and I'm ready to go.
David Leary: But you're a Google Apps guy, not an Office 365 guy, so how does this work in your world, being a OneNote guy and a Google Apps or Google Office guy? 
Blake Oliver: So, this is great, David. You may not have noticed, being a Microsoft guy, but Microsoft had [00:03:00] a huge change of philosophy. I think it was with the new CEO; I forget his name ... Nadella, I think, is his last name. When he came in, he said, "We're not gonna be at war anymore, essentially, with Google." Now, you can actually get your Google- you can connect Outlook to Google. I can connect- even though Jirav on Google, and I personally am on Google, I could actually use Outlook. I connect, I authorize, and [00:03:30] all the Microsoft products work with my Google stuff.
David Leary: Is it the same the other way? If I just wanna quit using my browser and put my email back in Outlook on my desktop, I can connect to my Gmail account? 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, that's what I did.
David Leary: Ohhh ... 
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: I'm switching back! This is the whole new world. I'm switching back to my Office stack, 100 percent.
Blake Oliver: You like to talk about this in the world of accounting, David ... The companies that are doing it right aren't fighting each other anymore; they're integrating, right? 
David Leary: Yeah, exactly.
Blake Oliver: You gotta play nice if you wanna succeed in this world. So, I'm very happy.
David Leary: Speaking [00:04:00] of playing nice, I noticed you tagged me on Facebook, or Facebook alerted you that we've been in 20 photos together.
Blake Oliver: Yes, we've been tagged in 20 photos together, so I reposted that suggestion, and I said, "10 years ago, if you'd told me I'd be hosting the number-one accounting and bookkeeping podcast with David Leary, I woulda laughed in your face." Then, Hector Garcia posted a comment and said, "More like I would've asked, 'What's a podcast?'" 
David Leary: Well, that prompted me because I was like, "I'm pretty sure, a decade ago, I wanted to do a podcast." So, I went on Twitter and there was a podcast [00:04:30] camp that was in Phoenix, November 20, 2009. So, I went and found this old tweet. It's funny because the short URLs in this tweet don't work, so I don't know who I was talking about, but I'll read my tweet. It says, "Here are some sites I spoke about at Pod Camp AZ - Cloud Computing Session ..." So, I spoke about cloud computing in November of 2009, but I don't know what I spoke about because the links don't link to anything anymore. It's a URL shortener that no longer exists.
Blake Oliver: I'm really impressed. I mean, you were a super early adopter [00:05:00] of podcasting to be at a podcast camp 10 years ago? Wow! And it finally happened.
David Leary: I might even have a shirt. I'm gonna have to check around. But it was bad ... I would wear that shirt around, and people would be like, "What the hell's that?" Even then ... Maybe I don't even have the shirt anymore. I might've threw it away because I'd get sick of people asking about it; like, "What's Pod Camp?" 
Blake Oliver: Well-
David Leary: Now, they just ask, "What's The Cloud Accounting Podcast?"
Blake Oliver: That's right. People know what podcasts are. Something like 20 percent of Americans listen to [00:05:30] podcasts on a weekly basis now. Pretty good number. I think 40 to 50 percent have listened to podcasts at some point. 
David Leary: Should we jump in? I have some news this week. I've been promising about the predictions, and I went through lots of prediction articles and pulled out, really, you know, the important parts of these predictions that exist out there. 
Blake Oliver: So, we definitely wanna get to predictions, but I'm thinking, first, we should touch some of the new laws that came into effect on January 1 here in California.
David Leary: That's a good start point, and then jump into news. Makes [00:06:00] sense.
Blake Oliver: Because it's just in California, but it's affecting businesses all over the country because so many businesses sell to Californians or have Californians' data. The two laws that we need to talk about are the California Consumer Privacy Act, also known as the CCPA. That took effect on January 1. There's also Assembly Bill 5- AB 5, which reclassifies independent contractors into employees [00:06:30] and specifically was targeting the gig economy,  like Uber and Lyft.
David Leary: That, we've talked about before on the show. So, that actually goes into effect, or went into effect January 1 - the gig worker one? 
Blake Oliver: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Actually, this is one that, if you have clients in California employing contractors, this is probably going to affect them in some way, or at least you should have a conversation with them about it, and do an analysis, and figure out if they need to reclassify some of these workers. The big change [00:07:00] is that we have codified the test as to whether somebody can be a contractor or an employee in California. It's called the ABC Test. By the way, this is much narrower; a much harder test than the federal test for independent-contractor classification.
The burden is now on the employer to prove that somebody should not be an employee. So, by default, any worker is an employee. I, as [00:07:30] an employer, now have to prove they're not, and I have to satisfy three tests - this is the ABC. So, A) The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under contract for the performance of the work, and in fact. The worker has to be independent. That's the part of independent contractor that's really important. They need to be able to decide how they're going to do the work.
B) The worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring [00:08:00] entity's business. That's a big one. That means if I am a tour guide company, and I have some tour guides who are contractors, and some who are employees, giving tours is part of the usual course of my business. So, now, I can no longer have contractors that give tours. Now, the accountant who I work with can still be an independent contractor because the accounting is just something that has to happen so that my business can exist. The business is giving tours. Accounting [00:08:30] is just an administrative function. Although there is a very important detail about accountants that I wanna get to, after this. Okay, so that's B - that the work has to be outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business.
