Being a Virtual CFP & Understanding PPP Loans with Hannah Smolinski (Part 1)
Phil sits down with entrepenuer & You Tuber, Hannah Smolinski. They talk extensivly on the difficulties that small businesses face when trying to understand the PPP loans. Hannah is becoming a rising star in the world of understanding and clearly communicating what small businesses owners need to know about the PPP loans. Check out her YouTube channel : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS1TfAapbr2J8izI8MH3ttw
Hello, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of CPA Review and More. We are pleased to bring you the #1 podcast for CPAs and CPA candidates. If you'd like to learn more about how Yaeger CPA Review can help you, find us on our website at https://www.yaegercpareview.com. Now, here's your host, Phil Yaeger.
Phil Yaeger: 00:32
Hello, everyone, this is Phil Yaeger and welcome to my podcast CPA Review and More, where we cover subjects dealing with the CPA exam. If you are taking it, or if you're are not taking the CPA exam or you pass the exam, we have what we call other means. We do other subjects. We've got people on from Bitcoins and all types of areas because students want to know: Hey, I graduated college; what am I going to do now with the CPA?
So we bring the guests on. And unfortunately, because it is actually prerecorded, [listeners] cannot ask the questions. But if you need to ask questions, we'll tell you how you can send me a question, and we'll get someone to answer that for you.
And today—and by the way—we have a guest today and we have scanned the globe for this guest, believe me. Is that true, Hannah?
Hannah Smolinski: 1:25
Phil Yaeger: 1:28
Hannah, you are my first guest in quite a while. I don't want to screw up the spelling of your name, or the pronunciation. How do you say your last name?
Hannah Smolinski: 1:41
Phil Yaeger: 1:43
Very good. Now Hannah is the founder and CEO of a you say CEO, the person who cleans the place. Right. Right. You're a big shot in your company, right?
Hannah Smolinski: 1:59
[Laughs] Well, when you work from home—when you work from home—, Phil, I'm pretty sure you do all the jobs.
Phil Yaeger: 2:07
No, no. I have ivory tower position...[audio failure]...I know what you're saying. Everything has changed. You ever thought we'd be sitting here working like this, right?
Hannah Smolinski: 2:17
Phil Yaeger: 2:18
But you're with this company—now let me get this straight—you're with the company, The Claris CFO Group, and [you are an] Upside Financial senior advisor. Now please describe to me, what is the relationship of the two companies? Are you an employee of both? Are you an independent contractor? And what exactly do you do to help society and mankind?
Hannah Smolinski: 2:49
Awesome. Well, I love the big question. Yes, my name is Hannah Smolinski. I am a Washington State CPA, and my company, the one that I own and I am an owner-employee of—as an S. Corp—is Klara's CFO group.
So we help small business owners who need more support than just their bookkeeper or maybe their tax CPA that they talk to once a year. So we help small businesses with a virtual CFO services where we're going on an ongoing basis, every single month. We're talking to clients and we are helping them look at their financials and use their financial information to make informed strategic decisions going forward.
So we really focus on taking the prior information that we get from the bookkeepers and helping them use it to make strategic decisions going forward. Like right now we're planning for 2021, taking all the information from 2020 and trying to figure out what 2021 one is going to look like.
And then the role that I have with Upside Financial is a contractor role. So I come in and I am assisting them on their financial product that they have to assist small business owners with PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) forgiveness. So they have a “PPP Advisor Pro” product, which is kind of a software product combined with a service of actually talking to real people about their PPP loans. And they're helping borrowers package up basically a financial package to go and get forgiveness from their banks for their PPP loans.
So I'm advising that product because I've been basically dealing with PPP forgiveness—well, getting the PPP loans and then PPP forgiveness since March when it all came out. So I've had a lot of experience directly and...
Phil Yaeger: 4:38
And I'm just curious, how did you learn all this stuff?
Hannah Smolinski: 4:40
[Laughs] A lot of reading. It kind of all came out right when the CARES Act came out. I mean, honestly, I was in a little bit of a fog until march came around. Then, out here in Seattle, it was rainy and gray and horrible. And there was just a lot of...everybody was a little depressed because schools were closing and all sorts of things were happening.
