Articles

Accounting Circle's CPE Conference Takes Place on a Virtual Format; Nearly 500 'Tune In'

By Keith Morelli

Conference Website

TAMPA (May 27, 2020) -- In normal times, the Oval Theater on the second floor of the USF Marshall Student Center would have been filled with accountants, many with laptops or legal pads on their laps, maybe a bagel or Danish in one hand, listening to experts giving them the latest in federal tax updates and whatever else is new in the accounting industry.

This week, the annual USF Accounting Circle CPE Conference pushed ahead during the lockdown caused by COVID-19 and made its 2020 offering on a virtual format. It seemed to work, as presentations appeared to flow seamlessly from one to another on a platform that was easy to understand and navigate.

There was little impact on attendance from past years, with about 500 professionals paying between $250 and $300 to attend the conference on their computers. Speakers made presentations, talking from a box in the corner of a screen while sharing their screens.

The conference, hosted by the Accounting Circle of the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy in the Muma College of Business, was the first large conference held in a virtual format since the business college, like the rest of the university, went into lockdown in March.

Themed “A Vision for the Future of CPAs,” the conference began on time with moderator and accounting instructor Katie Davis welcoming nearly 500 registrants to the first-ever virtual conference. She explained that there may be some glitches and urged virtual attendees having problems to switch browsers, or reach out to IT at vFairs, which provided the platform for the conference, or maybe use a different device. But for the most part, the conference went off without any major problems.

“Keep calm,” Davis said, “and CPE on.”

The conference provides an opportunity for accountants and auditors to earn continuing professional credits and keep up to date on emerging industry trends. Speakers this year included Paul Dunham with CBIZ MHM, who presented federal tax updates, including changes in the tax code brought about by the CARES Act – passed by Congress in March – which provided not only stimulus checks for individuals, but a host of other regulatory tax changes for businesses and corporations.

Also on the agenda the first day of the conference was Alexis Bell, managing director of Fraud Doctor, who told attendees about the fraud landscape and how to manage risk of fraud within a corporation and the differences between audits and investigations. In all, a dozen speakers made presentations over the two-day conference, touching on topics that ranged from “Future Consumer Now: How Data and AI are Redefining the Consumer Experience,” presented by Patrick J Moriarty, managing director, Commercial Analytics, with Ernst & Young, to “What’s New in Excel,” presented by Bill Jelen, publisher of MrExcel.com, to “Organizational Change from the Inside Out: Use Neuroscience to Propel your Organization Forward,” delivered by neuroscientist Heather Collins.

Questions were submitted by attendees and passed on to the speakers by the moderators. Interspersed with the presentations were polling questions, all having to do with accounting or the topics being discussed by the presenter.

“It felt like I have the instructor in front of me and accessible to answer my questions,” said attendee Axa Jimenez, assistant accounting manager with Mosaic. “Even better, I did not miss a beat from the comfort of my house. I am now enjoying a cup of coffee and relaxing a bit. Hope this format is available next year.”

The conference is the biggest annual fundraiser for the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy, providing revenue that benefits students, in the form of scholarships and other student support; faculty, for research assistance; and the school itself, for the funding of its various programs. Typically, the conference allocates about $100,000 of the conference’s proceeds to pay for student scholarships and other programs.

Because of the virtual format, some professionals were able to attend who otherwise may not have come. Mark H. Taylor, director of the school, said registrants tuned in from far flung places like New York City and even the Cayman Islands.

“We are just delighted to bring to you in virtual format, our Accounting Circle CPE Conference,” he said in his opening remarks.

The conference was considered a huge success, given the challenges posed by the pandemic. This year, the total dollar amount of sponsorships rose by 40 percent, he said.

When COVID-19 began sweeping across the United States and businesses – and universities – were shut down in March, the conference was caught in a quarantine quandary. But organizers and sponsors were undeterred and arranged for the online conference to proceed.

“We were wondering what we were going to do with this conference,” Taylor said. “But we came to the decision that the show must go on. The conference planner, Katie Davis, supported by the Accounting Circle Conference Committee, worked long and hard to bring this together. And we believe we have a win-win proposition here.”

How the virtual conference is received by accounting professionals “attending” this year may inform how future conferences will be held; whether they will be offered in person like in the past, or in a virtual format like this year, or in some hybrid form.

“We’re not sure yet,” Taylor said, “what the format or combination of formats will be used for the conference in the years to come, but rest assured, we will be here to support the professional community.”