C) The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed. Meaning, generally, they have to have multiple clients doing this sort of work. If you are their only client, then it would be pretty hard to satisfy that test. They've [00:09:00] got to be independent, the work has to be outside the usual course of the business, and the worker needs to have their own business. They need to have a trade that they do with other customers, generally.
David Leary: So, they would kinda have to be a real business, and not just a gig worker, essentially. 
Blake Oliver: Well, if they are a gig worker, they'd have to have multiple gigs. You can't be their only gig.
David Leary: Is that the way the Ubers, the DoorDashes, et cetera [00:09:30] are gonna get around this? Because so many people that are an Uber driver, are also a Lyft driver, and they deliver for DoorDash, and they do some Amazon package delivery. Is this how they're gonna be like, "Well, look! They're a gig worker. We don't have to employ them now because they have ... They have multiple gigs.”
Blake Oliver: So, you have to satisfy all three. So C is not a problem for Uber and Lyft. The problem for C is- or the problem for Uber and Lyft is B, whether they [crosstalk] work outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business. Uber [00:10:00] and Lyft are actually making the legal argument- they plan to not comply with this, and they are gonna go to court and say that they are not in the business of providing transportation; that they are in the business of providing a platform that connects riders and drivers.
David Leary: I think I heard a judge already call this out and that just basically told Uber that their name is synonymous with driving; like a pick-up app. It's just like saying, "I'm gonna Google something," right?  [00:10:30]
Blake Oliver: Right.
David Leary: How are they gonna make this argument? 
Blake Oliver: They need a judge that will buy that argument. I think they also have trouble with A - the freedom from control - because the Uber and Lyft exercise quite a lot of control over how drivers do what they do. So, they would definitely need to loosen that up, and I think they already have started to do that a little bit. But the big question is B, right? What is the usual course of the business? Uber and Lyft say, "We're a tech platform, we're an app; we're not a taxi service." [00:11:00] That's gonna be an interesting legal argument. I could see that going all the way to the California Supreme Court. So, it might take a while before this actually takes effect for anyone who plans to fight it, because there'll be lots of legal cases, and that could take years.
David Leary: Now, are Uber and Lyft tough ... What I mean by that, in that Amazon sort of sense of tough ... Early on in the ecommerce days, I think, when states wanted to start taxing Amazon sales, Amazon, I think, even pulled the plug, and said, "Fine. We won't sell anything in your state." Then, they played hardball and shut off orders [00:11:30] to that state, early on in those days. Does Lyft and Uber have the guts to be like, "Fine, we just won't have any Uber or Lyft service in the state of California, and see how that goes for you ..." 
Blake Oliver: I don't think anyone has suggested that because it's such a big market for them, and it's their home markets. To be based in San Francisco and not be able to offer your service in California, that'd be kinda crazy.
David Leary: But who are people loyal to? They're gonna be loyal to the ride services, and they're going to bang on politicians about getting this resolved, right? 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, well, that's what Uber and Lyft are hoping to do. They're trying to get [00:12:00] their users to complain. They're also, I think, trying some legal maneuvers. You know, we have direct democracy here in California, so they're gonna put forth a proposition to directly counteract this and exempt themselves. Because there are exemptions, by the way, for this law. It doesn't apply to every single contractor, and there's a long list of these exemptions that people have lobbied for. Do you wanna hear some of these?
David Leary: Well, let me ... Before we do that, I just wanna understand the impact back to us, right? If I have a bookkeeping firm, and [00:12:30] I've- it's all outsourced, and I am not hiring my bookkeepers that work for my firm as subcontractors ... I'm sorry, I'm hiring them as subcontractors and not as employees. I'm gonna have to stop doing that?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, pretty much. At least it seems like it to me. There are exemptions, and this is what I was getting to; that some industries-
David Leary: Wait ... Before you jump to exemptions- 
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: Before you jump to the exemptions, then, my thought process is could this be why QuickBooks Live is hiring people as W-2?
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah, [00:13:00] definitely, I think-
David Leary: Because they're in California. Okay.
Blake Oliver: It's just not even worth it for them. The safe thing to do, if you are a California employer, or a national employer that employs people in California, is just to make everybody an employee, and it's easier for big businesses to absorb those costs.
David Leary: Got it. 
Blake Oliver: SO, there are some industries that are exempted, right? Doctors often are contractors for their medical practices. Makes sense for them, right? They make a lot of money. They have their own S corporation, and then they get paid as a contractor for services. So, doctors, surgeons, dentists, [00:13:30] podiatrists, psychologists, veterinarians-
David Leary: Everybody that has a good lobby. 
Blake Oliver: Exactly. Yeah. Lawyers, insurance brokers, architects, engineers, private investigators, or accountants. But this is really interesting - it is only ... I've been looking at this list. It's only licensed accountants, which- that's CPAs. Basically, if you're employing an accountant as a contractor for your business, and they're not licensed, you might have to make them an employee. So, this [00:14:00] changes- in California, whether you have a license or not, it really doesn't matter a whole lot, in terms of your employment status. But now, there's a potential question here.
David Leary: Got it. What else is coming out of California? More legislation-
Blake Oliver: The other big one is the California Consumer Privacy Act. I think you've done a bit of research on that, right?
David Leary: A little bit. It seems very similar to the European privacy act that they passed.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, that was GDPR, right?
David Leary: Yeah, and most apps that you're using and websites you go to are [00:14:30] compliant with that right now, and they were able to stay in compliance because they have business interests overseas. But the average small business may not have business interests overseas, so they're not in compliance; but the average small business in the States may have business relationships with California.
