By aga merx, Vice President and SBA Department Manager, Bank of American Fork
A recent trend in the small business world is to create an advisory board. Many business owners realize they are experts in one area and that they can leverage the knowledge and expertise of other professionals to make well-rounded and informed decisions. Having routine meetings with an advisory board helps small businesses run more efficiently, tackle challenges and plan better for the future.
Advisory boards are often comprised of professionals with expertise in marketing and sales, attorneys, accountants and bankers. Some business owners meet with their advisors quarterly, some do monthly webinar calls and some meet over lunch as the need arises. An advisory board does not have decision-making authority; rather, the members serve as a “sounding board” for the small-business owner and share opinions and insights to improve the business strategy and tactics.
Regardless of the stage of the business, there are four areas of business operation an owner should discuss with his or her advisory board.
Strategic planning. Every business owner should know where she is and where she wants to take her business in the next five years. Consider using an advisory board to set goals and establish metrics. Based on where the business will be in five years, goals are often set in annual increments. Advisors may share great insight on the strategy for expansion. Oftentimes, company growth is accomplished by introducing new lines of business, identification of new market opportunities or physical expansion, like opening more offices and retail stores. I have observed that successful businesses are successful by design. They do not haphazardly sell more or grow their clientele faster. Good business owners plan and strategize. When a business is doing well and begins to coast, proactive business owners may want to sit down with their advisory board and establish new goals so they can push forward to accomplish even more.
Tactical execution. Establishing goals is only half a success. It is imperative to find the best ways to reach the strategic objectives. An advisory board can help identify the most pertinent marketing campaigns and salesforce efforts. Members may even have contacts that might help small-business owners to implement growth tactics. While networking and marketing are being developed, advisors may be able to provide insight with regards to organizational and staffing development. Making sure the company has the proper infrastructure to handle additional orders or business growth is instrumental in the life of the company. There have been times in retail industry when marketing and sales efforts provide additional orders, but the company does not run like a well-oiled machine or does not have enough employees to handle the new influx of orders.
Business growth is often accompanied by the need for additional capital. Most small-business owners do not retain enough liquidity to support the growth stage of their company. As such, taking into consideration the expertise of a banker is of great importance. An accountant and banker can help structure the financial model in anticipation of working capital financing needs.
Process streamlining. In addition to planning, there are the day-to-day operations that often need refining. While many small businesses run well, an advisory board can help identify inefficiencies and help in developing systems and internal controls to support leaner operations of the company and the future growth.
Reviewing the metrics to assess progress towards the goals could be accomplished through the implementation of different software. Service-oriented businesses have, over the past few years, been more reliant on customer relationship management and sales pipeline management software to track performance of salesforce and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Another effective tool incorporated by many business owners is the development of written procedures and manuals. These help with duplication of efforts and standardization of processes.
Challenge navigation. In business, not everything will go smoothly. Some of the challenges encountered by small-business owners are personnel issues, compliance requirements and technological innovations. Changing tax laws may also heavily affect a small business and the way an owner wants to recognize income. These are times when it is likely that a small-business owner is an expert in one area, but leveraging the knowledge of the advisory board could be of great help. I worked on a loan for a company that provided software and services to financial institutions. A member of the advisory board was familiar with the banking industry and pointed out to the borrower that there was a company providing similar services in another area of the country. The borrower adjusted the marketing strategy and arrived at ideas to distinguish himself from potential competition.
Some businesses grow. Some grow faster than others. Some appear lucky and some grow because of the owner’s determination and focus on goals. The better organized the business is and the more advice and ideas the business owner receives from her advisors, the more beneficial the advisory board is for the business. Running ideas by diverse thinkers and advisors with expertise in areas that a business owner may lack can help an owner optimize her business. It is said that smart people learn from their mistakes. Really smart people learn from others’ mistakes. It is evident which small-business owners utilize the knowledge and the street smarts of seasoned advisors. Reliance on expert advice and guidance is an intangible benefit that generates tangible metrics and results for a small business.
aga merx is a vice president and SBA department manager for Bank of American Fork. Her extensive experience with the Small Business Administration started when she worked for the Small Business Development Center, an SBA-approved agency to help small businesses apply for loans, prepare to meet their lenders and prepare business plans. A challenge in SBA lending is keeping updated on constant change in procedures and news from the SBA, so merx keeps up on changes and educates and coaches other loan officers. She is a board member for Community Health Charities, an umbrella charity that focuses solely on health charities like the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Camp Hobé or the Arthritis Foundation. She is an ambassador for the Women’s Networking Group. She is also a board member for Westminsters Women’s Development Program, an organization focused on developing the business skills of the female students and the alumni of Westminster College. merx prefers not to capitalize her name.
