As another busy season approaches, accounting firms are taking steps to get ready, such as bringing in new staff to meet demand, ensuring all firm members are up to speed on technology and processes, and meeting with clients to understand how their situations have changed.
What else can firms do in the off-season to make tax season less stressful? This article covers five best practices for firms to follow.
Embrace automation to expand capacity
Facing an ever-tightening labor market for accountants, firms increasingly are looking for technology that can break up bottlenecks and increase capacity. Robotic process automation applications can create macro-like scripts that automate repetitive, manual tasks. These drag-and-drop tools allow CPAs to create automations without needing to write computer code. Even better, some of these applications are free, e.g., Microsoft’s Power Automate is installed with Windows 11.
As applications become more sophisticated and integrate the machine learning aspects of artificial intelligence, the automations will become more powerful. Already, some applications can take transactions and data from basic accounting programs, create tax trial balances and adjusting entries and roll them into tax preparation software. That can save significant time in tax season and free up firms to be more proactive in identifying opportunities for high-level work to be done during the off-season.
Outside of tax, automated audit programs can analyze and trace sample transactions and follow up on confirmations, if needed, shortening the time on an audit. Automation tools can make it possible to generate engagement letters, as well.
If technology doesn’t address your staffing issues, 2023 may be the year to consider outsourcing or offshoring some of your work.
Give yourself the gift of fewer troublesome clients
Another way to create capacity is to terminate the clients that either (1) cause you and your people the greatest amount of stress or (2) provide inadequate profits or referral or other practice development opportunities. Every practitioner knows who these people are, so why give them one more year? PCPS even makes it easy for you by providing asample disengagement letter that ends your relationship in a professional manner and helps you minimize potential legal liability. Your letter can assure clients that you have considered their business needs and acted in their best interests.
Manage your expectations of clients
Just as you know which clients are not adding value to your practice, you should also know which ones will always get their information in late, forcing an extension. Instead of waiting for that to happen, identify and begin preparing for extensions now, so that when the extension due date arrives, you are ready. Taking control of the process can lower the anxiety around deadlines.
Identify your critical project managers.
Even the smallest firm has strong administrative staff members who are best suited to shepherd returns and other work through the process. Firms may want to designate an administrative project manager as the contact person for missing tax data. Before the season begins, recognize these people and the skills they offer and provide them with the tools they need to keep work moving on a timely basis.
Be prepared for IRS developments
The Taxpayer Advocate Service announced early this year that “IRS phone service was inadequate prior to the pandemic and spiraled from there, with calls reaching an all-time high and level of service falling to an all-time low.” That was no surprise to practitioners, who have struggled for years to get answers to questions and resolutions for client concerns, though the delays and backlogs reached new highs this year. The good news is that the IRS announced in October that, as a result of new funding, it has hired 4,000 new customer service representatives to help answer phones and provide other services. The service said it plans to bring on an additional 1,000 customer service representatives by the end of the year.
I think that practitioners can be optimistic about these changes, but they should also be realistic. The additional customer service representatives should enhance communication with the service. However, it is yet to be seen whether the speed of problem resolution will improve. The IRS continues to be in a transition period as a new acting commissioner takes over. My best advice is to hope for the best but be ready for potential continued challenges.
That may seem like a tall order, but there are many ways to de-stress and enjoy some down time during the season. That’s true even if some or all of your staff is working remotely. Consider scheduling virtual social hours or inviting your team to a virtual escape room to engage your team and enjoy each other’s company. For more ideas, check out the latest episode of the Small Firm Philosophy Podcast.
I wish you all happy holidays and a great busy season. Look for the next Small Firm Solutions in May 2023.
Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on Dec. 8 from 2pm until 3pm ET.