Blake Oliver: Right, and that's-
David Leary: So, there's a ripple effect of this California law to the other businesses.
Blake Oliver: And that's why you've gotten- I don't know if you got dozens of privacy notices in your email on December 29, 30, 31? [00:15:00]
David Leary: Not as many as I thought I was going to get, to be honest. I really thought it'd be a lot more.
Blake Oliver: So, apparently, that was due to people or businesses starting to comply with the new rules of the California Act, because if you're a big business, you're almost guaranteed to satisfy the requirements because you're doing business in California, and you've got California customers. This law applies to any businesses that serve California residents and have at least $25 million in annual revenue, [00:15:30] or 50,000 people- have data on 50,000 people in California.
There's potentially a lot of smaller businesses under that $25 million revenue threshold that could have data on 50,000 people because an email address is data. If you have an email list that has more than 50,000 people on it, you've gotta comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act. There's tons of businesses that are only doing a few million dollars that might have a big email list like that.
David Leary: Yeah, but ... The way that I'm understanding [00:16:00] this limit, though, is it's data collection. So, if you're collecting their data while they're on their tablet or PC, because the data is different that you're collecting, these all count as one. You might be tracking that they're on their phone; now, you're tracking that they're in their browser. Those are counting as separate [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: Well, unless you have a way to link them up, and that's actually the challenge is that I, now, as a California resident, as part of this law, have the right to ask you, David, as the business [00:16:30] that I'm working with, for instance, to provide me with all of the information that you've collected on me. So, what if you don't have a database where all of the information is aggregated and linked to my identity? How do you go and get me what I want? Because the law is very broad. It's everything ...
I was reading a New York Times newsletter. They have a great newsletter called Bits, that's all about technology. The author wrote, "Does [00:17:00] this mean Uber and Lyft will now be obliged to provide riders in California, who request their personal data, with a list of all the passenger ratings drivers give them after each ride? Will Amazon be required to give Prime customers detailed activity logs of their streaming video use? Will smart mattress companies have to show sleepers moment-by-moment records of their tossing and turning?" The technology consultant who is interviewed in this article says yes; they have to come back with specific pieces of personal information. If they are collecting that - [00:17:30] your sleep information - they have to respond with it.
So, all that information that a business is collecting, they somehow have to compile it and give it to you, and it could be anything. If they've got you on an email list that has the name/status: "Seeking Singles," or something like that, you have to provide that information, theoretically; according to the law. Nobody really knows how broad it is going to be because I guess, I don't know, maybe a judge will have to decide if there's any limits.
David Leary: Yeah, I'd imagine the sharing, right, where people ... They partner up and then, because of our partnership with Company A - "We're Company [00:18:00] B. It's nice to meet you, and we're sending you this email," right? Whether data will transfer to that company and then, from that company to the next company ... Yeah, where's the boundaries on this?
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: Nonetheless, the compliance is coming, and you probably need to take inventory of your bigger clients and make sure they're in compliance because I imagine the fines on this are probably gonna be pretty high, eventually. 
Blake Oliver: Yeah. So- 
David Leary: Because it's a revenue generator for the state.
Blake Oliver: So, I'm trying to think, what does this mean for accounting firms, accountants, and bookkeepers? Basically, if you [00:18:30] have a customer in California, and they ask for the data that you have on them personally - your customer - you have to provide it to them, whatever that is. It doesn't sound like it's necessarily data that they provided to you. It's any data that you've collected about them, whether or not they provided it. So, what does that mean?
David Leary: If you have a chatbot on your website, and you have ... That tracks some of their data; you have some in the CRM; you have some possibly in a QuickBooks or Xero file ... Yeah, how are you gonna gather [00:19:00] all that up? Is there a strategy to that?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, and let's use that CRM example. Let's say I'm using a CRM for my firm, and I have a record of all the emails about my client, but with my client; I also have a record of all the notes that I have made about that client with other people in my firm where the client wasn't included on those notes. Is that part?
David Leary: Like a Slack channel.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. Do I have to provide them that internal conversation, that information? Nobody really knows exactly what [00:19:30] is going to have to happen ...
David Leary: It sounds like there's room for some new products on the market to solve this and sell this to small business owners. 
Blake Oliver: There's one other part of this law that I want to highlight.
David Leary: Yeah. 
Blake Oliver: So, employees have new rights, as well. As of January 1, employers in California must give contractors and employees a notice explaining the types of information the company collects about them and for what purpose. So, previously, if I had a work computer, my employer could [00:20:00] monitor that thing, monitor everything I'm doing on it, and didn't have to tell me. A lot of employers did, just as a matter of courtesy, but they didn't have to; and they didn't tell you what they were monitoring. Now, an employer, if they're spying on you, has to tell you that they're doing it and tell you what they're collecting. So, if they're collecting all your browsing history-
David Leary: Can you request what they're collecting and see? 
Blake Oliver: I don't see that in here. They just have to tell you- 
David Leary: So, just consumers can do that, but not employees. 
Blake Oliver: Consumers can do it; not employees. But, I'm curious, what if you're both a consumer and an employee of a company? What [00:20:30] if you work for Target, and ... This is really interesting. What if I go to Target, or Amazon, and I say ... Well, Amazon's easy because you can see your order history; but what if I go to Target and say, "I want to see everything I've ever bought from you." Are they gonna have to send me a list? Because they have that data; especially if I have a loyalty card-
David Leary: I'm sure they have it because if you ever go to return something, and you don't have a receipt, you just give them the credit card ... You should start handing them credit cards, and they keep scanning them and they find your order eventually. So, they obviously have the data somewhere [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: But I imagine it [00:21:00] could create a huge cost for these companies to try and do that.