And then the CARES Act came out, and I learned about the PPP portion of the CARES Act and I realized that it was first come, first serve. And that just made me kind of jump out of my seat because I have been serving small businesses and I know how many of them do not have access to, first of all, anybody in their corner really fighting for them when it comes to the financial piece. And then just—even—just lack of information from what the federal government puts out to getting down to or trickling down all the way to a small business owner who happens to hear about it. I mean, you have to be pretty connected, or have somebody who's telling you about this stuff. So I was really concerned about that 'first come, first serve' thing.
Phil Yaeger: 5:49
Did you have an accounting practice that dealt with small businesses predominantly? Is that what you did?
Hannah Smolinski: 5:54
Yeah, I mean, my CFO group is a small business, 100%. We focus on mostly small businesses making less than five million dollars in annual revenue. We deal with a lot of people who, it might just be the owner, and then they might have some employees. But when we've—I mean, it's pretty progressive for a lot of small business owners to be hiring a virtual CFO. So we know that a lot of people, like, if they have a bookkeeper, they're kind of in a good place. That's kind of a good thing for a lot of small business owners. There's a lot that don't even have that.
And then a lot of bookkeepers don't know didn't know about PPP at all either. So a lot of CPAs didn't either. So I just really kind of picked up the charge and was like, I got to tell people about this. And I already had a platform on YouTube, so I kind of started doubling down and basically getting information out via YouTube.
Phil Yaeger: 6:50
Now did you...[audio failure]...the economy? Obviously I wasn't in Seattle there, but what happened to the economy when the virus started? Did it immediately affect the businesses? Or was it a gradual effect? What happened with the virus as far as affecting Seattle and your clients there?
Hannah Smolinski: 7:09
Um, I have clients all over the country because I can work virtually. So I was working on Zoom before everybody was working on Zoom, but I think I saw different industries get affected differently.
We immediately saw certain walk-in businesses, brick and mortar type businesses, have to shut down. There were  some that were already in a little bit of a financial struggle;  if they had a lot of debt, they were over leveraged, or  they just maybe weren't quite figuring out their revenue model to begin with, then they almost immediately started to shut down. Those were the ones that really were hit hard.
And then the kind of the non-essential type businesses or ones that even had to go into people's homes. I had an electrical contractor that I was working with that the employees just didn't want to work because they were scared, and so they walked out on the job. And so you can't make revenue if all of your employees just decide to stop working, right?
Phil Yaeger: 8:10
[Unintelligible] … for them to stop working. Wasn't the unemployment fairly high that they would get?
Hannah Smolinski: 8:14
Phil Yaeger: 8:15
So they paid the employees not to work.
Hannah Smolinski: 8:17
Right. And that was another thing that we were seeing—and not so much—it wasn't happening as much with my clients. But as I was talking to more business owners—through comments of just people watching my YouTube videos and making comments is—they were offering jobs or trying to get people to come back to work. But unemployment was at a situation where it was so high—an extra six hundred dollars a week, regardless of whether or not you were working part time or full time, then lots of people—it's a lot of money.
I mean, it wasn't enough money for some people, but then at the same time, if you were maybe working five hours a week somewhere, and then all of a sudden you're able to quit that job and go get paid six hundred dollars a week on top of state unemployment, it definitely—it's an attractive offer.
So that was definitely part of the the struggle of the whole thing. [00:09:05][3.5]
Phil Yaeger: 9:07
Has that expired?—the 600 or 1,200 dollars a week? Has that expired, that provision of the act?
Hannah Smolinski: 9:14
Yeah. It was $600 additional. It was federal unemployment on top of a state unemployment. Yes. That expired July 31st.
Phil Yaeger: 9:25
And so what are the people doing now? It expired you said July 31st or...
Hannah Smolinski: 9:32
Phil Yaeger: 9:35
So that extra unemployment expired, right? Now, what would you get if you are unemployed? How much would you get? You wouldn't get the big bucks. What would you get?
