In today’s business environment, we are increasingly more comfortable using technology to our advantage. Having the right tech in place not only increases efficiency and output; it saves time and limit risks, especially when it comes to data storage and security.
In the past, tax firms had file cabinets filled with sensitive client data, including Social Security numbers and banking information. Most of the time, these cabinets had some type of lock that could be easily broken or wasn’t used correctly. To avoid this type of risk for your firm and your clients, it’s a good idea to start accepting digital data from them. Here’s why:
- It’s faster. Clients used to mail us data, and that would take days. If they send it digitally, we can have it in as soon as a few minutes.
- It’s efficient. Aren’t you using two monitors? It’s much easier to work on a tax return when you have the tax program on one screen and the client data on the other. No longer do you need to strain your neck looking down at paper on your desk and then back up at the monitor.
- It’s more secure. Digital data can be stored in encrypted files with password protection, locked away from unauthorized users, stored on removable drives, and backed up in case any physical or digital problems arise.
Clients sharing their data digitally benefits them as well. They no longer need a face-to-face appointment, saving them time driving to and from your office, as well as money on gas. And, if the client has children, that also means that they no longer need to find a babysitter, so they save that money, too.
Let’s be honest. We can get a tax return completed much faster if the client isn’t in our office “catching us up” on what happened to them and/or their family over the past year since we last saw them … or is only me who feels this way?
If you aren’t currently accepting data digitally but you want to make the switch, here are a few suggestions to make the transition seamless:
#1: Create a “digital data collection, storage policy and procedures manual” for your office. This document will help create a step-by-step workflow that ensures client data isn’t being exposed to unnecessary staff in your office, limiting risk, improper storage management and potential data breach procedures. Your errors and omissions insurance carrier will love that you outlined who the responsible parties in your office are, and what you are doing to minimize any and all potential risks. The IRS also has a great resource you can use to get started developing a policy for your office.
#2: Create and install a client portal. Once you have your policies and procedures, you will need a secure means of client document transmission or a client portal. When researching client portals, some of the questions you should ask are:
- What level of security does the portal have?
- How easy is it for my clients to access and upload data?
- Is there a mobile app?
- Can my clients manage their own password and access?
- Are there any storage data limits?
One of the benefits of being an Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online, Lacerte® or ProSeries® customer is you have a built-in portal system called Intuit Link included in your software, so there is no need to pay for another subscription service.
#3: Communicate with your clients to get them on board. You’ll want to do this well in advance of tax season. The last thing you want to do is spring a major change in procedures on your clients without giving them a fair chance to prepare or get adjusted.
Start by sending all existing clients a letter in the mail (or a mass email), followed up with a phone call, to ensure they know about the new procedures. It’s crucial to make sure they understand what’s in it for them if you want them to agree to your new policies. You should also let them know that sharing tax documents with you digitally could be as easy as them snapping a picture with their cell phone. This is a surefire way to get them on board because they will be saving time and money.
#4: Host a live webinar to show clients the new method. In the webinar, your can answer any questions or concerns they may have while live on the air. Record and post the session on your website for clients to refer back to if they need a refresher on how the new system works. Use the same recording to train new clients about the digital data submission process; in my experience, new clients will adapt much easier because they won’t know you did it any other way. Don’t want to host a live webinar? Use a screen recording system such as Loom to record videos of the process to share with clients via a page on your website or a mass email.
#5: Provide digital faxing and scanning options. Still afraid your clients may not be ready to make the switch? Ease them into the new process by setting up a digital faxing service. Clients believe they are sending you data over a regular fax line when it’s really coming to you via a secured online portal. Alternatively, you can set up in-office document scanning appointments that allow clients to come into the office with their paper documents to get them scanned, and then leave 15 minutes later with the same documents in hand.
Whatever you decide on, the most important thing to remember is that communication is key. Communicating with staff about the new policy helps them understand their roles and responsibilities. Communicating with clients early on helps them buy into your new process, especially when they understand the ease of use and how it benefits them.