May 21, 2024
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Tax Tips: The Accounting Industry’s Refusal to Leave the 80s

I remember walking into a doctor’s office a couple of years ago. The furniture in the waiting room was outdated, the carpet looked as if it hadn’t been replaced in 30 years; even the woman behind the counter looked like she was stuck in 1985. I stood there pondering whether I accidentally discovered time travel. I had to turn on the TV in the waiting room just to make sure new episodes of M*A*S*H and ALF weren’t airing. We rarely stand for this from the professionals we hire, yet in the accounting and tax industry this seems to be the accepted norm for some odd reason. There is a plethora of technology out there that can be very useful and makes not only the clients’ lives easier but the accountants’ as well. But for some unknown reason the accounting profession has lagged way behind almost every other industry. However, failing to implement technology not only is an inconvenience to clients, but it leads to inefficient processes that may affect the quality of work being done.

Receiving Information: A vital aspect of the tax-preparation process is how you, as the client, get your tax information to the accountant. In my experience, I’ll have about 15 percent of clients who prefer meeting together and handing me paper documents, about 15 percent who want absolutely everything to be done paperless and all communication to be via email, and the other 70 percent who enjoy a mix of technology along with meetings/phone calls. Let me be clear, I am in no way advocating to abolish face-to-face meetings with your accountant. If that is your preference then by all means go for it; some people just feel better meeting in person. However, let’s be honest, the majority of people have no interest in spending their evenings with me when they can be watching TV instead (my family included, but they have no choice in the matter). And the truth is, it’s not necessary to meet in person on most matters anyway. There are client portals that allow you to upload your documents in a secure manner from the convenience of your own living room. We are able to discuss on the phone or even Skype any relevant matter. Utilizing existing technologies to gather client information streamlines the entire process, making it easier for both parties, but more importantly takes less time. During tax season, time is a precious commodity. Your accountant may be working on a dozen clients on any given day. So if less time is allocated to gathering information, then more time can be used to evaluate the client’s specific circumstances and focus on tax planning to help the client save more money. In short, efficiency leads to better quality service.

Communication: Your accountant should not just be someone you speak to every April for a minute and that’s it. The accountant should be your advisor who guides you with the goal of saving as much in taxes as possible throughout the year. To make this possible your accountant should be reachable through various methods. Of course there are the phone calls, but sometimes that’s not always the most convenient method for clients. I realize that mediums such as email and text can be hacked; I’m not saying to give over sensitive data through these channels. But there is plenty of guidance that can be given that does not involve such data.

Web Site: While having a web site seems merely aesthetic, a properly executed web site can provide very useful tools for clients. Besides the obvious contact information, which is useful for clients, there are other various things that can be implemented. These include access to a client portal, the ability to make payments online, a blog on pertinent topics and helpful calculators and links to other sites.

The Small Things: I’m a firm believer that small conveniences can go a long way. My personal policy is that if it’s something that I find annoying then I assume there are others like me. An example of this is the e-file authorization form. The IRS requires taxpayers to sign this form before the accountant can electronically file the tax return. Many accountants will email this form to the client to sign. Now, one of my personal pet peeves is having to print out a document, then sign it, then scan it in the computer, and then email it. I know there are probably harder things but you’d be hard-pressed finding something as annoying as this. A couple of years ago the IRS started accepting e-signatures on this form, which is essentially a one-step process for the clients to sign just using their phone or computer. I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of calling the IRS before but if you did then you’d realize within seconds that these people aren’t exactly candidates to work behind the Geek Squad counter at your local Best Buy. So if the IRS is the one urging you to utilize any form of technology and you haven’t implemented it then that is not good. It’s like your great-grandmother having to come over to show you how to hook up your X-Box or Jabba the Hutt asking you if you’ve ever considered Slim-Fast.

The 80s gave us some great things: the Reagan years, Teddy Ruxpin, He-Man and the Thundercats cartoons, Pac-Man and of course the We Are the World music video. However, as great as those times were, we no longer use car phones, Apple IIe computers and those stupid printers where you had to rip off the sides of the paper with the holes. Technology has changed and it has allowed for much more convenient and streamlined processes. When it comes to your taxes, this technology can have a direct effect on how much comes out of your pockets.

Daniel Magence, CPA, Esq. is a principal at Pristine CPA Solutions, LLC (www.pristinecpa.com), where the latest technology is used. Pristine CPA Solutions offers tax and accounting services to individuals and businesses of all sizes, whether it’s tax returns, bookkeeping, payroll services or personal income budgeting. He can be reached at [email protected] or 201-326-6908 if you have any questions or comments, or are interested in using Pristine CPA’s services. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

By Daniel Magence

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