Reality Bites: Oy Corona!

If you have been wondering what is the big deal about COVID-19 (you’re not alone), here is the scoop: COVID-19 spreads so fast that, if unchecked, experts worry the sick could overwhelm hospitals, forcing them to ration care, having to choose who receives services (ergo lives) and who doesn’t – an equation favoring the young, healthy, and wealthy. This occurred in Wuhan, China, and is occurring throughout Italy. The resulting strain on our medical system weakens our society’s ability to respond to other catastrophes.

If seeing is believing, the circumstantial evidence (and science) indicates COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Within five days of a conference held in Massachusetts last month, 50 out of the 175 attendees had flu-like symptoms and 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases could be linked to the conference, according to the Boston Globe. In Italy, one person is thought to have infected 43 people, according to Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, a Yale professor who studies networks, in an interview with WBUR. China went from 266 cases on December 31, 2019, to 80,000 by mid-March 2020.

Hospitalizations among the infected are high – ranging from 15% in China to more than 50% in Italy according to Liz Specht of STAT; the percentage of infected requiring critical care (e.g. placed in ICUs) range from 5% in China to 10% in Italy according to Ms. Specht. Estimates of the number of infected who will require hospitalization in the U.S. range from 10% to 20%.

Yet, U.S. hospitals do not have the resources – beds, equipment, and people – to care for everyone who would require treatment if the virus spreads unchecked, according to experts like Eric Richards, MD, an infectious disease specialist serving six Denver area hospitals. The U.S. has less than 3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, or less than 0.3% of the population, according to the OECD. That translates into 8,400 beds in the Denver metro area, 12,900 in the Boston metro area, 13,100 in the San Francisco Bay area, and 19,600 in the Houston metro area – covering over 19 million people – if none are in use. When I spoke with Dr. Richards on the morning of March 13, he said the six hospitals he serves were already “full to capacity” without having a single COVID-19 patient in their beds.

In Wuhan, people requiring care were being turned away from hospitals because there were not enough beds for the sick, resulting in death as the sick convalesce at home. In Italy, experts are concerned about this and a collapse within the medical system.

According to Dr. Richards, more than 50% of the population falls into one or both of the two groups with the highest risk of complications or death from COVID-19: (a) those over age 65 and (b) those with compromised health. You’re bound to know someone who could be at risk if infected.

The U.S. has been struggling to test for and thereby track and contain the spread of the virus. As such, the only way to protect ourselves and the ones we love is by separating ourselves – the social distancing you might have been hearing about. As word of the crisis began to trickle in from Asia, many self-imposed their isolation. Now, it is being mandated by several levels of government.

As millions sacrifice for the social good, much as great generations have in the past, eyes are turning to D.C. and state and local governments for thoughtful leadership to provide relief and prevent a secondary national crisis.

While payroll tax reductions will help, they will not arrive in time to avert the crisis nor in amounts large enough to save homes and credit. They cannot feed children of furloughed employees while the sacrifice is being made.

The biggest priority for most families will likely be job security, their health and welfare, being able to feed their families, buying medicine, and keeping their homes. As thousands become unemployed (or, for the 10% of the workforce that is self-employed and the 20% of the workforce employed by them, lose revenue), promptly implementing policies such as the following could ease their turmoil.

  • Relaxing requirements for unemployment benefits;
  • Creating a paid leave program covering this period;
  • Creating a temporary safety net for the self-employed;
  • Extending deadlines for all tax payments coming due in the next three months, including income, property taxes, sales/use taxes, and payroll taxes;
  • Extending filing deadlines for all tax returns coming due in the next three months;
  • Deferring payments on government backed loans; and
  • Providing treatment for COVID-19 regardless of a person’s insurance coverage.

If you’re bunkered at home waiting for the pandemic wave to ebb and looking for ways to lighten the experience, here are a few ideas.

  • Sleep in an extra hour
  • Check on your neighbors
  • Help those in need
  • Serenade your neighbors
  • Binge watch TV with your family
  • Write a story, develop an app, or design a game with your kids
  • Make your friends laugh with videos
  • Watch more hilarious videos by John Garrett

TaxForward will be taking the following steps to assist you and our community during this saga.  

  1. Moving the March 25 Master Tax Mixer and webinars to May 6, 2020, to protect the health and safety of our speakers, attendees, and community. Registrants will receive the option of a credit towards an event or a full refund.
  2. Extending the early adapter pricing for the Spring Tax Detox to April 15, 2020, to provide time to decide as the situation stabilizes.
  3. Providing and referring materials, including webinars and articles, that will address critical questions for businesses, such as the following, on our website and social media. If there are any webinars and articles you’d like us to recommend, please send the information to Info@TaxForward.org.
    • How to advise employees;
    • Travel and leave practices;
    • Interaction with clients and vendors;
    • Whether and how to cancel events;
    • Whether and how to change store practices (including setting purchase limits);
    • Distribution channel and productivity concerns;
    • Continuity plans;
    • Cash flow options; and
    • What insurance options are available to help mitigate potential losses and risks.

