As we approach the business tax deadline, many firms are facing the annual extend or file decision with their clients. Some firms are electing to extend more returns this season to better digest the tax reform implications, while others plan to extend about the same amount of returns. One thing is clear: Firms that leverage cloud workflows and engage in planning services are better prepared to avoid tax season surprises.
Renee Daggett, EA, owns AdminBooks, a virtual firm with more than a dozen advisors that uses Intuit® ProConnect™ Lacerte®. Daggett expects to extend about the same number of returns as last year. In fact, her firm is proactive about tax planning and advisory services. “We provide our clients with options to choose services that include a mid-year projection and quarterly meetings with our team,” said Daggett. “We email clients and send out newsletters educating them on the importance of ‘no surprises,’ especially with the new tax reform rules.”
When reviewing workflow challenges that result in business return extensions, preparers often point to clients who wait until the last minute to bring in tax work or come in unorganized. For business clients who keep their own books, the annual file cleanup exercise that starts during busy season can be a leading cause of extensions.
Daggett’s team transitioned from desktop accounting to QuickBooks® Online Accountant to improve productivity and help her team scale their expertise. “Desktop was mentally exhausting, having to open each file separately, and share files with clients by backing up and restoring,” she said. “With QuickBooks Online Accountant, it is so much easier to scale our services because all the data is in one place.”
When asked if access to client books through QuickBooks Online Accountant simplifies tax preparation, Daggett responded, “Absolutely! I feel that when we are meeting with a client, it is so much easier to pull up their QuickBooks Online file, show them the numbers and talk through what is going on in their business so we can give them accurate feedback for planning.”
QuickBooks Online automates more of the data entry, categorization and transactions, while improving collaboration between advisors and clients. Most advisors find the cloud allows them to better scale their services to the clients they want to serve, regardless of where those clients may reside.
Jami Johnson, CPA, MSA, is an owner of Peters, Johnson, Staley & Co., CPAs, PLLC, a multi-service firm that operates in the cloud and uses Intuit ProConnect Tax Online. Similar to Daggett’s firm, Johnson’s CPAs and advisors are located across the country. Leveraging QuickBooks Online Accountant and cloud applications keeps them connected with clients and each other.
Johnson agrees the cloud helps her team improve productivity. “I think there will be a lot more integrated data and the ability to spend more time with clients achieving their goals instead of reinventing the wheel at every meeting,” she said. “The integrated data helps give us a baseline of how to work with clients and gets us to innovatively think about how to help them better in our partnership. I would say our productivity improvement is at least 25 percent.”
Firms that have created an advisory workflow, where they always have access to their clients’ books without nagging clients for files, often find it easier to provide advisory services. “We try to be as proactive as possible,” said Johnson. “We are changing our focus to leading with advisory services, complemented with compliance work. The more initial touches you can have with your clients help you stay in control of the relationship and push it forward.”
One of the most important elements of successfully navigating tax season is hiring, training and retaining the right staff for your firm. Cloud-based firms often point to staffing situations that initially motivated them to explore moving to the cloud. Many cloud-based firms, like Johnson’s and Daggett’s firms, are better able to tap into remote talent at reasonable rates and create excellent remote working environments. Their virtual workspaces help them better navigate the staffing shortages and retention challenges facing traditional firms.
Leading firms are increasingly turning to cloud technologies to alleviate traditional tax season workflow challenges, increase client collaboration and retain the best talent. And, many of the same firms are leading with tax planning and advisory services to increase their value with clients beyond just compliance.
Editor’s note: To learn more about how to firms are transforming, visit the Tax Practice of the Future website, where you’ll find an organized approach to incorporating advisory services into your practice.