Time’s up. Tax season is here.
By now, I trust your advisory strategy is gaining momentum, your staff is now well-versed on the nuances of the new QBI deduction and you’ve made those critical appointments to help your clients adjust to an evolving tax strategy. The only thing left to do is to execute on the plan … or is it?
There is still time to implement technology that is sure to help refine the edges of any workflow.
Let’s consider the seemingly inevitable and often exhaustive means of document collection. I speak with many different types of firms, and the consensus is that “we” (the firm) will collect source documents in whatever way the client can get them to us. That “whatever” typically looks like emails, snail mails, in-person drop-off, client portals, text messages, Slack, and yes, even by fax. I always giggle when I write the word “fax;” it’s like saying “the ‘80s called,” but I digress. The tax profession is on information overdrive, and any gaps or breaks in a workflow can spell disaster. Having umpteen ways to collect documents is fundamentally not efficient. Luckily, Intuit® Link, a client collaboration tool, can help.
No matter which Intuit professional tax software you choose, Intuit Link’s encrypted online portal is integrated with your software and offers unlimited storage at no additional cost. Mail, email and some file sharing programs lack the security protocols sufficient to handle the sensitivity inherent to processing tax returns. Link is protected by 256-bit encryption, two-factor authentication and client passwords. It has an easy-to-understand design for your clients and a progress meter for the firm. Your clients can even start a chat on items for which they want to add more context or have a question.
Pro tip: Intuit Link can be used to collaborate with non-tax clients.
Finish and File
You have collected source documents, gotten questions answered and produced a return; now you need to streamline your finish and file process, but much like document collection, I feel it is essential to call out current operations that may be holding you back.
The first item is around how to collect signatures. I have seen it and you have seen it; the dreaded manila folders labeled “signature pages” and “signatures.” Outgoing and incoming – we are all guilty of it, but in this age of digitalization, we need something more to keep overhead down and margins up. It’s time to embrace eSignature.
If memory serves me, I believe it was President Bill Clinton who signed into law the ability for the federal government to accept signatures in an electronic format. Fast forward 22 years, and I still visit with tax firms who spend loads of time and money on the printing and storage of Forms 8878 and 8879, as well as state signature docs. My recommendation is to try eSignature for tax year 2018. Start with a handful of returns for clients you know might appreciate the convenience, then build out your new process and scale next year.
The second process related to finishing and filing is how the firm collects payment. Most of us are familiar with bank refund products such as Pay-by-Refund. The preparer attaches a bank product to the return with an anticipated refund and files it; the IRS distributes funds to an approved bank, the bank disperses funds to the taxpayer and preparation fees to the preparer, and withholds a small service fee for processing. It is a quick, simple way for the taxpayer to pay for the return and for the firm to get paid at the time of funding. Pay-by-Refund streamlines receivables while providing a service for taxpayers. It’s a win-win!
Tracking Time and Integration
Let’s bring the nose of the plane up a bit and look at time tracking with TSheets by QuickBooks®. I have tested this app, which is new to the Intuit family this year, and am delighted by the capabilities and ease of using it. TSheets can track time on any device, including smartphones, which is especially handy when I am out on the road for on-site meetings, delivering training and speaking at tax accounting forums. There is a GPS feature that tracks my miles and is also useful for driving so I do not get lost. All of my time then integrates with Quickbooks Online, so payroll and reporting are a breeze.
Pro tip: There are more than 30 reports found in TSheets that are not seen in QuickBooks Online. Pro tip bonus round: TSheets is entirely free for QuickBooks ProAdvisors®.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
There are more ways to save time with technologies, of course. For example, if you are using Intuit ProConnect™ Tax Online, Lacerte® or ProSeries®, consider adding the payments feature for AP/AR automation when using Quickbooks Online Accountant.
While writing this article, I was thinking about all of the apps I use to manage my personal and professional life. With that in mind, I am going to work on a second article on apps that fall outside of the direct scope of tax season. I am a technophile – no doubt about that! In the meantime, what apps do you love? Write your answers in the comments section. I would enjoy hearing from you.