David Leary: Yeah. 
Blake Oliver: So, anyway, those are the two new laws in the great state of California that businesses have to worry about.
David Leary: Well, it's good that you brought up the California privacy law because I think we can tie this to ... Did you hear Moss Adams had a data breach?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I saw that on- was it on Going Concern? 
David Leary: It was on Going Concern, but Accounting Today actually had a little bit better article about it, so [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: Oh ... Did you find out what happened? Because it wasn't clear to me what happened.
David Leary: Yeah, so they sent out a notice of [00:21:30] a data security incident that it detected in October, exposing the names and Social Security numbers of some of its clients. They reported this to the state attorney general's office because it's required if there's been a breach- 
Blake Oliver: Moss Adams, by the way, is a Top 20 firm, so this is a pretty big deal.
David Leary: Big deal, yeah. They had to report the breach to the state of California, because it's unencrypted personal information; but in a letter to the affected clients, the firm wrote that ... I'm gonna read the quote here, " ... recently learned that an unauthorized [00:22:00] individual gained access to a Moss Adams employee's email account containing your personal information. We're writing to notify you of this incident." So, two-factor authentication should keep people from getting unauthorized access to it, but my bigger question is why is sensitive data in an email - Social Security numbers, unencrypted [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: Oh, because it's-
David Leary: Are people still flinging spreadsheets around with people's first names, last names, Socials?
Blake Oliver: Oh, absolutely-
David Leary: Is that still happening? 
Blake Oliver: It's an accounting firm. There's like-
David Leary: At an accounting firm?! 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I mean ... 
David Leary: Aww, Jesus ...  [00:22:30]
Blake Oliver: We're emailing-
David Leary: I'm so naive. I'm so naive!
Blake Oliver: We're emailing spreadsheets with payroll, employee registers, Social Security numbers, tax IDs ... All this stuff's living in email. It's email, email, email ... . So, yeah, you can- if you hack an email account or email server for a big firm, it's a gold mine. I think this happened, what was it, last year, or a year before, to one of the Big Four. They had an email server hacked, and [00:23:00] they weren't using multi-factor authentication. So, it was just a password hack. I'm wondering if that's what happened here, too. Like you said, it's pretty hard to hack something if there's multi-factor, so maybe there wasn't.
David Leary: It's a two fails, right? Because somebody gets your email, but you have sensitive data in it, who cares? 
Blake Oliver: Right?
David Leary: But if you have ... It's kinda mind-blowing. So, yeah, that happened ... 
Blake Oliver: There's a lot of firms that are still having trouble, not internally, just externally. They're emailing personal Social Security numbers to external domains and [00:23:30] not even securing that.
David Leary: They're probably even emailing out tax returns as PDFs just on email attachments, right? 
Blake Oliver: I worked- when I was doing bookkeeping, I worked with an accountant who kept all of his clients' Social Security numbers, passwords, everything in an Outlook Contacts file that his firm shared on a local computer in the office; a networked computer. Guarantee you that still happens.

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David Leary: So, some more news. Receipt Bank completed [00:25:30] a $73 million- another funding round.
Blake Oliver: So, I know they've raised a lot of money so far. Do you have- how much have they raised so far?
David Leary: 2017, they had a $50 million round.
Blake Oliver: But they'd raised more money before that.
David Leary: Over $100 million; pushing probably $130-$150 million, I bet, total. The article really is a little UK-focused and really talking about their success in the UK, which apparently is amazing, and that they're really trying to use some of this money to go after the US market more, which is a whole different animal, right? The US [00:26:00] market's a lot tougher. People underestimate how hard it is to crack the nut here. They had some interesting data about their 2019- Receipt Bank doubled the number of customers to more than 360,000 now.
Blake Oliver: That is a lot for an add on.
David Leary: And they support more than 63,000 advisors, or accountants and advisors for their clients. It's a huge number, but I also feel like, in the grand scheme of things, everybody's still doing manual data entry. So, there's still so much upside to this, right?
Blake Oliver: My [00:26:30] big question is where does Receipt Bank go from here? Because QuickBooks is building their own receipt-capture into QuickBooks, and Sage acquired AutoEntry, and Xero has Hubdoc. So, who's gonna acquire Receipt Bank some day? And is OCR, data entry, big enough for it to really be a standalone company long term? We saw that could IPO on just accounts payable, but [00:27:00] is data entry that big a component or will the accounting apps- or will the accounting general-ledger apps build this in as a feature? That was always the argument against Dropbox, for instance; that Dropbox was a huge threat to Microsoft, and then Microsoft built OneDrive and made it good.
David Leary: I'm gonna get into this when we start talking about predictions a little bit, I think. We can hold off on little takes on this, because I think there's a lot of things happening; when we go through people's predictions, we'll see where this ... This starts [00:27:30] to fall in of, like, other possibilities for Receipt Bank; because I think you named the obvious things, which is they have an exit to one of the big accounting players. But then, arguable, who are the big accounting players, going forward?
Blake Oliver: Right. 
David Leary: Is it the bank; the banks-fintech game? I mean, there's probably a lot of interesting directions for this to go in the future.
