CPA INSIDER

Weighing a move if your job has gone remote

CPAs can consider using their newfound freedom to specialize in their ideal location.
By Hannah Pitstick

The rapid shift to remote work triggered by the pandemic has demonstrated that it's not only possible for accountants to work in a virtual environment, but it can also be extremely efficient.

For those CPAs who hope to continue working remotely even after the pandemic has subsided, physical location has suddenly become less critical.

"There is going to be a segment of the population of remote workers who are going to say, 'Wait a minute, I don't have to live in the big metropolitan area anymore. I can go live in a small town somewhere,' and there's a lot of appeal to that for a lot of people," said Wray Rives, CPA, CGMA, who has run his own firm remotely from the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 2009.

If you're no longer tied to a physical office, it could make sense to move somewhere that's more affordable, closer to family, or right next to the beach. But before you sell your house, here are a few things remote-working finance professionals should consider when thinking of moving.

Check with your new state's accountancy board. If you're planning to move to a different state as a CPA, you should first check with the state accountancy board where you will practice. By working full-time from a different state, you may need to get licensure in your new state.

All states have passed some form of individual reciprocity legislation, and most states have adopted firm mobility legislation. Working with the board in your new state to figure out the specifics in your situation will be crucial to ensure you are in line with the laws and rules of the state where you plan to live and work.

Additional licensing requirements, if they apply, could involve filling out some forms or paying a fee. To figure out how mobility might apply to you, plug your information into this online mobility tool from the AICPA and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy or check out these AICPA mobility resources.

Speak with your employer. The next step is making sure moving is acceptable to your employer. Some employers might be resistant to the idea if they plan to have employees return to the office after the pandemic has subsided or if they're concerned about time zone differences. Others might be apprehensive about the lack of face time you would have with both them and clients if you were to move across the country, or about any tax implications that could arise as a result of a move. Depending on the nature of a remote employee's work, his or her presence in a state could make the employer responsible for state sales tax collection or liable for state income tax. And even if that is not a consideration, a remote worker in another state can cause the employer added paperwork and withholding responsibilities.

For example, if the firm is based in California, and you want to move to Illinois, then the firm is going to have to register with the Illinois Department of Revenue and withhold Illinois taxes. If your firm is fine with that, then it shouldn't be a problem. Summit CPA Group, a remote accounting and CFO firm, has been fully distributed since 2013 and is well versed in payroll tax issues across the country.

"Going from one place to the next has no bearing at all on us, and we have employees who move just about every year it seems," said Jody Grunden, CPA, Summit's co-founder and CEO.

Determine whether a move makes financial sense. If you live in a big city with a high cost of living, you could save a lot of money by moving to a smaller town or more affordable state, assuming your salary would remain the same. 

As remote work becomes more prevalent, it's possible companies will update their pay policies in tandem. For example, Summit CPA Group pays employees based on the national average, so no matter where employees move in the United States, they're going to get paid the same dollar amount. Grunden admits the practice can deter people from living in big cities, where the cost of living is high, but for most employees, the average is actually higher than the going rate where they live.

You might also consider the tax rates of the area where you currently live compared with where you're thinking of moving. Moving to a place without state income tax could save you thousands of dollars, depending on your income — but don't forget to also figure sales and property taxes into your calculation. And if you're considering buying a home in your new location, check out the average home prices and appreciation in home values over the past few years to determine whether it would be a favorable housing market to get into.

As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's possible your work will require occasional travel when it's safe to do so, even if it's just coming by the office once a week or month. If you're considering moving far away from the office, you should also factor in any potential travel costs you will incur by extending your commute and whether your employer is willing to cover them.

Know your clients. Before moving to a new city, you should make sure your niche or specialty doesn't require you to be on location and that your client base is capable of doing business virtually.

"I had to fire some clients because you get the occasional client who can't operate that way," Rives said. "They're so accustomed to coming in, sitting across the desk, talking to you face-to-face, handing you their documents, and they just can't overcome that this is virtual."

Before you decide to move across the country, make sure the distance won't jeopardize your client relationships. Perhaps one silver lining of the pandemic is that most people have been forced to get comfortable doing business virtually, and many people have realized the benefits.

Grunden said a virtual setup has enabled his firm to get its experts from all over the globe into one "room" with clients, with one meeting featuring a CFO from Maine and a bookkeeper from India, for example.

"We've not shaken the hand of probably half our clients, but we have great relationships with all of them," Grunden said.

Tech up. A remote workplace can be set up virtually anywhere, but you need to choose a location that allows for an excellent internet connection and home office setup.

Adam Hale, CPA, a partner and the COO of Summit CPA Group, said you probably shouldn't move to the middle of the woods because your internet connection needs to be able to handle full days of videoconferencing and data sharing. He added that your new home should include a dedicated office space with a door, and you should consider investing in a good headset, camera, and anything else that ensures a distraction-free environment and clear connection.

Remote accountants also need a secure web portal and scanner in order to get tax documents to and from clients because they will no longer be coming by the office to drop off that paperwork. It's a good idea to check whether your employer is willing to cover these expenses as well.

Make sure you're not jeopardizing team relationships. Perhaps one of the biggest downsides to moving away from company headquarters is that you might not see your co-workers in person very often.

Before Summit CPA Group went fully virtual, one of its employees moved to Texas. At that point, the firm maintained a physical office in Indiana, and the remote employee felt a bit isolated by the experience. 

"They felt they were on an island, and everyone else back at the office was having fun and doing water-cooler stuff," Grunden said. "So, it's really important for us to have a virtual office where we could communicate."

Summit started using Sococo, an online workplace that attempts to re-create the physical office for distributed workforces. Grunden said the platform has been great for team communication because it allows everyone to see when team members are available to chat, on a break, or in the middle of a meeting, and it makes it easy to instantly start a video call with a co-worker.

To make up for the lack of in-person interactions in a distributed workforce, Summit also typically holds a companywide retreat once a year in different cities across the country.

If you're concerned your move will jeopardize team relationships, have a conversation with your manager and colleagues to see if there is a way to maintain strong connections in a virtual environment.

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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