Hannah Smolinski: 9:45
No, you'd be on your typical state unemployment. So, I mean, that kind of varies state by state. And it varies based on how much you had been paid previously. Typically, unemployment is not meant to really recover your full paycheck. Right? It's kind of bare minimum. That's why when it was layered on top of this, when the federal was layered on top of state, it was an attractive offer, but now without that federal unemployment, it's definitely not nearly as good for people. So, I mean, I'm definitely concerned about the situation.
Phil Yaeger: 10:22
Well, aren't they talking now about possibly some money coming out from the Republicans, Democrats? Isn't that—they're in conference now aren't they? Have they approved anything as of today?
Hannah Smolinski: 10:33
I mean, they've been in, quote-unquote, “conference” for months and months and months. I think there's been a lot of back and forth and not a lot of agreement on what everybody can get behind. There was talk of doing another sort of tide-over stimulus—just to like until we can get the new administration in. It looks like that's been declined.
So, I mean, I definitely think we'll probably see some type of second stimulus. It's just probably not going to be until the new administration is in and has time to get some things working.
Phil Yaeger: 11:05
Sounds to me like this COVID thing, in a way, was good for you. It really was. Sounds like we have this COVID virus, you wouldn't really be doing what you're doing now. Am I correct? Or would be doing something else?
Hannah Smolinski: 11:17
Yeah. I think COVID and the CARES Act has helped people realize how important accountants are—how they can be important and how it's important to have somebody on your side and on your team. For my business in particular, it has been interesting to see, like, you know, I mean, it was really hard to decide to become a PPP expert, which is essentially where I'm at right now. That was by choice and also by: hey, I want to help out small businesses, and the way for me to do this is to try to get as much information out as I can and try to stay on top of everything.
And I was doing that through YouTube videos. But what happened as a side effect of that is that I got a larger YouTube following. I think I had somewhere around 100 subscribers when I first started, and now I'm close to like 15,000.
Phil Yaeger: 12:10
You have 15,000 followers?
Hannah Smolinski: 12:12
Yes, subscribers on YouTube.
Phil Yaeger: 12:14
Can I ask you a question? How long did it take you to get that?
Hannah Smolinski: 12:18
Well, that has been since March. So all of that was really when PPP first came out. There was a lot of just panic, and people were trying to find information. And again, banks weren't helping and a lot of CPAs didn't know what was going on. So it really came down to people saying, “Okay, well, somebody has got to be reading this stuff and explaining it in plain language”. And that's kind of where I felt like I could help. You know, I could...
Phil Yaeger: 12:46
Were you one of the few or the only one doing that?
Hannah Smolinski: 12:51
No, I definitely wasn't the only one. There's a couple of other CPAs on YouTube that are kind of doing similar things, and there's lots of great blogs. And there's been a couple of companies that have done a really good job trying to help out with putting out blog content and things like that. But it really wasn't coming from the banks and was not coming from the SBA. The SBA was putting out these complicated interim rules and they were putting in FAQs.
And then it was really like, well, the common small business owner does not have time—for one [thing]—and then also doesn't always understand the language of the finance world. So it was—it wasn't that—These people are incredibly smart. It was just like translating it into like, “hey, this is what it means for you”. Like, this is what this means for you, because that's not what the SBAs rules are written like.
So that that's what I was doing. I was trying to take. OK, well, this is what the interim rule is saying and this is what it means for the small business owner. The process would be: that that bank, ABC Bank, absolutely has to help you process your PPP loan to give it, process it, and give it to the SBA. They have to approve it. That was the part of them being able to accept PPP loans and then get them for—I mean, that that was the whole thing. They have to do that.
But they are not helpful in advising clients on what to submit and exactly what to do and which documents you need to bring a lot of. I mean, honestly, a lot of these bankers have no clue. They have no clue.
So clients are looking to—I mean borrowers—are looking to the bank to give them advice. But the bank is either giving poor advice 90 percent of the time or just saying, “hey, go talk to your CPA or talk to your accountant, talk to your lawyer”. I've heard everything. I've heard, “talk to your payroll provider”. [laughs] They're willing to pass the buck to anybody.