We wish you and your family good health and safety!

Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.

Jack McCullough, a Profile of Excellence

What makes a person a leader among leaders? We explore this in our series, Profiles of Excellence. We’re excited to premier this series by featuring Jack McCullough, author, keynote speaker, Forbes contributor, and a founder of two world-class organizations transforming the way CFOs network – thereby influencing how tax and other professionals will network – critical in our new all-digital environment.

Jack is continuously innovating and delivering high caliber products and services. Earlier career highlights include being a CFO and helping launch KPMG’s Global Technology Innovation Center in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2002, Jack cofounded MIT Sloan CFO Summit, a preeminent conference for CFOs. Four years later, Jack launched CFO Leadership Council (CFO LC) to provide nonpareil professional development and networking to financial executives. Last year, he parlayed insights collected from conversations with over 40 of the world’s foremost CFOs into Secrets of Rockstar CFOs.

With the economy spinning and conventional avenues for connecting upside-down, leaders are seeking solutions for guiding their company safely through the morass. CFO LC has been a beacon for singular networking and wisdom.

Why does this matter to a tax professional? What impacts a business often impacts its taxes. To competently advise our companies, we (tax professionals) must understand the financial and operational aspects of the business as these flow into the tax results. So, the concerns of a CFO will often be the concerns of tax executives. CFO LC has raised the bar on and set the trend for how networking and knowledge in finance, an overarching field, is delivered.

Take, for example, CFO LC’s Masterclass Keynote Series (MKS), five 90-minute courses held over a five-week period in May and June. When the pandemic closed the doors on in-person events, CFO LC masterfully pivoted from its in-person CFO Week to offering the virtual MKS, delivering in a scientific framework expertise on managing through catastrophic events from finance and research luminaries such as Elaine Paul, CFO of Amazon Studios, Christine Komola, former CFO of Staples, Steve Priest, CFO of JetBlue, Court Chilton, Senior Lecturer, Work and Organization Studies at MIT Sloan School of Management, and Renee Richardson Gosline, Senior Lecturer, Management Science Group at MIT Sloan School of Management.

More TED-like than standard webinars, MKS elevated subjects of surviving and thriving during an economic downturn by combining the science behind cultivating success with real life examples, conveying meaningful, actionable information to leaders. Addressing work styles, John Carrier, Senior Lecturer, System Dynamics Group at MIT Sloan School of Management and Managing Director of 532 Partners, opened the second episode by framing the discussion around behavior being a function of the people and system in which they find themselves, sharing keys to monitoring and measuring success, and from recent experiences of dignitaries in finance such as Amrita Ahuja, CFO of Square, and Elis Costa, CFO North America of Marsh & McLennan Companies to fill out the discussion. All the while, the audience of over 800 were participating in a live discussion through chat.

Professional organizations are more crucial when people are disconnected and unable to network through traditional methods. Leadership and volunteer positions in CFO LC are gateways to casually connect with executives, venture capitalists, and subject matter experts. This may explain why, even though financial executives are notoriously busy, more than 250 have scheduled time to volunteer on a committee or in programming at CFO LC.

In addition to leading and inventing, Jack finds time to speak, contribute to Forbes, and mentor.

Hear Jack’s insights on cultivating excellence in leadership and receive a free digital copy of his book at our upcoming five-week conference opening October 19, 2020.

Experience unrivaled networking and professional development at TaxForward (tax professionals) or Future Tax Leaders (tax students) by joining its leadership, volunteering, or becoming a member. Contact Info@TaxForward.org to learn more.

Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.

Tax Department Heroes: Cash Saving Opportunities

It’s official; the U.S. economy, if not the world economy, is in a recession.

As usually happens during economic downturns, companies turn to the Tax Department for cash. No, it’s not because we are hoarding cash in barrels out back. Often, it’s because the newly enacted stimulus law involves taxes. Plus, savvy companies know Tax Departments can be a source of strategic opportunities to recover and save cash. In this article, we provide a list of places to explore as you’re turning over stones to help save cash for your company.

We have indicated the stones to look under by name or high-level description only. They might not apply to all companies and situations. Additional research or consultation with your advisors should be performed to confirm your business qualifies.