Blake Oliver: I've been a Receipt Bank customer in the past. It's a great product, and it's very powerful. So, really, congratulations to the team.
David Leary: Did you have any news? I still got four or five news articles.  
Blake Oliver: Well, [00:28:00] let's talk about automation, right? Because it is a new year, and we haven't talked about that in a while. I spotted a story in The Wall Street Journal called, "Google AI Beats Doctors at Breast Cancer Detection Sometimes." The gist of the story is-
David Leary: Sometimes ...
Blake Oliver: Well, it's really actually a lot of the time. Google's Health Research Unit has developed an AI system that can match or outperform radiologists at detecting breast cancer. The doctors still [00:28:30] beat the machines in some cases. So, the headline is misleading. It should actually be that humans beat AI at breast cancer detection sometimes because this AI system, Google got access to a large health care provider's database through some sort of agreement, and they've been feeding mammograms and patient records anonymously into this AI. 
The AI has been learning, itself, how to detect breast cancer when given the patient record - did this end up being a [00:29:00] cancer diagnosis or did it not? - and then looking at the mammogram. So, it can learn like a human being does. It did better ... When the AI system was implemented, it reduced missed cases by 9.4 percent in the US, and 2.7 percent in the UK, compared with the original radiologists' diagnoses. We're talking over 9 percent misdiagnoses the AI caught. That's a pretty significant reduction. It also reduced incorrect- 
David Leary: So, you'd [00:29:30] want to not replace but augment the humans with it.
Blake Oliver: Right. That's the idea, and that's where, sort of, this is going is that it's making the ... It's catching the stuff the radiologists missed. But, at a certain point, you wonder, if the system gets really good - this is the first time they've done it - do you really need the radiologists anymore? I mean, you definitely don't need as many because, as cited in this article, in the UK, two radiologists typically read a mammogram. The study found that [00:30:00] the model didn't perform worse than the second reader and could potentially reduce their workload by 88 percent. So, basically, you can get rid of the second radiologist and just have one radiologist and the AI as the second. So, as I was saying before, it-
David Leary: They're gonna have to start value-billing [crosstalk] have to value-bill. 
Blake Oliver: -that's right. Can't just bill by the read, right? So, it reduced the incorrect positive readings by 5.7 percent, and 1.2 percent respectively, in the US and the UK. The UK had lower numbers because, I guess- it's [00:30:30] not clear in this article, but it sounds like, in the UK, two radiologists read every mammogram. My inference is that, in the US, it can be just one. So, ours are less reliable. Basically, the takeaway for me is let's give this AI tool to all the radiologists in the US because it'll dramatically improve our accuracy. This is AI in the real world. 
David Leary: Do you wear glasses or not? 
Blake Oliver: I had really bad vision, and then, I had Lasik. So, now, I only have to [00:31:00] wear glasses if I really want to see super-clear.
David Leary: So, you've been to the optometrist in the last seven years, right? 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I went last year.
David Leary: Yeah. You go, and you just put your face against six different machines. Then, when you go in the back room with the actual optometrist, in like four seconds, he's like, "All right, we're done," because the machines did all the work.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: It's kinda that same thing. 
Blake Oliver: Yeah, the machines can actually write your prescription, and he's just verifying it; or she.
David Leary: Yeah, exactly. So, you're right- or does that person just get eliminated?
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
David Leary: You just go to a mall kiosk, [00:31:30] measure your face, and your eyes, and your vision with all these machines and then, you order glasses from some other service.
Blake Oliver: What's interesting, too, is that the cancers that the AI system caught were generally more invasive than those caught by the radiologists. But the researchers don't have an explanation for the discrepancies because they're using machine learning. The way machine learning works is we're not programming the computer, it just sort of learns on its own, so we don't really know how it works. Actually, you kinda always need a human component because you need a baseline to compare it to.
David Leary: I have some of that [00:32:00] in some of the prediction stuff. It talks a little- yeah, I have some things about the AI predictions for the year. 
Blake Oliver: Why don't we .... Do you have any more news stories?
David Leary: Yeah, I've got some news. You want me to plow through them really quick. We don't have to discuss them deeply, but I can bring up the hits here.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: H&R Block is putting virtual prep into Walmart. So, essentially it's similar to a TurboTax or QuickBooks Live model, H&R Block has for their tax product. But what I found that's interesting about it is their side-by-side; if you take their typical H&R Block [00:32:30] software, it's just a box that says tax prep software, essentially. But all these ones have people on them, so you're picking this face, this box with the person you want to, "help you with your taxes." Now, there's only four different versions of a face, but I just thought, psychologically, that's an interesting way to ... It just proves that's the model people want - this do-it-yourself with a video camera; "I'm gonna chat with somebody." But the box leads [00:33:00] with the person, not with the software.
Blake Oliver: So, I go into the store, and there's a terminal that I can chat with somebody on? 
David Leary: No ... That's what I thought it was at first, when I started doing research. I don't think that exists. I think it's just there's a software section of Walmart and there's boxes of software on the shelf. This is the- they call it 'Pro Go,' 'Pro to Go,' or something like that. 
Blake Oliver: Gotcha. You buy the software, take it home, and then it's basically the same thing as a TurboTax Live [00:33:30] kind of situation?
David Leary: Exactly, but the box ... I mean, the way they market it, you're gonna buy them with the face. You're gonna be like, "That's the person that's gonna help me with my taxes."