So what what Upside Financial is doing is they're saying like,
“Hey, we're going to give you the information and all the packet so that when your bank is ready to accept it, whether or not it's like, 'hey, just fill out this paper form and send us your documents', whether or not the bank looks at it, that's their deal, but we're going to do it right. So you have all the things, the actual expenses, make sure it's documented exactly what you should be asking for forgiveness for and then you're going to have your package ready to go, because the banks are not helpful.”
I mean, some [banks] are. I've heard a few, but most...
Phil Yaeger: 15:22
...really don't know the rules. Is that it?
Hannah Smolinski: 15:23
No. No. And really, even in applying for forgiveness, they were not even required to know the rules. It was on the borrower to ask for the right amount of money.
Phil Yaeger: 15:34
Oh, really? I didn't know that. Okay. Well that's a very good system. [spoken sarcastically]
Hannah Smolinski: 15:38
[Laughs] Hence, fraud? Hello?
Phil Yaeger: 15:43
[Unintelligible]...word for it. Okay. What I wanted to ask is: Is there a second round of loan coming out?
Hannah Smolinski: 15:51
I think that there probably will be a second stimulus package and the need for small businesses right now. I would be surprised if we don't have another round of PPP.
There is still money in the coffers, even for the original amount, like they didn't even distribute all of the original PPP funds. So my assumption would be: if there is a second stimulus, which I really think there's a high likelihood that there will be, that there will add additional funding to a second round of PPP.
Phil Yaeger: 16:19
Did the government get back the money that was given to companies that didn't need it? Did they get it all back?
Hannah Smolinski: 16:25
Phil Yaeger: 16:27
What were some of the companies that were given money who didn't need the money?
Hannah Smolinski: 16:31
I don't know all of the names of them. I think the big the big ones that came out were like Shake Shack, Ruth's Chris...
Phil Yaeger: 16:37
Ruth's Chris I think was one.
Hannah Smolinski: 16:39
Yeah, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse was one. Shake Shack was the really crazy one because they went out and got public funding like days after they got their $10 million PPP...
Phil Yaeger: 16:50
Well, but the question is: they didn't have to give back the money or they just didn't give it back?
Hannah Smolinski: 16:54
They did give it back. Ruth's Chris—I think both Ruth's Chris and Shake Shack—gave it back, and then it was this big: “Oh yay, Shake Shack's so amazing because they gave back their money”. And I was like, “Well yeah, they got $167 million a few days later.
Phil Yaeger: 17:07
How did they get that money? Did they ever disclose that?
Hannah Smolinski: 17:10
Oh, how did they get the PPP?
Phil Yaeger: 17:12
No, how did they get the money considering, really, they shouldn't have been entitled to it?
Hannah Smolinski: 17:16
I think it was just that easy process of application. You know? I mean they just had to prove out their payroll costs. And that was before they were doing a lot of scrutiny on who really needed it and who didn't. And that's when they they offered the safe harbor. They said, hey, come back, give us the money back. We're not going to penalize you if you don't really need it. Return it under...
Phil Yaeger: 17:39
Sounds like monkey business to me. I don't know, what do you think? I think that's what it sounds like.
Your YouTube business was increasing. You're up to around 15,000. How many YouTube subscribers do you have now?
Hannah Smolinski: 17:52
Oh no, that's 15,000 today. Yeah. So that's from March to today is about 15,000.
Phil Yaeger: 17:56
Where do you see that going?
Hannah Smolinski: 17:59
Claris Info Group, I feel, has an opportunity to have an impact. I think that's—that's really what I see. I see that there's a lot of opportunity to inform and educate small business owners about the financial side of their business. And it's something that I see as kind of like my mission for this business.
So I see the YouTube continuing to grow because once PPP is over, I mean, there's so much we can talk about. We can talk about, I mean, just the basics of finance, even like how to read your P&L you know, how to work out a cash flow, how to plan for future decisions.
Phil Yaeger: 18:40
I don't think PPP is going anyplace soon, because this monster, or whatever it is, is going to be still be around. It's not just going to disappear.
Hannah Smolinski: 18:51
Yeah, we've got lingering effects. We've got I mean, after you're covered-period, you have ten months to apply for forgiveness. And then the the loan is still—it's either a two year term or a five year term, if you do have an amount to repay. And then if we have a second round of PPP that will extend it out even more. So we're dealing with at least a couple of years of people being interested in what's going on with PPP.
