Forensic Accounting & PPP Loans with Sean Saari (Part 2)
In this episode, Phil interviews Sean Saari. Sean is involved in sorting through complicated issues anywhere from PPP loans to tracing assets for divorce settlements. As a graduate from Notre Dame, Sean encourages students to take the CPA exam as he has found it to be a very helpful tool.
Narrator [00:00:00] This is the second part of the conversation between Phil and Shawn about forensic accounting and PP loans, if you haven't listened to the first part of this episode. Check your podcast feed.
Narrator [00:00:12] Hello and thank you for tuning in to another episode of CPA Review and more. We are pleased to bring you the number one 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 Yaeger CPA Review dot com. Now here's your host, Phil Yaeger.
Phil [00:00:39] Do you interview people at all? Have you gone into the colleges? Representing your firm?
Sean [00:00:43] Yes, I used to do it more a handful of years ago than I do now, but yeah, I used to do a fair amount of...
Phil [00:00:49] Now what are you looking for when you meet someone?
Sean [00:00:51] You're kind of looking at the what I would say maybe the the technical piece or the what was the GPA, what classes you could take. I mean, that's almost like the just kind of the admission ticket. You've got to have decent and have a decent position there in the first place. But to me it was really more of the the interpersonal stuff and that. How do you relate to somebody? How do you talk to someone who's personable? Because there's a lot of people out there that can crunch the numbers. But it's a different story if you can crunch numbers and you can communicate what you're finding with the clients that you're working on and how do you deliver difficult messages and, you know, having some of that--some of those soft skills that you get from being one on one with somebody.
Sean [00:01:32] To me, those were always the differentiator.
Phil [00:01:33] Yeah, because a lot of these students, employers complain that a lot of students coming out of school don't have communication skills. And then I say to myself, well, based on my experience of meeting people, a lot of people that have communications skills are the real geniuses, the 4.0s. But, if you have--did you--do they ever hire anybody other than--you're saying the 4.0s to get the what? The actual interview itself?
Sean [00:02:05] No not necessarily. I wouldn't even say necessarily a 4.0. Certainly not a 4.0. But you want to see somebody who's at least done well in the classroom. Again, no one's going to be an expert coming out. Whatever you learn in school.
Sean [00:02:17] I mean, from a practical standpoint, it's going to be completely different when you start working, you know, especially with how quickly things are changing.
Phil [00:02:23] Now what is that saying? Are you saying anything that Notre Dame doesn't prepare you to enter the office the first day they start working and take over an audit on their own?
Sean [00:02:32] And start cranking out 60 hours a week? Why not?
Sean [00:02:37] Every place is so different and that really you're just getting the foundation, you're just getting the building blocks and college and that, you know, it's wherever you go and you're the people that you're with, wherever you decide to go that are really going to be the drivers in helping you develop as a professional.
Phil [00:02:53] Yeah, I know it's different. When I graduated school, they wouldn't--it was the big eight--I think it was back then. All right. Now it's the final four. Right?
Sean [00:03:08] Mm hm. [Yes].
Phil [00:03:08] And the final four. All right. And what they were looking for a member to go to, was there some names probably most people never heard of? People are like in Mitchell. All right. They wanted you to have a minimum of 3.0 before they even talk to you, but they didn't look at the personality of the person. They didn't care as long as you love to do accounting and they didn't mind working 60, 70 hours during tax season. I think that's changed somewhat.
Sean [00:03:40] I definitely do.
Phil [00:03:41] Working from personal and interpersonal skills.
Sean [00:03:44] Yeah. I mean, and you're always going to need you know, there's always a need for for being able to get the work done. And and I think the way that the the profession has evolved, that there's just more avenues to take. You know, you can be somebody who if you're a little bit more of an introvert and you'd rather stay focused on the numbers, there are paths to take that allow you to focus on that. And for those that are more people focused and maybe not as comfortable with the numbers, which might be weird in accounting, but I mean, it happens. I think there are paths for that. But I think you're really able to maximize your potential and in the opportunities if you're able to to do a little bit of both.
Phil [00:04:25] When employees start working here than they tell you what they want, the area they want to go into, or do you start them at the audit level? What's the policy of Morcom?