Recent stimulus:

  • EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program) grants and loans (CARES Act)
  • PPPL (Paycheck Protection Program loans) (CARES Act)
  • Other business loan programs under the CARES Act
  • Deferral of payments on pre-existing SBA loans (CARES Act)
  • Delayed tax filings and payments (IRS)
  • Delayed payroll tax payments (CARES Act)
  • COVID-19 related sick leave (FFCRA)
  • NOL carrybacks (CARES Act)
  • AMT credit (CARES Act)
  • Increase in the cap on IRC Sec. 163(j) interest deductions (CARES Act)
  • Qualified improvement property (e.g. subject to 15 years depreciation) (CARES Act)
  • Payroll tax credits on retained employees (exclusion applies with the PPPL) (CARES Act)
  • Increase in the cap on charitable contribution deductions (CARES Act)

Preexisting laws:

  • Accounting methods
  • Capitalization policies
  • Treatment of customized or internally developed software
  • Enhanced charitable deductions for food donations
  • Research and development – have conversations with heads of different teams to learn about new activities
  • Tips credit for restaurants and other industries with tipped staff
  • Tax incentives such as work opportunity credits
  • Legal entity structure
  • Revenue recognition – take another look at large contracts and accounting’s policies
  • Analyze entries in select GL accounts
  • Evaluate fixed assets for:
    • Items that can be re-categorized or split into shorter-lived assets
    • Items that can be written off or down
    • Items that can be expensed
    • Items that can begin depreciating
  • Acquisitions:
    • Payroll taxes
    • Workers compensation rates
    • Goodwill – basis and release
    • Basis in liabilities (some liabilities do not follow GAAP, such as deferred revenue, which is based on anticipated cost of generating revenue)
  • Federal and state items subject to carryforward limitations to ensure proper treatment – if the rules are unclear, do not make assumptions, there may be resources to help you determine proper treatment such as Congressional intent, jurisdiction manuals, and instructions for returns from the year the law went into effect
    • NOLs
    • AMT credits
    • R&D credits
    • Excess charitable contribution deductions
    • Nonrefundable incentives
  • Foreign taxes, direct and indirect
  • Evaluate sales tax for:
    • Machinery and equipment used in manufacturing
    • Rate adjustments if you use a blended sales tax rate based on “to go” sales
    • Exempt or zero-rated items
  • Property tax:
    • Assessed values
    • Special rules and rates for specific assets, such as machinery and equipment
    • Property no longer in the company’s possession
    • Payment deferrals
  • Excise taxes – state and federal
  • Unclaimed property
  • Timing of tax prepayments – penalties and interest may be outweighed by the company’s need for or return on/cost of cash

G&A driven:

  • Renegotiate rates with external service providers
  • Opportunities for automation
  • Reevaluate the in house to outsourced work mix
  • Seek experts working on contingency to find opportunities to recover cash or capture future savings, such as through credits
  • Reevaluate capital spending plans
  • Reevaluate tools and the department’s use of them
  • Reassess priorities
  • Implement KPIs for performance optimization and ROIs to control costs and focus efforts
  • Implement project management processes and tools
  • Implement policies, procedures, and protocols to standardize processes and increase efficiency

Let us know how it goes. You can share your recommendations with us by sending an email to Info@TaxForward.org.

Happy hunting!

Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.

The Wisdom of Greg Anton, Accounting Cultural Icon

Greg Anton, a CEO with a long list of accomplishments, has been influencing accounting culture for decades. While Greg may make success look easy, it was achieved through innovation, grit, and by embracing what he loves. We’ve captured some of the insights on building success he’ll share at TaxForward’s 2020 conference on October 25 through 27th here.

Before launching ACM LLP, a regional powerhouse CPA firm with 26 partners and four offices across two states, with two colleagues in 2002, Greg was a Partner at BDO. In 1999, he began six years of service on the Board of Directors for Colorado Society of Certified Public Accountants (COCPA), one of those years as its Chair. His influence expanded to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), when he joined its Board of Directors, serving as its Chair, a liaison to Congress, and on several technical committees. In 2015, AICPA recognized Greg’s contributions by bestowing its highest honor, the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Service, on him.

How does Greg cultivate success? By doing things that are generally within all our capacities to do.

He Integrates What He Loves with His Work

Greg says he has had only two careers his whole life: camp counselor and accountant. As a camp counselor, Greg learned the value of integrating what one loves – then, being a camper – into one’s work. According to Greg, focusing on the things he enjoys and does well helps him set his compass and decide where to invest his time, freeing him to do more of what he loves. He attributes communicating what he’s passionate about to helping people identify opportunities to partner with or learn from him. Acknowledging what he doesn’t do well enables Greg to find people with complementary skills.

Unable to think of ways in which to integrate what you love with work? Bringing to mind Mary Poppins teaching Jane and Michael Banks to find the “element of fun” in a job (turning chores into a game in the movie named after the titular character), Greg recommends looking at other ways to integrate your passions and work, such as exercising during breaks.