Phil Yaeger: 19:13
And that's great because you're only, what, 17, 18 years old?
Hannah Smolinski: 19:17
Phil Yaeger: 19:18
So you've got tour whole life ahead of you. Is that right?
Hannah Smolinski: 19:22
Nah, not quite. Add a few tens. [laughs]
Phil Yaeger: 19:32
Well you're young. I think you told me you have a family. Is that correct?
Hannah Smolinski: 19:36
Yeah, I have a young daughter. She's in second grade. So we're dealing with the whole home schooling, trying to do that on top of where she is. [00:19:45][9.0]
Phil Yaeger: 19:36
That is fun. Are you enjoying that? Are you thinking about becoming a teacher?
Hannah Smolinski: 19:48
[Laughs] Let's just say I will be all the more grateful for teachers now.
Phil Yaeger: 19:57
That could be the name of your new business: All the More Grateful. What do you think of that? [00:20:01][3.7]
Hannah Smolinski: 20:03
I like it.
Phil Yaeger: 19:57
And then I hear the other teachers...[unintelligible]
Hannah Smolinski: 20:06
Phil Yaeger: 20:07
In many respects, I look at this virus as it has—to me—it's helped us to some degree because, one, we're doing virtual CPA review business. Right? Which not in a million years would have—who knew what the word virtual meant? It's sort of a new word.
But that's how we've increased CPA review, and also it's helped us from the standpoint that we've learned how to use LinkedIn and the different social media to actually get more students. And we're trying to do that because a lot of our competitors, they're not really doing that correctly. And by the way, I just wanted to mention to the competitors: you're not doing that. All right? And if you think about it, I let my cousin Bruno from New York visit you. [Laughs] No. I think it serves a good purpose. I really do.
The the virtual has been great. The only thing we lose is the one we're losing, like the personal touch between people, you know, sort of inter...
What do you do as far as your clients? Do you talk to them on the phone? The virtual? How do you deal with them? Because it's not full virtual.
Hannah Smolinski: 21:23
Yeah, I mean, I do zoom most of the time. Like, I even have some local clients and we would meet via Zoom before COVID. But I think that there is a little bit of loss of the interpersonal skills for sure. I think there's I mean, as much as video is helpful, it's better than just a phone call all the time. Yeah, there's always something to be said for being in person. I find that it's very hard to do like conferences or have a good question, you know, in zoom.
And I think we're coming a long way. I think there's really great things about it. I think it's allowing people the flexibility that they never had before, which is fantastic. But overall, it's nice to be able to meet when we can. [00:22:08][14.8]
Phil Yaeger: 22:10
Do you love what you're doing now?
Hannah Smolinski: 22:13
I do love what I'm doing right now. I wish I had a little bit more support, maybe, just in different times.
Phil Yaeger: 22:22
Are you looking for daycare? Is that what you're looking for?
Hannah Smolinski: 22:24
[Laughs] Maybe just school—just school to be back. If we could just get regular...
Phil Yaeger: 22:30
My daughter—you know the Goddard franchise?
Hannah Smolinski: 22:34
Phil Yaeger: 22:35
But your your children, your daughter—Is it a daughter or a son again?
Hannah Smolinski: 22:38
Phil Yaeger: 22:39
So she's not preschool?
Hannah Smolinski: 22:41
No, she's in second grade.
Phil Yaeger: 22:43
Well, my daughter—you know the price is right—we could... [unintelligible] ...Don't be in business with a daughter or relative. It could end up being a real problem.
Hannah Smolinski: 22:55
Phil Yaeger: 22:56
No, but, my daughter's Goddard School has really been hit
Hannah Smolinski: 23:00
Phil Yaeger: 23:01
But she's held up. She got money from the government. And, the thing is, she's dealing with all this stuff. I didn't realize what a pain it is: state and local agencies. Now a lot of these state and local, they change by the day, week, or month. And I remember when this first happened. It really tore her apart. She had never gone through anything like this. She had a pretty good life, you know, and all of a sudden she had this school, and they were opening a second one and a third one, and then they get hit with this, and she's never, as I said, been hit with any aggravation in dealing with people.