Sean [00:04:35] Yeah, so I can tell you probably a little bit better from my experience with Skoda Minardi, which was kind of my predecessor firm, which merged into Marcom about a year ago. And and frankly, was the reason that drew me to the firm in the first place was the fact that I didn't necessarily have to choose from day one. And I frankly didn't know. I always found it mind boggling, like, how am I supposed to decide whether I want to do audit or tax when I really haven't done either of them?
Sean [00:05:01] So I went to a place where I could do them both and I figured out that really neither of them were for me and that this alternate path of valuation and litigation support was really what got me excited and was something I could see myself doing.
Phil [00:05:14] So you started. What department did you go in initially?
Sean [00:05:18] When I interned, I did pretty much all tax work. When I started as a full time staff, I did all audit work. And I would tell you having that experience gave me a much better base to build off of, not only just as an accountant, but as a valuation expert or even just as a business advisor in general to be able to speak kind of both of those languages, because it's really easy to get narrow in that I know tax really well, but I have no clue what goes on on the audit side or vice versa. Your clients, they're not necessarily going to care what your specialty is. They just want help with answering their questions and that knowing enough to be dangerous on both sides of the aisle, if you will, has been really, really helpful.
Phil [00:06:04] You do a lot of advisory service work?
Sean [00:06:08] We do, yeah. Yeah.
Phil [00:06:10] Please tell us what that means. I just heard that word. Yeah, no, I just can just get it done.
Sean [00:06:16] So, I mean, the way that I see it is anything that falls outside of the traditional. We need a financial statement. We need a tax return. How do we how do we help you with the problems that you're having? And I think the accounting profession is is undergoing a change and we're seeing it more and more.
Phil [00:06:33] That evolution?
Sean [00:06:34] Yeah, I think I was really lucky with Skoda at the firm I started with that our founding partner was always very focused on the whole advisory concept. How do you be the go to person for a client? And I feel like I'm seeing more and more of those sorts of programs kind of pop up now and becoming more and more of a focus. How to be a trusted advisor. And that you may not be the person is the answer to every question. But who is the person that they that the client goes to first with the problem and then you can help quarterback the process to get them the answer.
Phil [00:07:07] Whichever person goes into advisory services, they like to meet people more than other people or, you know, what about advisory services?
Sean [00:07:18] And I guess I would describe it as, you know, there's there's advisory services and it may be the defined context of kind of everything that falls outside of tax or audit. So it's the valuation work. It's the consulting work. It's whatever it might be, anything that doesn't fall in the traditional audit and tax buckets. But I also think you can look at it from the standpoint of you could be an audit person, but still function in that advisory capacity and your client's going to you, hey, I have a problem on the tax side. All right. Well, let's let's figure out the answer or hey, I'm looking at--I got to make some some gifts. I want to get some value out of my estate before these estate tax changes may come into play. What should I do? All right. Well, all right. What do we do with that process? What are our next steps? Who do we get involved? Those sorts of things where you're I think that's really where we find we can differentiate ourselves and add value for clients is is dealing with the nontraditional situations.
Phil [00:08:14] Do you think the universities prepare people for these areas, advisory services? I mean, I don't think there's a crime, nor do I think they have necessarily the professors that know these areas. All right. If your feeling is how do you how can you get to consulting if I don't know certain areas of information technology, that type of thing, where do I learn that from my first job? And the question is, will someone hire me without that experience?
Sean [00:08:47] It's a great question. I personally think a lot of it is in the first job or in jobs, just jobs along the way. I mean, I think it's a cumulative experience. And depending on what area of focus you may have, maybe there are some prerequisites. As far as like you said, is there some sort of computer skills, computer programing that you need to know in order to get into certain areas? But if you're starting at the ground level, I tend to think that there's a lot of leeway as far as what your background is, as long as you're somebody who's willing to put in the work and and and learn.
Sean [00:09:20] Because when--it's interesting, you go through school and you're learning, learning, learning, you want to apply it. But when you get out and you actually start working, it's even more of an important learning experience than it is when you're in school, at least from my experience.
