Q&A: Janice Wegesin

By Norman Levinrad • June 17, 2016 • 0 Comments
I am sure many of you regularly use the 5500 Preparer’s Manual in your practice. Recently I interviewed its author, Janice Wegesin. Here’s the interview. 

Norm: Janice, thanks for doing this interview. You’re well known in the profession for your expertise in Form 5500 and many of us have had your annual Form 5500 Preparer’s Manual on our desks for decades. How did it come about that you authored this publication? What path in your career led to you becoming an expert on Form 5500 and writing the book?

Janice: I began working at a Chicago accounting firm – Altschuler, Melvoin and Glasser – in 1985. When the ILCPA (Illinois CPA) Society asked the firm to provide a speaker for one of its conferences on the (Form 5500) subject, I was given the task. As I kept getting more speaking requests, I felt I had to educate myself as much as possible and, over a period of years, that’s just what happened. Joan Gucciardi had penned the Form 5500 Preparer’s Manual beginning in 1992, and in 1996 I joined her and Melanie Aska-Knox on the title. 

Norm: Have you found that being the author of this book has brought business your way over the years? 

Janice: It’s difficult to say because the speaking engagements and my website, www.form5500help.com, have clearly resulted in business. For example, after presenting a workshop for the ILCPA, I ended up being engaged by a public company after two of their employees attended the program. Similarly, a similar one-day Form 5500 program for a CPE organization resulted in another public company client. Both of those clients have been with me for nearly 20 years! 

New business from my website, on the other hand, tends to fall into the category of solving late filing problems more often than providing ongoing services. Those who purchase the book tend to be other professionals already providing Form 5500 services so they are more likely to contact me through my website (questions@form5500help.com) for the odd question or situation they encounter.

Norm: Most of us fell into the pension profession. How did you end up doing this work?

Janice: I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to be a pension consultant, that’s true! In 1979 I went to an interview for an office manager position. I didn’t know what a pension consulting firm was at the time, so was surprised when one of the owners handed me a math test to take at the start of the interview. When my time was up for taking the test, I told them I wouldn’t take a typing test. Remember, this was when women were expected to be secretaries or assistants more often than not. Anyway, my math score impressed the owners and they hired me. By noon on the first day at the firm, I did wonder why they hired me and, I suspect, so did some of their other employees. So it was my math skill that landed me in the pension business.

Norm: We see that the IRS is trying to introduce compliance-type questions on the Form 5500, and the profession managed to swat this away for at least a year. What do you feel about these types of questions making their way to the Form 5500 filing?

Janice: I don’t think any of us are too surprised that IRS wants to add some of these questions, especially those that appeared on the forms before the advent of EFAST2, when the agency felt it did not have the authority to collect the data electronically. The proposed SUP questions, as revised in a March 2016 release to the public, are far more acceptable than those originally proposed in October 2014 on the draft 2015 Form 5500-SUP. I suspect most firms can manage the current versions with far less effort than would have been required with the original items; however, I don’t want to minimize the additional burden that will result until firms have sufficient time to fully automate the new data collection. 

It’s clear that many preparers are not comfortable with the public disclosure of their name and phone number that IRS intends to mandate with its proposal. I know that actuaries have had their information available to the public for a long time; however, it’s a far more limited universe of plans and participants involved. Honestly, I’m less concerned with – effectively – the public disclosure of my client list than I am that hundreds of thousands of participants may think I have more to do with their plans than preparing the filing. I really don’t want to start fielding calls asking me whether the participant is covered for a specific medical or dental procedure, or how soon they can retire!