My partner, Kathryn Mandel, and I started Mandel & Tracy nearly nine years ago after working together at a Big 4 firm. We’re unique in that our practice is focused on individual tax, including returns, notices, small trusts, gift tax, and more. We pride ourselves in truly knowing our clients, as well as the tax code, so we can identify tax impacts and communicate them when they apply.
Tax Planning Helps Us Help Our Clients
We have a tax planning process that actually occurs during busy season where we identify and flag issues that would benefit from tax planning during the coming year. We set the client’s expectation that there is a fee for this planning service when we send the client their return so they know we’re planning to outreach with this information. Then outside of busy season, on a quarterly basis, we contact clients who have had an event or life change, such as a stock sale or have moved into a nursing home, to discuss the tax implications. Sometimes clients proactively request specific tax planning because they are considering converting to a Roth IRA, for example, or their trust officer at a bank has a question about the potential for better returns on their investments. They check with us as their CPA first to see how that will affect their tax situation.
The majority of our tax planning occurs outside of busy season – intentionally – and we use our meetings with our clients and review of their return information during busy season to identify opportunities to help clients who need this after busy season. During these busy season meetings with our clients, we compare this year’s to last year’s return and key in to what they say and how it could impact their tax situation. The conversations seem simple, but if they say they’re moving, bought a car or are dealing with something related to their parent’s estate, for example, we listen keenly and begin asking questions to identify potential tax implications. Life doesn’t line up nicely within the tax deadlines though, and sometimes clients do have a big life change that is going to impact them significantly during our busy season so we have to stop to address it.
Tax planning isn’t always about saving money; sometimes it’s about giving our clients a heads up on a change that’s going to impact them. Communication is key and we are always working to keep our clients up-to-date effectively using various different avenues and targeted messaging, especially because we have many older clients who don’t use technology, such as email, like our younger clients. We are very cautious about sending out generic updates because we don’t want to cause confusion or have our clients worry unduly. So, in many instances a phone call works best. Talking to our clients gives us the ability to tailor our message to them and gives our clients the ability to ask questions and address their concerns.
Our Relationships Generate New Clients, Too…
A lot of the work we do for our clients is coordinated with trust officers at a bank or with our client’s brokers, so we’re part of the client’s team. As a part of the team, when their financial planner is working with the client on gifting or estate issues, for example, they’ll reach out to us to handle the tax work. These relationships, which are built on mutual trust, provide us new client opportunities. Because we do not handle entity returns, audits, financial plans or other accounting services, we also have alliances with other CPA firms in our area that we refer clients to for the services we don’t provide. We’ll receive referrals from clients, too, like a son who discovers that his mom hasn’t filed her returns in three years who asks us to do the work for her.
AICPA Tools We Rely On To Stay Current - And For A Little Fun!
It’s imperative that we stay current on the tax law, complex tax code, and new tax regulations. What’s even more important for us as a small firm is learning how other practitioners apply the new rules or tax changes when they have similar situations because we can learn from their experience. Three specific AICPA tools I appreciate and recommend to other practitioners are:
- The Practicing CPA e-newsletter helps us tremendously because of the updates and practitioners’ views that we leverage to apply their best practices to our client situations.
- The Tax Tweets are especially fun around certain holidays. They make me smile, which also helps me to stay positive when I’m mired in tax returns. When I tweet them they also link to my LinkedIn profile so I’m able to stay in front of all my connections and share fun, informative messages with them.
- The Tax Practice Guides and Checklists help us have a consistent process and approach for our clients. Because we have reliable checklists, we can focus on learning about our clients so we can really make a difference for them, because we know it’s not just about the tax return but also about making their life better like helping them have enough cash on hand for medical bills.
Using these tools allows us to truly listen to clients and uncover new ways to help them by:
- Proactively assessing their tax situation and planning ways to address it
- Building relationships with their key advisors
- Communicating with them regarding changes that may impact them or to just reaching out to stay in touch!
Jacquelyn H. Tracy, CPA is a partner of Mandel & Tracy, LLC, a small two-partner, seven person firm in Providence, RI. For more information about Mandel & Tracy, LLC, visit http://www.mt-cpas.com/custom1.php.