Phil [00:09:37] You got to be willing, in a way, to teach yourself stuff. You know?
Sean [00:09:43] Exactly.
Phil [00:09:44] Not everything's going to be handed to you on a silver platter.
Sean [00:09:45] I mean, you've got to you've got to find ways that you can grow and whether that student stuff on your own or it's soaking up the knowledge from the people that are around you in the projects you're working on. But it's it's just trying to find those ways and just being acknowledging the fact that the learning isn't done. And it's really never going to end. There's always something that we're we're trying to learn and get better at. And if you're not getting better, there's somebody else who is. And you just need to kind of keep that mindset.
Phil [00:10:09] If you keep up and learn what's going on in the new areas of accounting. Right. Like Advisory services and the AICPA, as I mentioned, the word evolution. All right. In about five years, they going to basically say, hey, look, write the CPA license will no longer just be a license to practice public accounting. All right. It'll be more of you can pick a specialization. All right. Have you gone to any meetings on the evolution thing?
Sean [00:10:41] No, I haven't. But I've I've kind of kept an eye on some of the changes in the credential in that there are these new areas of focus that are going to be, you know, how you take the exam versus when I took it, it was you know, you took your four parts and they were all not necessarily equal as far as volume, but you had to pass each of the four in order to get the credential that things are changing.
Phil [00:11:04] I took it so long ago there were only debits on my exam, no credits.
Sean [00:11:10] [Laughs].
Phil [00:11:10] So the debits did not have to equal the credits. And I was there at the AICPA when it came up with APB number one. Yeah. And that's what I did all day was APB number one. It really got boring after awhile. After being at that firm ten years, it was, but I knew APB number one well. You say I don't have a clue because I just pulled that out of the air.
Phil [00:11:38] But no, I took the exam. I remember I was out of school seven years and the exam I took this review course in the D.C. area and the last two weeks, this is a six month course, the last two weeks, he hands us all these handouts. And he says, I didn't have time to go through that. So you know what, just read it on your own. It's not that important. I remember that. And then I went to the exam. Now, I had not had this stuff right as large problems on earnings per share, and also leases. It's not the lease of the way of now. But, you know, I didn't have this and I remember I called the school and I said, you know, I didn't have those leases, earnings per share. And you said not to worry about it. He says, "well, you know, I can't cover everything", that's what he said, "in six months". Because we had to take off time when I was a Redskins game.
Sean [00:12:42] [Laughs].
Phil [00:12:42] Out of all the areas that you're been in--different areas of accounting--which one do you enjoy the most?
Sean [00:12:49] By far, what I do now, evaluation and litigation support work. To me it's a nice blend of the structure and rules of accounting and tax to some on one end. But you get some professional judgment on the other end of the spectrum as well. And that it's it's really more about building the story and kind of using the facts that are available to reach a supportable conclusion and then being able to defend it. And there are some days that are it's more fun doing that than others. It's never entertaining and and knowing someone's going to be on the other side trying to make you look like the dumbest person in the room. But it's part of the territory.
Sean [00:13:30] It sounds like two attorneys fighting each other in the case.
Sean [00:13:35] I mean, it very much can be that way, you know, and when we get hired, it's it's not necessarily to be an advocate for the client. It's more so to be an advocate for the opinion, what our conclusion is, and that we always tell people...
Phil [00:13:46] Now Sean would not give us any juicy cases on divorces that I asked him to. But uh, he's just concerned. Are these people we would know if you mentioned their names?
Sean [00:13:59] Uh, probably not. But it's funny. I mean, there's--one of the things that's blown my mind with accounting is how many businesses and niches there are where people are insanely successful and you'd have no idea.
Phil [00:14:13] Really?
Sean [00:14:15] And just incredibly profitable companies in areas that you wouldn't even think even existed, and they're printing money.
Phil [00:14:26] How do these companies make money then? I mean, I would not doubt that they were big making money companies that would use them.
Sean [00:14:36] Yeah. Or even just. Yeah. Niches or unique industries that, you know.
