AICPA Certificates Wall of Fame: Annette Nellen

Annette Nellen, CPA, CGMA, Esq.

Professor and Director of the Master of Science in Taxation (MST) Program, San Jose State University
San Jose, CA
Blockchain Certificate Program


Tax law complexity on the rise

Dealing with tax law complexity has always been a challenge—and one that seems to continue to worsen.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act makes international transactions more complicated. It also adds some new deductions and deduction limitations that add complexity. Further, there are continuous changes in the nature of transactions and even the types of assets that exist, like virtual currency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), that add to the complexity.

Blockchain will be another significant change for the accounting profession. We're starting to see more transactions maintained on the blockchain, and I think we’ll start seeing tax records being recorded on it, as well.

The blockchain challenge

I’m always very intrigued by new ways of doing business and trying to figure out the tax considerations. In the 90s, it was the emergence and growth of e-commerce— and the state tax issues that arose from it—that were fascinating to me. In 2009, it was bitcoin, but it dawned on me quite quickly that it wasn't really bitcoin that was going to have a significant impact as a major technology shift, it was the system making digital currency work: the blockchain. Then, to see entities like the Big Four, IBM and Microsoft pushing it, I knew it was going to be a big deal.

I began thinking about how we could change curriculum for my accounting and audit colleagues, and about how much of the technology we would need to understand. You can use the Internet or drive a car without knowing the details of how they work, but it’s different with blockchain. I thought we would need a deeper understanding of how this technology works to get a better sense of what it can do. And, if company records and transactions will use it, CPAs will need to understand how it works.

If someone wants to get up to speed on blockchain, the AICPA Certificate course is a good way to go.

Filling knowledge gaps

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about virtual currency. I recently took an 8-hour course to become a “crypto currency expert.” In addition, I completed the AICPA Blockchain Fundamentals for Accounting and Finance Professionals course. I’ve studied virtual currency on my own since 2013, but felt there were a few holes in my knowledge.

While a lot of people say they know all about virtual currency and blockchain, they often don’t know enough. I had connected with CPA Kirk Phillips about bitcoin back in 2013. He is the “Bitcoin CPA” and very knowledgeable on the topic of virtual currency and the blockchain. He wrote The Ultimate Bitcoin Business Guide in 2015. I was pleased to see he was co-teaching the AICPA blockchain fundamentals course and that’s one of the reasons I took it.

The program filled my knowledge gaps directly and indirectly by providing me with more topics to explore on my own. It also covered some terminology I hadn’t been exposed to before, as well as some emerging blockchain capabilities we’d need to understand.

It was a webinar, delivered in an interactive format between the presenters, which made it more engaging. There were additional resources provided to explain some of the activities going on in the blockchain space, some of which I’ve shared with others on my virtual currency/blockchain website.

If someone wants to get up to speed on blockchain, the AICPA Certificate course is a good way to go.

On the horizon

Blockchain is coming in when we're still in the midst of dealing with demands from CPA firms seeking greater skills in data analytics for students. They need to learn about the tools used to pull data from multiple sources, present it in a useful way and explain what it means to a client. I'm working on getting a data security and analytics course added to our graduate tax program to help our students be well prepared for public accounting and new technologies being used.

I’m also exploring the AICPA Financial Planning Certificate Program to build that into the MST curriculum. I agree with the AICPA research that says the number of clients wanting assistance with financial planning is growing. It's something that a lot of our students are interested in.

As technologies change business operations and provide new analysis and planning information, students need to be up to speed on these changes. Assistance from the AICPA with appropriate materials, such as for financial planning, and certificate programs for practitioners and academics, is extremely helpful.