Blake Oliver: Oh, because it's got the face on the box. Got it.
David Leary: Exactly. Exactly. It'd be like we've talked about, if you go to Costco, and they have all those QuickBooks boxes there. Claudell's face is on the box. So, instead of buying ... You're buying a relationship instead of just buying the software.
Blake Oliver: You said this last week; you said something similar to this about accounting firms - put your face on your website or put a picture of yourself using Zoom, [00:34:00] or Skype, or something [crosstalk] 
David Leary: Video chat. Show that you can video chat, absolutely. You have three more weeks before the Super Bowl, and everybody knows that this exists. I have a couple other smaller articles that aren't super-news, but ... I saw an article; it's from SaaStr. This is software-  it's for SaaS companies, right?
Blake Oliver: Yeah. 
David Leary: It's about how to keep your customers for a decade or longer. I thought he just had really good tips in there that people should think about for their own accounting firm; like taking that long-term view, to where you might even give your small business client the first 12 months free to 18 [00:34:30] months free because you want to win that client for a decade [crosstalk].
Blake Oliver: So, don't ... Well, and actually, I brought something with me today about how long accounting firms keep their clients. You wanna know? This is a stat from Accounting Today.
David Leary: Sounds like it'll go right with my article, so ... How long is that?
Blake Oliver: So, more than half of accounting-firm clients have been with their firm for eight or more years, and over a third have been with them a decade or longer. This is from the Accountants Confidence Index study [00:35:00] that Accounting Today does with ADP. It also found that more than half of firms have relatively low rates of churn. So, two-thirds, almost two-thirds, report that they have churn of six percent or less in their client base in each new year. That's pretty low churn.
David Leary: I wonder if that's for personal-tax clients or small businesses, because I imagine that there has to be small business churn. Some of these small businesses go under.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I think this is for overall, right? 
David Leary: Overall, not just CaaS, yeah. 
Blake Oliver: I mean, we've [00:35:30] known this. This is not news that accounting firms are actually a great business to own because they're so steady. Once you get a client, you're gonna have them for - if you don't screw up - a decade or more. Only 15 percent of firms, their average client has been with them for less than five years. I'm gonna guess that's probably a lot of new firms. So, relatively low rates of churn. It's funny, though, actually, a lot of firms aren't even seeking new clients. Only 68 percent of firms are [00:36:00] actively seeking new clients in 2020.
David Leary: That's interesting because his article here talks about how you should keep- even for clients that you lost to a competitor, or maybe somebody you never closed a sale on, you should just keep talking to them and keep that relationship going because they might run into a rough patch with their existing firm, and you have a chance of stealing that because once you get ... Like you said, once you get them, you have them for 10 years; a decade. The other thing that I thought was an interesting take away was get on a jet and go visit them. I think that's really more than ever, now, in this day of virtual [00:36:30] ... Go and visit your paying customers. Not fly to go make a sale but go visit your real paying customers. He went on to say he's never had a client ever leave-
Blake Oliver: Who he visited?
David Leary: That he's ever visited [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: I know, personally, cloud accountants who do this, where they will take a week every now and then, and if they are in California, go to the East Coast, and just go and meet with their big clients all up and down the East Coast. That in-person [00:37:00] effort is sometimes what it takes to keep that client. It's really worth it.
David Leary: Yeah, got it. Another article was a little bit about online- I know we've talked about this before, online lending surges for small businesses. Stats are actually coming out here, which are kind of shocking. So, in 2017, just 19 percent of small businesses had loans. 
Blake Oliver: 19 percent of small businesses had any loans on the books-
David Leary: Or took out a loan, yep, in 2017- 
Blake Oliver: Oh, took out one. Okay. 
David Leary: How [00:37:30] many do you think did it this year?
Blake Oliver: I think it's gonna be a lot, actually, because the economy's been doing well.
David Leary: Yep, so it's one-third have sought financing.
Blake Oliver: Wow. 
David Leary: A lot of what's driven this is all these easier- like QuickBooks Capital, OnDeck - all these easier ways to get the money through electronic means; these new banks. What's happening is the rates can be anywhere from nine percent to 358 percent, with the average rate - 94 percent.
Blake Oliver: 94-percent interest rate?  [00:38:00]
David Leary: Yeah. Even OnDeck - who are an exception - is actually publicly disclosing the rates; said they're charging between nine and 98.3 percent.
Blake Oliver: That's just insane. 93-percent interest.
David Leary: Yeah. What's happening is California and New York are really looking to expand protection because most small business owners ... Because it's a business, you don't get those Consumer Protection Act-
Blake Oliver: Right.
David Leary: For your credit. But most of these small businesses are so teeny that they're really- the personal liability's on [00:38:30] them still, so they're really looking to expand out the protection for these small businesses.
Blake Oliver: This is an area where we, as accountants and bookkeepers, can help our clients; get them better interest rates; because it can't be that hard to improve on an almost 100-percent interest rate.
David Leary: Well, especially since one-third ... Assume one-third of your small business clients have got probably some bad loan on the books.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
David Leary: Every week, here, we've been telling people, "Here's another service you could offer your clients." They're just out there in [00:39:00] our face. The advising-level type services are just there. 
Blake Oliver: Crazy! 
David Leary: I don't even know if this is news - the IRS mileage-rate changed. 
Blake Oliver: What is at now? 
David Leary: 57.5 cents per mile. It dropped a half a cent-
Blake Oliver: Oh, it dropped down. 