Sean [00:14:42] One example is I worked on a recent project. This wasn't in a divorce context, but on a project for a company that does basically kind of acts as the intermediary for libraries to access online content that they can offer to their their card members, whoever might be a card member of a library and just how how much growth and how profitable that business is. And I've worked with them a number of times over the years and just how they've continued to expand. And, you know, it's just mind boggling. And again, something that would even cross my mind was even really an area that you could make money in. And these guys are doing a fantastic job.
Phil [00:15:25] If you hire someone, are you expecting them to become a CPA?
Sean [00:15:29] You know what, that's a great question. In our area, in the valuation world, it's probably becoming less of a requirement than it was before. Frankly, I think we still kind of like that concept of having someone who is a CPA because it gives you such a great background and base of knowledge to build upon, because you're the backbone of any whether it's valuation, forensic or any sort of economic damages analysis.
Sean [00:15:57] It's still all getting back to financial statements and tax returns. That's what we're getting the information. And how do you effectively interpret what's in there? And I don't think that there's really a better curriculum to get you there than what you go through in your accounting courses and becoming a CPA.
Phil [00:16:13] Did you not say that the CPA is not as important to get as it was before? Is that what you said or...
Sean [00:16:21] In the valuation and litigation advisory world? I would say yes. I think there between the CFA is another very well regarded credential from a finance standpoint that we've seen plenty of folks who are top notch experts who don't have a CPA. But frankly, I'd rather have that credential hands down than try to go at it without it. In the broader context of accounting, I think the CPA is just it's just as important as it's ever been. I think you need that differentiator. So to say, you know, I've got this this baseline of knowledge that's going to make me somebody who's a valuable asset for whoever might be hiring you and whatever clients you might be working with.
Phil [00:17:04] So your advice to someone coming out of school majoring in accounting is: you take the CPA exam.
Sean [00:17:11] Oh, you got to. Right? why why spend all that time and not take it?
Phil [00:17:15] Well, you may decide if you've gone through the whole accounting program that this is not your cup of tea, you know? You want to switch into something else. You're not going to tell that person, "well go take the CPA exam whether you stay in accounting or not". Right? I mean...
Sean [00:17:31] I think that--frankly, I would really challenge to say, I think it depends on what area you're looking to get into. I think the CPA opens a ton of doors, even if it's something that you don't plan on using. I'm obviously biased as a CPA. To me, it's the premier credential for anything financial related and that if you've gone that far and if it's something that can enhance your your professional profile, to me, it's it's still well worth taking those steps.
Phil [00:17:59] Why aren't more people going into accounting and taking the CPA exam? I mean, that's what's happening.
Sean [00:18:06] That's a great question. I mean, I think there may be a couple of things at play. One with just the change in how accounting is done now and how it's going to be done in the future. I mean, so much is being automated now that I think there were roles that were there before that won't be there in the future. But what the CPA, at least to me, the CPA, gives you more of a higher level. Base of knowledge that you're not the one who's putting in the numbers, you're the one who's taken the numbers and figuring out what does this mean, and that and that's where I think the CPA is really the differentiator.
Phil [00:18:40] I think a lot of people are intimidated by the amount of material now that they have to know, especially the fact that the CPA exam is evolving into other areas.
Sean [00:18:50] Very, very true. I mean, there's a lot there, no question. And again, that's why I kind of review it as I view it, as the premier credential is. It takes a lot of work to get there. It's not something that anybody can just roll out of bed and take. And it takes a lot of time and preparation.
Phil [00:19:05] It amazes me: all these certification you have. Now, what are you? Twenty-five years old?
Sean [00:19:10] Naw. No, I wish. I'm getting old. My back's hurtin'. No, I'm thirty-six now. I mean and frankly I got a lot of those when I was younger. It was just easier. You're in the mindset of studying and...
Phil [00:19:22] You're a teenager?
Sean [00:19:23] [Laughs]
Phil [00:19:25] Instead of listening to rock and heavy metal music, you listened to evaluation lectures. That made you well-rounded, would you say?
Sean [00:19:38] Yeah, exactly, but I really I think the earlier you get them, the better. And not just because it helps advance your career, but you're just it's so much easier at that stage in life and with that mindset of it just being used to studying. It'd be a little bit different animal trying to do something like that now and whether it's family commitments or its other commitments or it's just as you spend longer in the role at the office, you just have less time to be able to spend on stuff that isn't already accounted for and and has a claim on it already for something you need to get done.
