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Cybersecurity, fraud headline USF Accounting Circle Conference

Uday Murthy speaking at the Accounting Circle Conference

The accountants who attended USF's Accounting Circle Conference this month came away with a wealth of information, from how to keep bank accounts safe from cybercriminals to the varying state laws on collecting sales tax from remote internet retailers.

The conference, which was hosted by the USF Accounting Circle board in the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy May 28-29, offered accounting professionals the opportunity to keep up-to-date on industry trends and receive continuing professional education credits, a requirement for the certified public accountant designation. Speakers included academic faculty, members of public accounting boards, and executives from accounting and financial companies.

For the third year in a row, the conference broke a record for number of registrations, with almost 600 people registered. The conference grosses more than $250,000 each year to give back to support students, faculty, and programs at the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy.

Andy Zolper, a senior vice president and chief IT security officer at Raymond James Financial, spoke to the conference attendees about trends in cybersecurity. He noted that when he speaks about cybersecurity, people want to know first what they can do to protect themselves, and second what their companies can be doing.

One scenario he gave of the increasing prowess of cybercriminals was scam emails. The emails that used to be from Nigerian princes can now be much more sophisticated, he said, with hackers sorting through email correspondence to realistically impersonate a client or friend. At Raymond James, he said, the cybersecurity team teaches advisers that if a client says they cannot be contacted by phone, that should raise a red flag.

"We're living through a technology revolution that's completely changing the way we live," he said.

USF System President Judy Genshaft and Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem gave a keynote speech, speaking about developments at USF and the trends in business and business education.

Genshaft spoke about the $1.1 million Targeted Educational Attainment program TEAm grant that USF was awarded from the state of Florida, in conjunction with Florida International University and the University of Central Florida. This particular TEAm grant supports accounting education and is being used to improve graduation rates, support students academically, and prepare them for accounting careers.

"You must work with other universities in order to get this grant," Genshaft said, explaining that the state workforce's projected needs can't be met by one university alone. "These three universities account for about 50 percent of the baccalaureate degrees in accounting in the state of Florida."

Limayem spoke about the importance of using data to make business decisions, saying that finding the meaning in data is the number one skill companies need today.

"That is what is on the mind of every CEO and every businessperson: 'What do we do with these huge amounts of data? How do we leverage big data?" Limayem said.

Limayem gave two examples of data-driven decision making. For instance, Volvo discovered that the No. 1 factor for someone buying a car was the amount of time a salesperson took to explain a car's features. In another case, retailers discovered a correlation between the sales of diapers and beer. These aren't things that would naturally occur to a chief marketing officer, but when the data speaks, companies should listen -- from Volvo placing increased importance on training its salespeople to retailers placing diapers and beer in adjacent aisles.

"In the 21st century, intuition is not enough," Limayem said. "From numbers that seemingly do not mean anything, we're improving our bottom line by preparing students to make these kinds of decisions."

Other presenters spoke about changes coming to revenue recognition, updates from the Securities and Exchange Commission, government and financial accounting standards, audit and assurance changes, and updates on GAAP standards.

Reinforcing the weight of decisions that accountants and auditors in the audience make every day was Walt Pavlo, a former manager at MCI telecomm who was indicted for fraud in the 1990s. Starting with seemingly small "creative accounting choices" Pavlo soon found himself on a path that led to millions in wire fraud and a nearly four-year stint in federal prison. Today, Pavlo travels to business schools nationwide speaking on the importance of business ethics.

"Some procedure that you've put in place has saved somebody," he told attendees.

A panel on fraud in accounting followed Pavlo's speech, moderated by USF Clinical Professor Kerry Myers. Myers, a former attorney and an accountant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, teaches courses in forensic accounting at the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy. Panelists spoke about cases of fraud they had experienced in their careers and their thoughts on fraud prevention. 

For more information about the conference, visit usf.edu/ua/accounting