David Leary: That's it. That's the story. That's it. That's it. That's story's done. 
Blake Oliver: The FASB - Financial Accounting Standards Board - is getting a new chair effective July 1, 2020; this year. Ernst & Young's chief accountant, Richard Jones, is going to be the next chair of the FASB. He's [00:39:30] gonna succeed Russell Golden. Here's the thing about this that kind of saddens me. Richard Jones has spent his entire career at Ernst & Young; I mean, pretty much. Since 1987, he has been an assurance staff, senior manager, director of consultations; current role as chief accountant, and partner. So, this man has been in audit pretty much almost all of his career and now-  in Big Four audit, specifically. Now, he is [00:40:00] going to be making the accounting rules. He has never worked in industry. He's never been a CFO. He's never been on the analyst/investor side. How do we ever get to a point where ... I know you've heard me talk on the show about the inadequacies of modern GAAP in the past. We've had guests on the show talking about it. This is just gonna continue the status quo. 
David Leary: Yeah, because what new vision, or new model, or new direction is this person gonna take it?  [00:40:30]
Blake Oliver: So until the change happens, Russell Golden is gonna be focusing on a few issues. This was in a Wall Street Journal article here. So, the big things that FASB is gonna tackle in the next six months is whether or not to propose changes to the measurement of goodwill. Goodwill is an intangible asset created when a company acquires another business for more than the value of its hard assets. This concept is hard enough for accountants to understand; [00:41:00] the general public ... It's just- it's  a lost cause, right? It's an asset ... Does this make sense to you at all, David, as a non-accountant - the idea of goodwill? 
David Leary: Yes.
Blake Oliver: Yeah? 
David Leary: Conceptually, it does.
Blake Oliver: Tell me what it is, please. Explain to me, because I don't get it. 
David Leary: All right, so I have a dental office in my community in the small town I live in. I'm highly respected and that has some sort of value for my company, and I can put it on my books, apparently.
Blake Oliver: But what ... It's not  ... So, I [00:41:30] buy your dental practice for more than the sum of all of its assets. It's more than the value of its customer base, more than the building, more than ... We add all that up, and I'm paying a premium because I think there's some extra value above and beyond what we have measured individually. But why do I, then, put that on my own balance sheet as an asset? I can't sell my goodwill that I've purchased. So- 
David Leary: That's a good point because Coca-Cola could put, I guess, the value of the brand- [00:42:00]
Blake Oliver: Yeah, but they could sell their brand, right? You can exchange it for money. Goodwill is not exchangeable ... Anyway, it's a whole philosophical thing. There are some people who say we shouldn't even have goodwill. It was a mistake to begin with, and it should just be a reduction in stockholders' equity when we purchase something for more than the value of its assets.
Anyway, that's not what they're really considering. They're just gonna decide whether or not companies should test goodwill for potential impairment [00:42:30] each year, or if they're gonna give public companies the option to just amortize it. So, let's say the goodwill is measured at, I don't know, $1 million, when I bought your practice, David. I could decide that I'm gonna just amortize it over 10 years. So, eventually, at the end of 10 years, I don't have any goodwill, and I have an expense of $100,000 every year.
That way, I don't have to do this crazy thing that public companies currently have to do, which is, every single year, David, I would have to look at that practice that I acquired from you, and I [00:43:00] would have to measure and try to figure out is it still worth what it was before? Is the goodwill still worth what I paid for it? How do you do that? How do I decide if there was a reduction in the value of the overall business? It's a massive, complicated thing that we have to do [crosstalk] 
David Leary: Well, I know who's working on it.
Blake Oliver: What's that?
David Leary: Ready for my next article?
Blake Oliver: Let's hear it.
David Leary: All right. This is an article from Bloomberg Tax: "Big Four Invest Billions in Tech, Reshaping Their Identities." So, I don't ... What [00:43:30] I liked about this article - it pulled together separate things we've probably spoken about during the previous year. They're now at $9 billion pledged. So, KPMG has pledged $5 billion for automation and AI internally. PwC has pledged $3 billion of spending on technology and training internally. EY's pledged $1 billion on something similar. Deloitte hasn't said what their dollar figure is, but they're carving out a niche creating automated services for law firms and legal offices.
I don't know much news [00:44:00] is here, but I'm just wondering ... That's a lot of money. Then, I'm wondering, how well will they execute? Because that's a lot of money being bet on four companies. You think about the VC market, and all the apps, and all the successes that are out there being spread  across dozens and dozens- or hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of possible bets, and companies, and solutions. This kind of reminds me of the California thing - this build-it-yourself. What are these ... What is the Big Four actually gonna pump out? What is the result of all this spend they're gonna do?
Blake Oliver: All this investment? [00:44:30]
David Leary: $9 billion ... 
Blake Oliver: So, think about it this way, accounting standards just keep getting more and more complicated. We have four or five times more complexity in accounting without really producing that much better information, but it creates a lot of work. For instance, the whole current measurement of goodwill is a great example; having to do valuations every single year. There's all sorts of examples where, for a public company, for every single account on your balance sheet, you've gotta do some complicated analysis, [00:45:00] and you have to use software to do it because it would take too long with people. So, now, we've got a whole industry for lease-accounting software. We've got entire industries for other measurements that need to happen. So, the Big Four are just kinda cashing in on that, right? The complexity of regulation creates this compliance burden, and the Big Four sees this potential where, "Hey, if we create some apps that we can sell to our clients, we can help them lower their personnel costs, [00:45:30] and we can capture the value there and make billions of dollars."