This article first appeared in The Enterprise.
Guest post by Tracey Larson, Vice President and Special Projects Manager, Bank of American Fork
Tracey Larson is the financial representative for the Governor’s Commission on Aging and is our resident age-friendly expert. Tracey will be presenting at the World Economic Forums Global Agenda Council on Ageing in Philadelphia this spring.
My parents are in their late eighties. Although they walk with canes, are hard of hearing and repeat themselves a bit, they are bright and smart and fun. I’m very protective of them. That’s why we won’t patronize businesses that treat them poorly, like the fast food establishment with the cashier who rolled his eyes and made obnoxious, audible, sighing noises while my mother tried to decide which burger to order.
It was recently reported by the American Bankers Association that nearly eight in 10 seniors surveyed are still able to take care of their own finances. If they can take care of their finances, there are a lot of other decisions they can make, including whether or not to use one business’ services over another.
Something else for you to consider is the amount of wealth this demographic holds in our economy. Seniors 50-plus years and older own 67 percent of bank deposits and they are loyal – 50 percent of them have been with the same bank for more than 20 years. I’d wager to say that your businesses have many of those same loyal seniors as customers. They are valuable to all of us and worth some special attention.
There are several things we can all do as business owners and employees to care for our senior customers. A few shared by our bank employees include:
-Know your senior customers. Be aware of their limitations, whether they are physical or cognitive challenges. If you don’t know them personally, be observant of their behaviors when they approach you. Don’t make assumptions of all “old people,” but be sensitive.
-If the senior has a cane or struggles with mobility, offer a chair. It’s okay to conduct business with them sitting down.
-Is that cane white? Sit them where it’s well-lit. Guide them through a passage that’s a bit wider for them to maneuver. Offer to read for them if it’s something difficult for them to see. Keep a few large sheets of paper with a black Sharpie® if you need to write a price or another piece of information down.
-If a senior is hard of hearing, find a spot where it’s a little less chaotic, a little quieter so you can speak up.
-Make sure your automatic doors are working. Do you have the required ADA accommodations? Do your employees know to simply grab a door or assist with an arm when needed?
-Train your staff about cognitive disorders and how they may be manifested. Sometimes that angry senior is just frustrated because they don’t understand or become confused. Check your local AARP and Alzheimer’s Association for some good training resources.
-Be patient; be kind; remember how you’d like your own mother treated.
Maybe with a few adjustments in your awareness of the senior community, you’ll be the talk of their friends. And, I might just bring my parents by to visit with you regarding their business needs.
If you’re looking for a way to reduce your taxable income for your 2015 taxes, consider the advantages of an IRA—you have about a week to make contributions to an IRA for last year. This year, you have until April 18—an extra couple of days! Contributions to IRAs can be made as late as the first due date of a tax return, and can be considered retroactive to the previous tax year, so you can still make a qualifying IRA contribution and get the tax benefit if you qualify for your 2015 tax filing. For 2015 the dollar limits for IRA contributions are $5,500 if you are age 49 and younger, $6,500 if you are 50 and older. If you don’t have an IRA, Bank of American Fork can help.
Bank of American Fork’s IRAs are held in CDs, not in the stock market, so you are guaranteed a safe return and you are covered by FDIC insurance. Unlike some banks, we don’t charge you holding fees or an annual fee. Depending on the type of IRA you choose and subject to IRS rules, you can earn tax-free or tax-deferred income. When you are eligible, you can receive distributions from the money in your IRA.
Here are the types of IRAs we offer:
-Traditional IRA: Allows contributions of pre-tax income. Taxes are paid upon distribution
-Roth IRA: Allows contributions of after-tax income, if qualified. Qualified distributions of principal and interest are tax-free. After retirement, distributions are not required.
-SEP IRA: SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension. It allows a business to make contributions toward its employees’ retirement using IRAs. These are especially popular with sole proprietors, where the business owner and the employee are the same person. SEPs allow a higher maximum contribution than a Traditional or ROTH IRA. (See IRS for eligibility requirements)
At Bank of American Fork, variable-rate IRAs require only $10 to open, while fixed-rate IRAs can be opened with a $500 minimum opening deposit.
Don’t wait any longer to start your retirement savings and save on your taxes. Open an IRA today! At Bank of American Fork, our friendly staff can meet with you and show you firsthand how we can help you secure a strong financial future. Call 1-800-BANK to set an appointment. We look forward to speaking with you.
