In the modern era of tax and accounting, technology is becoming increasingly intelligent, enabling computers and software to do more transactional tasks for us so we can focus on delivering evermore value for our clients, helping our firms become more efficient and organized, and allowing us to take more time for ourselves, friends and family.
However, adding technology and automation to a tax and accounting practice can be complex, and it can add challenges to your plate if not done right. Here are several steps I took to leverage technology to start automating my tax and accounting practice; consider these as you’re automating your own practice.
- Enlist owner support of the automation process. If you aren’t the owner of the practice, be sure you have their support for developing an automation process. This step is imperative.
- Find a champion. Find a staff member – perhaps yourself—who can champion the idea of automation for the rest of the practice, embrace the transition, and help test different process and technology options for the practice. This staff member will best be forward thinking and trusted by the rest of the staff.
- Develop a timeline. Work with your partners to do this, and don’t try to implement too many processes at once. Look at options that may save the most time as well as increase efficiency and organization; integration may be an important piece of this. Then, prioritize and select one to implement.
- Ensure your basic technology is up to par. Upgrade your computers, scanners, printers and monitors – and consider multiple monitors to increase efficiency. Automation won’t help you as much if a lack of technological foundation is slowing you down.
We have implemented a number of Intuit integrations in our own practice that have helped us automate our tax preparation process. You may want to add these to your consideration set as you implement automation in your own practice:
- One of the biggest challenges for tax practitioners is gathering information from the client to complete the return. Products like the Intuit® Link client portal create a connection with your client to request and receive information needed. Link can be connected to an organizer that tracks the information uploaded by the client and allows them to easily see any missing details. This is a great way to expedite the data collection process.
- The Link portal can also be used as your filing cabinet to store copies of client documents such as W-2s and 1099s, instead of keeping paper copies. It is easy to find the documents and helps you save paper and storage space in your office. Additionally, the preparer can provide the client the option receive their return electronically. In our practice, we offer a portal to all clients with access to copies of their returns and key documents. Other areas of the client’s portal, such as those for internal documents and preparer copies, are reserved for firm access only. File sharing is another option that gives the client a PDF copy of their returns.
- Electronic organizers are a good way to populate data directly into your tax software, while saving the time and expense of printing, assembling and mailing paper organizers. You can send a client a link to a website, or software like the Lacerte® E-Organizer, which includes electronic checklists and questionnaires. Once completed by your client, you can selectively import data that they return to you via email.Importing data directly into the tax software is another time-saving measure. There are three types of data import available in Lacerte Tax Scan and Import. The first option is a direct import link from your client’s W-2 or 1099 payors where the client is sent an email with a link to a website. The client picks their payors from a list and enters the login for each payor, which neither you nor Intuit have access to.
The second data import option involves scanning the client’s documents and sending them to the software. The documents are converted to a format that becomes available for import into your software. The software user can review and select which items to import. Tax preparers can review the input to verify accuracy and tie out totals from the forms.
The third data import option is a Schedule D import for clients who can get an Excel file or comma-delimited file from their investment company. You can open the file in Excel, review and edit it, and then import the transactions into your software.
- Differentiate yourself from your competition and offer services that add value to your client and additional fees for you by using the many integrated features of tax preparation software, like the Lacerte Tax Planner and Tax Analyzer. With the new tax law taking affect this year, project your clients’ tax burden and review their withholdings to make sure they will be adequate. You can then make suggestions to help the client save money on their tax returns. It is often easier to add revenue to your business from existing clients than it is to find new clients.
- eSignature and Payments expedite the process of getting signature authorizations for e-filing by sending the forms electronically. Clients can then sign electronically, usually with some form of verification of the client’s signature, and then the form is returned electronically to the preparer. An option of allowing the client to pay preparer fees from their refund is available.
My experience is that embracing automation and looking for better ways to help my firm become more efficient results in time saved, less stress and better client service. Clients appreciate the convenience, quick access and ability to share documents through the use of technology. I hope sharing my process and tools helps you transform your own practice. Leave a note below and let me know the processes and tools behind your practice’s automations.