David Leary: Got it. So, it's a way ... Their consulting business will be like, "Hey, by the way, we also have this app that does this," and then, keep them from using an app that's just publicly available, possibly.
Blake Oliver: That's my theory, yeah.
David Leary: Why don't they just spend that money and just buy every single app that exists in the whole small business ecosystem? They could just buy everybody-
Blake Oliver: Because those apps are solving for a very different market. The Big Four are targeting those Fortune, what, 2000? Which, you can build customized software [00:46:00] for them and sell it to them for a lot of money.
David Leary: Yeah, but this is the same Big Four that has worked on that project with the payroll fiasco in Canada on their software package ... I'm imagining some of the Big Four consulted on this California project; I'm guessing [crosstalk] or is California just doing this 100 percent on their own? 
Blake Oliver: Well, they make even more money when it fails because then they have to charge all these consulting fees to get it working again. You want the thing to be hard to use. I mean, I'm sure nobody ... [00:46:30] I'm not saying people are actually thinking that; they're not evil. It's just the incentives are set up so that there's ... There's no incentive for them to make it so that it's turnkey once they're done. Anyway, speaking of big businesses, I got a stat for you. You know, I love my stats!
David Leary: Okay. 
Blake Oliver: So, I've cited these stats in the past. APQC has an Open Standard Benchmarking Database. They survey thousands of businesses; mostly large businesses in this country; medium and large. [00:47:00] They aggregate the data, and they publish it every now and then; some of it publicly; a lot of it you have to subscribe to. They'll occasionally publish some really interesting stuff in CFO.
So, they have once again updated this number - the cost to perform the finance function as a percentage of revenue. What does your entire finance function cost in your business as a percentage of your overall revenue? They found that the median business spends one [00:47:30] percent of revenue on finance. Top performers, only 0.56 percent. So, almost twice as productive. Then, the bottom performers, 1.6 percent. So, the top performers are almost three times more efficient at finance than the bottom performers.
But what's really interesting is that bottom performers have improved over the last five years or so; four years or so. In 2015, they were two percent of [00:48:00] revenue, and they've gone down to 1.6 percent, which is actually a pretty darned good improvement on a percentage basis. They've improved 20 percent. I attribute this all to tech. Even the bottom performers, even the slowest companies to adopt are adopting technology, and that's allowing them to spend less on salaries. So, overall, finance is getting more efficient.
David Leary: Which is similar to the article last week about tech spending, right? The people that, if they can reach that one-percent spending on their tech improvements, they [00:48:30] have more revenue, et cetera, et cetera [crosstalk] 
Blake Oliver: You know, think about it - if you can reduce headcount with tech, yeah, you may have some sticker shock when you're looking at an application that costs $10,000 a year, but if it can help you reduce headcount in your business by one, you've probably just seen a 10x return on investment right there. Or, maybe you take half of somebody's job and allocate it somewhere else; that's a five times improvement; stuff like that.
So, anyway, [00:49:00] it's kind of interesting. These are big businesses, but I like looking at these percentages, too, because it's a good way to figure out how much to charge for services in a different way other than hourly billing. When I looked at businesses that I was quoting for outsourced accounting services, I would use a variety of methods to estimate what I should charge.
Some of it was based on our old hours estimate method in the firm. Again, that's pretty common; everyone's used to that. You just estimate - how many hours am I gonna be spending on this client every month, and you multiply it by a target hourly [00:49:30] rate, and you get a fixed fee. Not the best way to do it, but pretty easy, and we're all familiar with that.
Another way to do it that I would compare it with is the percentage method. I'd say - what is a reasonable percentage of revenue for this business to be spending on their accounting and finance? So, I would say- let's say it's two percent in a smaller business, because smaller businesses, they have more overhead when it comes to that. They're not like these big businesses where finance can be a smaller percentage of their revenue.
So, [00:50:00] let's say it's two percent. I would just multiply their revenue by two percent, or expenses, if they were spending more than they were making, and I'd compare that to my other estimate based on hours, and I'd say, does this make sense? If they were similar, then I'd know I'd come up with a good amount.
David Leary: So, just as a time check here, we're coming up to the top of the hour for our listeners. So, we can- 
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah ... I know you have to get going, David. We had so much news to talk about. Maybe, let's break out our predictions into its own episode.
David Leary: Just do it as a bonus? [00:50:30]
Blake Oliver: Yeah, let's do it.
David Leary: Okay. 
Blake Oliver: So, you gotta go to your appointment. Why don't we come back, and we'll record our predictions separately.
David Leary: Okay. That's what we'll do. I'll have one less tooth, but we will record- we'll record it separately.
Blake Oliver: Fortunately, we're not on camera, so no one will see your missing tooth.
David Leary: I should record while I'm getting my tooth taken out. That would be [crosstalk] episode ...
Blake Oliver: Oh, yeah ... We'll give you some time for the Novocain to wear off so that you're not mumbling through the session, but yeah, I'm looking [00:51:00] forward to that. It's, again, always fun chatting with you, David. If people wanna get in touch with you, what's the best place for them to do that?
David Leary: Easiest way is on Twitter. I'm @DavidLeary. 
Blake Oliver: I am @BlakeTOliver. I'll check in with you again shortly.
David Leary: All right. Bye! 
Blake Oliver: Bye. 

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