Consult your tax advisor for details.
In the Federal Reserve’s view, most indicators showed an improved economy at the end of 2015, prompting the Fed to announce it would begin raising short-term interest rates in support of growing confidence and based on what was then new economic data.
With the Fed announcement, Bank of American Fork believes this is a good time for consumers to cautiously evaluate their current financial strategies. Saving should over time become more advantageous to consumers if the economy continues to show signs of improvement and as interest rates climb. Savings accounts, money market funds and other savings vehicles could provide increased interest rates for consumers.
The cost of financing homes and autos will probably increase though as interest rates climb. In both cases, consumers will probably not experience quick, dramatic changes in interest rates, but instead see a slow move upward as the Fed raises rates over time.
During the past few years as the U.S. economy slowly recovered from the Great Recession, the Fed used its economic policy-making influence to keep its target interest rate low – near zero since about 2009 – to help the delicate economy reboot and start the long process of recovery and growth.
During the past few years as the U.S. economy slowly recovered from the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve used its economic policy-making influence to keep its target interest rate low – near zero since about 2009 – to help the delicate economy reboot and start the long process of recovery and growth.
Today, with most indicators showing an improved economy, the Fed announced it would raise short-term interest rates in support of growing confidence. In its November policy meeting, the Fed didn’t raise interest rates but left the door open to do so in December, which it did, based on the new economic data.
There are pros and cons associated with the Fed’s policy to begin raising interest rates. With low interest rates, consumers pay less to finance higher-priced items paid over longer periods of times such as homes and autos. The biggest con is found in savings accounts, where the low interest rates make little to no dent in returns creating little incentive to save.
With the Fed announcement, saving will become more advantageous to consumers with the added benefit of knowing the economy is improving. The cost of financing homes and autos will increase though with the higher interest rates.
Now may be a good time for consumers to consider refinancing their mortgages or other loans at low interest rates before they rise.
Guest post by Angie Morris, CPA, Hawkins Cloward and Simister
A customer asked: “When I was a business owner, my CPA and I would wait until the books were closed at the end of December, then look at the profits. If I felt it was enough, and if we needed computers or equipment, we could still buy things in early January and deduct the expense in the prior year. There was some tax rule that allows this. Can you tell me more?”
There isn’t a rule that allows you to keep your books open into January and report the expenses in the prior year. The rules for reporting your income and expenses are based on how you keep your books. The most common methods of accounting are accrual and cash basis. Most taxpayers and businesses use the cash basis method for income tax reporting.
If you are a cash-basis taxpayer, you will report income when you receive it and expenses when you pay them. The benefits of this method are: it’s easy to use; income is not reported until received, making it easier to pay the taxes since the taxpayer has the funds; and the taxpayer also has the ability to manage the timing, deferring income by not billing until the following year or paying expenses early and accelerating deductions into the current year. The ability to manage the timing of income and expense can distort your profit and loss during a tax year, since you aren’t matching expenses to the income they generated. The accrual method of accounting matches income and expenses in the period revenues are earned and expenses are incurred.
If you are purchasing equipment that will last longer than a year, then you are required to capitalize it and report the depreciation expense over the asset’s useful life. You need to place the asset in service before you can start depreciating it. If you order and pay for the asset in the current year, but do not receive it until the next year, you won’t get the deduction until the following year when it is placed in service.
The IRS recently modified the new repair regulations, allowing businesses (that do not have an audit) to expense an asset costing $2,500 or less in the year purchased. You can make this safe harbor election on your taxes annually. The $500 expense limit was increased to $2,500, effective for 2016. The IRS stated they will not challenge using the higher limit for years prior to 2016.
Rather than looking at your books in January, I recommend you meet with your CPA in November or December and do some year-end tax planning. This is a good time to review your income and expense for the year and see if you need to make any adjustments during the last few months. Once you see where your net income will be and the related taxes, you can decide if you want to make any adjustments such as pushing income into the following year, accelerating expenses, fund retirement, make equipment purchases, or other tax planning measures. Year-end planning allows you to manage your taxable income and plan for any tax bill that may be due.
Angela A. Morris graduated from Brigham Young University. She is a member of the AICPA and the UACPA. She has served as the treasurer of the Utah Association of CPAs and president of the UACPA Southern Chapter. She is currently the vice chair for the Housing Authority of Utah County, the treasurer of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce Women’s Business Network, and on the executive board for the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce. Angie loves spending time at Lake Powell and is a devoted St. Louis Cardinals fan.