Phil [00:20:13] So a final question is this. If someone is watching, would you recommend if they want to go into public accounting or or whatever, they have no experience. They just fresh coming out of college. All right. Do you think they should possibly try to get an interview with your company?
Sean [00:20:38] Of course.
Phil [00:20:42] That's it?
Sean [00:20:42] [Laughs] That's a simple answer. Yes!
Phil [00:20:46] So anyway, if you just graduated you fresh out of school, all right, and you're a graduate of one of those online schools. OK, I will mention those names, by the way.
Phil [00:20:57] You know, just call Sean. He'll get you a position. And by the way, the office you will get has a window. Right?
Sean [00:21:08] I had to wait a long time to get a window.
Phil [00:21:10] Could you see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where you were?
Sean [00:21:13] No, no. Not that cool of a view.
Phil [00:21:18] Well, have you been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Sean [00:21:20] Oh, yeah.
Phil [00:21:22] You like that title music? I don't know what you're into.
Sean [00:21:25] Oh, I love it. It's a cool experience. Honestly, I'm a--I've grown up on, like, underground rap music, and that's that's been my go to since day one.
Phil [00:21:36] Underground versus over the ground.
Sean [00:21:38] Overground. Exactly.
Phil [00:21:40] You're into rap music?
Sean [00:21:42] Yeah. Yeah.
Phil [00:21:44] You don't look like a rapper.
Sean [00:21:46] I don't know it. It helps me get work done. It gets me excited. I don't know.
Phil [00:21:52] So most of your clients are rappers. Is that when you saying?
Sean [00:21:54] No. No. None yet.
Phil [00:21:57] Six cents and 12 cents. And anyway, thank you very much for being on this podcast. We had Sean Saari. Is that right? Did I to get that right?
Sean [00:22:11] Saari, just like "I'm sorry".
Phil [00:22:13] Saari. I had--the first time I had it right.
Sean [00:22:15] Yeah, you got it right the first time.
Phil [00:22:16] And by the way, Sean got lucky and he has five hundred plus connections on LinkedIn. Are you one of those influencers, you would say, in this field?
Sean [00:22:27] No, not really. I mean, I think it's important that you have a presence there, but it's tell it's not my main focus. But uh...
Phil [00:22:37] Main focus is rapping.
Sean [00:22:40] [Laughs] I'm still more of a kind of get out there in person, know, trying to meet with people face to face versus the online only.
Phil [00:22:48] But before you leave today, would you like to give us a little rap?
Sean [00:22:54] I wish I had something good. I wish I had something good. Next time I'm on, I'll think of something that maybe we can do that.
Phil [00:23:06] If we get Shawn back here, I will mention that Shawn will do some rapping for us. And I'm not talking about presents. I'm talking about rap music, alright? That's--rap music is my favorite music. So anyway, no, I like the music of the 60s. I'm really--but I remember I toured a college and I said, "I'm going to a Barry Manilow concert". And the students said, "Who's Barry Manilow"? And I said, "you don't know him"? I said, Do you know who Neil Diamond is? They didn't know him. Made me feel real old.
Sean [00:23:49] [Laughs].
Phil [00:23:49] So Sean, have a happy, healthy New Year. Stay safe, alright. I really enjoyed talking with you. You're you're a nice guy. You're just a you got a great personality.
Sean [00:24:00] I appreciate you having me on. And hopefully, you know, for the folks who are listening, there's a little piece or two that's that's helpful for you.
Phil [00:24:08] Anyway, today, the first week of January, we had Sean on and he was very helpful in talking about what he does. I am sure he does a lot more than when he spoke about. But now we only have a limited amount of time. So I want to thank everyone for listening and watching. And remember, every Tuesday, we have a different subject. If you have a subject that you want to be discussed, we'll try to find someone who can discuss that area. So, ladies and gentlemen, happy New Year to all of you. Stay safe and we'll see you again for another episode of--feels like a soap opera--another episode of CPA Review and more. Take care and stay well. We'll see you soon. Thank you.
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