He Differentiates Himself and His Company

Differentiation sets us apart from our peers and competitors, making it easier for our target audience to select us. Sharing and pursuing what he enjoys doing is a way Greg differentiates himself from his peers.

He has done the same with ACM. When launching ACM, Greg wasn’t creating something new; as he points out, the tools and laws are the same, it’s the people that are different. His goal was “building a better mouse trap” by delivering a superior experience and product than other firms. Today, ACM is renowned for quality.

He Sets the Tone

As a camp counselor, Greg had the advantage in size and strength over the younger campers in races to the swimming hole. Yet, he purposefully led the races from behind rather than in front. This gave Greg better line of sight to coach campers on how to improve and enabled campers to learn from their decisions and experiences. It was an opportunity for him to learn from the campers, as well. “My way isn’t the best way,” Greg says, “it is a way.”

To build a professional and highly competent team at ACM, Greg created an environment that fosters growth and opportunity, where others can lead and contribute. “People want to be around opportunities to succeed, grow, and advance,” he says. He’s eliminated common barriers to growth by cultivating a culture that rewards teaming with people having complementary skills and encourages its professionals to welcome questions and opportunities to collaborate.

He is Continuously Learning

When Greg entered college, he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur – but he didn’t know how to become one. He pursued accounting in part for the job security associated with the field. Now, he draws on what he learned as an accountant to be a successful entrepreneur.

He is Comfortable with Change

Having to innovate to overcome the hurdles of severe dyslexia, Greg learned early in life a person could have “major failures” but still be successful. A lifetime of seeking tools and techniques to succeed has put Greg in the forefront of adapting to the evolution undergoing the accounting field. For example, he uses dictation software, which can transcribe words three times faster than the average person, freeing up time.

Greg is excited about the technological changes occurring in his field. He believes artificial intelligence and virtual robots will assume unexciting work, enabling accountants to operate at a higher level and pursue more enjoyable consultative, observational, and value-added work.

Greg adds, doing what one enjoys will differentiate companies and individuals as technology displaces human capital.

He is Involved

Greg actively participates in what he calls the “enrichment cycle” – he is engaged in organizations within his field, which enriches his knowledge of the field, improving his ability to serve his company, employees, and clients, which creates opportunities for him, his team, and his company.

Lastly, He Tries

Greg says willingness to try and risk failure provides opportunities to succeed. Failing contributes to success by providing opportunities to learn and grow.

Learn more at this year’s conference, October 25 through 27. Register HERE.

Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.

Time to Lead

We, as tax professionals, must not only respond to protect ourselves personally, but to lead in rebuilding and then strengthening the infrastructure of our businesses and, through them, our economy.


COVID-19 has significantly altered our lives – including stay at home rules that, in some states, extend into June. The view of our altered landscape extends far into the future. 9/11 permanently moved us to remote servers, cloud computing, and advanced physical and virtual security. The Great Depression changed the way people viewed and used money and their relationship with government.

Our new normal will be shaped by this virus, even when we are allowed out of our homes and back to recognizable routines. Seemingly invincible titans and industries may fall; new hegemons and industries will rise. Our expectations of and the way we interact with the government, the ways in which we do business, and how we engage socially have all been impacted. Due to the size of the financial impact, it is predicted our government will need to invest many trillions of dollars to bring us out of this financial crisis. Our interactions with foreign governments (markets for both selling and purchasing) will change. Something as simple as how we look at shopping has already changed.

Every crisis we have ever suffered has had the benefit of educating us and helping us to become better at our response and our practices. Wars (as this current crisis has been referred to time and again) bring us medical advancements and prove to us we can martial our resources and people to accomplish great things. Natural disasters (as COVID-19 is) make us aware of our shortcomings in planning and preparedness. Financial disasters make us realize what we lack in skills and security and we adjust. Well, we’re in the penultimate of learning experiences now – financial and natural disasters coming together in a war that we must win.

We, as tax professionals, must not only respond to protect ourselves personally, but to lead in rebuilding and then strengthening the infrastructure of our businesses and, through them, our economy. This crisis has forced us to ask a lot of questions about safety nets, preparedness, leadership and how we want to build our future. It is not a matter of getting back to normal. Normal is gone. We need to build our new normal and what that is…is up to us. In a way that is exciting, just as it is daunting. You will notice we’re exploring subjects that are not clearly connected to tax. Our goal in exploring these subjects is to provide you with information that will help you navigate uncharted waters that are changing at a rapid clip.

Solutions to COVID-19 tax and financial concerns

COVID-19 related tax news

Relief from COVID-19

Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.