Many young kids will find one small piece of joy this Christmas with a teddy bear given to them at care centers throughout Utah serving at-risk children. The teddy bears are donated to the care centers from branches of Bank of American Fork and Lewiston State Bank as part of Project Teddy Bear.
“Sometimes children come in with nothing but the clothes on their back,” said Alex Essig, Kids Place asst., and Adoption Respite Supervisor for The Family Place. “These teddy bears are a great way to offer them some comfort and safety when they come from an environment where that might not have happened.”
The 16th annual Project Teddy Bear brought in 18,831 stuffed animals during the 2015 holiday season. Richard Beard, president and CEO of People’s Utah Bancorp, holding company of People’s Intermountain Bank, which provides banking services through the branches of its Bank of American Fork and Lewiston State Bank divisions, presented the stuffed animals to several Utah treatment centers during a ceremony Thursday.
“When it comes to kids, there is nothing more important to us than to do what we can to help them find joy and happiness during this holiday time,” said Beard. “We are a community bank and all of the members of the various communities our branches serve are very important to us. In addition to our day-to-day business operations, we want to do all we can to serve.”
The staff at The Family Place in Logan, Utah provides counseling, education classes for parents and children, and provides the Kids Place. Kids Place helps families that are in an emergency situation and need a safe place to bring their children when no other option is available. It also allows parents to bring their children to a safe place to socialize with other children and for other reasons.
“Depending on the child, they may be coming in not knowing why or what’s happened, or may be upset,” said Essig. “The teddy bear we receive from Lewiston State Bank is a great way to calm the child down and gives them something to talk with when they might not feel like talking to an adult. It’s so amazing to see. Even though they just met the teddy bear, that teddy bear quickly becomes their best friend.”
The mountains of stuffed animals were donated by customers and community members, and will benefit abused, at-risk and traumatized children. Children will receive the stuffed animals when they’re experiencing trauma or will use them in play therapy.
The Greenhouse Center for Growth and Learning in Pleasant Grove, Utah works with parents and children who need counseling and therapy. Many of the children they work with live in foster homes awaiting adoption. Some have issues with attachment or have to deal with other complex issues.
“When children come here they have usually experienced trauma such as abuse, neglect, broken families or other situations,” said Elsebeth Green, co-owner, clinical director, and therapist at Greenhouse. “Bank of American brings us these stuffed animals, which is a real blessing for us because we give each child a gift on their very first visit. They have often lost everything. They go to our closet and pick out a teddy bear, stuffed animal or a quilt made by people from the community.”
Bailey’s Moving & Storage, who donated boxes, moving supplies, trucks, and labor to Project Teddy Bear, delivered the stuffed animals to the Utah crisis centers.
Including children, teenagers, and adults, the community has donated more than 110,000 teddy bears and stuffed animals since Project Teddy Bear began in 1999.
Bank of American Fork employees and American Fork High School students boxed up the 18,431 bears up for delivery to the centers by Bailey’s Moving & Storage drivers. In Logan, Lewiston State Bank employees boxed up the 400 new stuffed animals to go to Cache Valley centers.
Center employees received and sorted the stuffed animals, which will be given throughout the year to children and parents during therapy sessions and to take home.
Have you heard the story of how we came to be so involved in helping to protect our senior customers, and other seniors nationwide, from fraud? We became involved, in part, because of a girl who wanted to help her grandma. It became much more and we’re grateful to help other banks and organizations learn how to protect seniors from financial abuse.
There’s something you can do to help protect yourself or your loved ones. Start by learning a little more about elder financial abuse here.
Project Teddy Bear started on Friday. Are you participating?
Click to enlarge graphic.
You hear us talking about Project Teddy Bear every year, but now you know where the bears go and why this project is critical to Utah children.
We’re excited for Small Business Saturday this week!
Cyber Monday deals have already started and some of you might be prepping for early wake-up calls on Friday, but have you gotten into the spirit of Small Business Saturday yet? Small Business Saturday is on Saturday, November 28 this year and the idea is to do some of your holiday shopping at small or local businesses.
The difference that Small Business Saturday can make in our communities is great. Shopping at local businesses keeps money and growth in our local economy.
The American Bankers Association reports that last year, there were 88 million consumers “Shopping Small” on Saturday. ABA’s research shows more than 77 percent of consumers said Small Business Saturday inspires them to “Shop Small” through the year and not just for the holidays. In addition, 66% of consumers state the main reason they support small businesses is because of their contributions to the community.
If you commit to doing some of your holiday shopping at local businesses, you’ll build wealth in your community and you might find that you’ve been missing out on great vendors, products and services offered by your neighbors and friends.