So I think it showed her life is a little different than maybe she thought it was. But, you know, she's going to be okay. They're opening a fourth school! Now, of course, it can't be 100% full. But, they're going in with another group, because she—they—can't handle all of these. But that Goddard—by the way, I'm not pushing Goddard as a franchise—but it's helped her in that, actually it's taught her how to deal under bit. You know, I spoiled—I guess I spoiled her in a way. She's our only child. And we finally realized—she said, “Gee, I didn't think people were like that”. And I said, “Guess what, they are. It's a dog eat dog world out there.”
So I think we gave her some practical skills.
Hannah Smolinski: 24:29
Phil Yaeger: 24:30
And also, they did get a fairly substantial amount of money from the government. Though I have to give her credit. They followed every rule, and repaid—they'll repay everything. And they won't have to pay any taxes.
And I give her credit. She learned a lot of the rules and the laws, and I wouldn't have the patience even read that stuff. You know, people say, “You don't have the patience? You're a CPA!” Well, I really like being a CPA. That's why—I love being a CPA. It's a great profession. I would recommend it, though, because it changed my life.
Are you ever sorry you went into public accounting?
Hannah Smolinski: 25:12
No. I'm not. I think that if anything, public accounting has opened up my options as a career. I mean, I started...
Phil Yaeger: 25:22
Well, what happens if this did not happen? Would you still love it?
Hannah Smolinski: 25:25
If what did not happen?
Phil Yaeger: 25:22
If we didn't have this COVID going around, would you say to me right now, “Phil, this is still the greatest profession in the world”?
Hannah Smolinski: 25:38
Now, would I say it's the greatest profession before or after covid? I don't know. But for me, I really do love being an accountant. I love the fact that I did get my CPA and I did kind of do the track that I did. Now, would I wish that COVID wasn't here? Absolutely. My business was on a great trajectory before COVID, and we had to pivot a little bit and do something a little bit different in COVID, but it's still growing and doing what I want it to do.
But I would say, I mean, I did the whole traditional route. I went and did the accounting degree, got my master's in accounting, sat for the CPA exam, worked for a big four accounting firm and kind of did all of that. But one thing that I had some mentors kind of tell me along the way: I had somebody, a friend, a family friend when I was trying to figure out where to go, what to do. And—do I go into market? I love business, but like, do I go into marketing? Do I do accounting? I don't really like—I don't want to be an accountant. Accountants are boring..., but I had somebody tell me, like, well, Hanah, like, I mean—it sounds cliche, but Hanah, like—numbers are—accounting is the language of business, and if you understand the language, you can do anything.
Phil Yaeger: 26:56
Gee, I think I've heard that before. I love that one. They come out with these things. It is the language of business. Doesn't that sound great?
Hannah Smolinski: 27:05
Yeah. I mean, it was very inspirational too. He was a very charismatic guy who... [unintelligible]
Phil Yaeger: 27:11
We he said that I almost drove myself to tears.
Hannah Smolinski: 27:14
Phil Yaeger: 27:14
But no, it's a good area. You know. If you don't want to go into this area, now you have other areas. There's more choices of what you can go into now.
Hannah Smolinski: 27:23
There's so many choices. I think the people that I started with—so I started at Ernst and Young—and now I see my colleagues that I started my staff one year with. I mean, I see small business owners. I see people who have left to do their own accounting firms. I see people who have left to start bubble tea shops and do their own thing completely. I've seen people go, I do finance, go into valuations, go and be the controllers and CFOs of larger companies. I mean, I've seen people take tons of different routes with it, and not everybody is staying in finance. Like some people are going and working in technology where they just love the technology.
Phil Yaeger: 28:00
I see a lot of that. I see a lot of guys in CPA-IT, and they're creating programs and getting involved in artificial intelligence.
Hannah Smolinski: 28:09
Yeah, absolutely. So honestly, I just I feel—I really feel like—of all professions, I feel like our trajectory could go so many different ways. So, I mean, I can't see it being a detriment to anybody, unless you just don't do anything with it. If you really never do anything with it, then that's one thing. But like, you can take it anywhere you want to go.
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