At Green Hasson Janks, we take busy season preparation seriously. As we plan, we collaborate between our tax and audit groups to identify new ideas, processes and technology to provide our staff the training they need, manage our clients’ expectations and enhance our firm’s performance during one of our peak periods of the year.
Busy Season Preparation for Corporate Tax Clients
As we look toward the spring busy season, we conduct a number of staff training sessions in November and December on topics that include:
- Technical updates
- Software tools and updates
- Updated procedures like the new quality control procedure we put in place this year for consulting engagements
- Soft skills training, such as recent training we conducted on staff development and providing effective performance feedback
During this time period, we also plan our busy season engagements and project our workload. This year, we will pilot a new way to manage time and billing for our tax team because our staff – especially our younger team members – would prefer that we focus on results rather than on time worked. One year, we did try moving away from managing time and just assigning projects and deadlines, which resulted in much of the work being pushed too close against the deadlines. This year, we will try something different and use a project-based approach where the project team will plan and schedule the hours required to complete each return so people can plan their time and emphasize their focus on delivering the returns when expected by the client. We hope this will help us better communicate the timeline to our clients and manage the workload across all tax team members.
In early November, we also begin reviewing and updating our engagement letter templates and compiling requests for client information. Part of this process includes coordinating with the audit department to ensure we take a consistent, one-firm approach. We review each client’s prior year request for information and note anything new needed as identified in client planning meetings. We then send a new engagement letter to every tax client and send a joint request for information for combined tax and audit engagements, where applicable.
We also conduct a client year-end update workshop on topics in the high net-worth, corporate/business entities, and state and local and international tax areas. At this event, we walk clients and prospects through significant changes in these areas and identify any new relevant topics – this year the hot topic was health care. We have held these annual update workshops for the last four years as a benefit of being a client or friend of Green Hasson Janks and they are very well received.
Busy Season Preparation for Private Company Audit Clients
In the audit department, we also prepare well ahead to ensure a successful busy season. Between October and December, we review each of our engagements and begin the engagement letter and budget preparation process. We then meet with each of our audit clients to plan for the upcoming audit, enabling us to create a budget and timeline for each specific engagement. To ensure clear communication, we also provide our clients with an outline of the items we will need from them (referred to as PBC documents) early each year.
During our client planning meetings, we discuss and identify any new events or information that may affect the engagement and incorporate those into the schedule and budget. We strive to schedule interim work to be performed and completed between November and early January. Then fieldwork is planned and scheduled, including key activities such as inventory observations, confirmation controls, preparation of draft financial statements and client meetings. During this planning phase, we also let our clients know if there will be any change in their client service team, which we work to avoid, or if there will be a fee increase.
Simultaneous with our planning meetings, we also conduct internal training for our audit team members between October and December. We focus on key audit areas such as inventory, receivables, payables and tax provisions, in addition to conducting Audit Watch training which happens the first week of January and emphasizes changes we can make to enhance our audit process.
Once our project planning and client assignments are complete, our team members typically plan for and work approximately 55 hours a week during busy season. Similar to our tax team, we are also changing our audit delivery model and are providing more flexibility for audit team members to determine how they will meet their scheduled work hours.
Another significant change that we will undertake this year is a move toward more virtual auditing where we expect to conduct less of our work at our clients’ offices and more from our office or other remote locations (which may include the staff members’ homes). We are asking each client if or how much they want us in their office to complete the field work and communicating the client’s preference to the client service team. Through this process, we will be “pilot testing” virtual auditing with several clients. Our goal is to help reduce our staff’s hours where we can, and to help make the hours they work most productive. Since the commute time in Los Angeles can sometimes be significant, we hope that the virtual auditing approach will help provide staff with less road time and more time to finish projects and most importantly, spend quality time with their families and friends. We also expect the firm to save money due to reduced travel time and staff turnover. Our team is really excited about the roll out of this new virtual auditing philosophy – it’s causing a big buzz in the audit department!
Essential Resources To Support Us
In the tax department, we use the AICPA’s Tax Practice Guides and Checklists. At one time, we created our own checklists, but have found we were more confident and it was more efficient to use the AICPA checklists for our practice.
In the audit department, we rely on the checklists, reports and programs provided through the AICPA. We also attend several AICPA Conferences, including the Employee Benefit Plans Conference , the Not-For-Profit Industry Conference, the National Governmental Accounting and Auditing Update Conference and the National Advanced Accounting and Auditing Technical Symposium. The staff who attend are charged with updating our team on what they learned when they return.
In our 60 years of practice, we are fortunate to have honed a number of tried and true practices to manage our spring busy season. Even so, we strive to also continually challenge ourselves – and our fellow practitioners – to try new approaches to improve our processes, enhance our teamwork and ultimately allow us to deliver better service to our clients.
Polina S. Chapiro, CPA and Donald J. Snyder, CPA are partners of Green Hasson Janks, a large firm with 13-partners and 110 employees in Los Angeles, CA. For more information about Green Hasson Janks, visit www.greenhassonjanks.com.