Creating capacity with automation
Creating capacity with automation Vertical

Creating capacity with automation

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Tax filing season is the stress test for our processes, systems, and teams to deliver a great experience for our clients. For most firms, there is usually more client work than capacity available.

To increase capacity, firms have four options:

  1. Hire more employees. This is usually the most expensive option and might be the most difficult given the limited pool of available candidates. Hiring, training, retaining, and developing staff is the most commonly cited challenge for tax and accounting firm owners. A recent discussion with the Intuit Tax Council confirmed that many owners believe the trend will continue to plague our profession for years. 
  2. Outsource work, either onshore or offshore. Firms have been testing outsource models for the past decade, but are being more aggressive with the lack of potential employees available. Intuit Select Pro Staffing provides flexible options to add quality staff to your firm, and firms more frequently  choose onshore over offshore labor.  
  3. Change the work. Firms can create capacity by updating their processes to eliminate non value-added steps, or define new services and client value that replace the existing services. Bundled services that start with planning and tax advisory are a great example of increasing client value, reducing firm hours, increasing fees, and simplifying compliance work.
  4. Use technology to automate or simplify the work. This can often be the least expensive option, and when processes are designed to support a digital workflow, technology expands the talent pool to hire remote employees, further increasing firm capacity.

Once you have a handle on your options, you can explore automation software and service to create more capacity in your firm. Here’s how to do that.

Application management and data integration 

For users of desktop software, outsourcing tax program updates, security updates, firewall configuration, data encryption, backups, server maintenance, and remote user management can increase reliability and create more capacity for the team to focus on billable client work. Hosting for Lacerte and ProSeries supports remote work and a digital workflow that can significantly increase firm capacity.

Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax is a powerful, browser-based application that streamlines and automates tax preparation workflow, including working on multiple tax returns simultaneously. The cloud platform eliminates program updates, security updates, and data backups. ProConnect Tax provides workflow automation, including direct import from source docs, QuickBooks trial balance import, an integrated client portal, and a dynamic e-file dashboard. ProConnect Tax is now included in the new QuickBooks Ledger, as well as integrated inside Ignition.

QuickBooks® Online is a cloud accounting application that continues to automate more your client’s transactional workflow, including bank feeds, payments, e-commerce transactions, employee time tracking, mobile job invoicing, reporting, and more. Firms that recommend QuickBooks Online for clients are able to replace capacity-sucking cleanup engagements during busy season with higher-value books review and planning engagements during the year that simplify tax preparation and create capacity.

Intuit Tax Advisor is a cloud application that supports planning and tax strategy engagements, including quantifying and communicating the tax savings to showcase the value of the firm’s recommendations. Starting with higher-value planning and advisory services helps avoid surprises and simplifies tax compliance activities. The Intuit cloud platform is designed to support an integrated engagement across books, tax and advisory services.

Document management

Intuit Link is a client portal integrated with the tax preparation software to send organizers, collect client documents, deliver and e-sign tax returns. ProConnect Tax also extracts data from the source documents for preparer review and import directly into the tax return, saving time and reducing errors.

SmartVault is an integrated document management and client portal solution to help your team gather, store, share, and e-sign client documents in the cloud. SmartVault for Lacerte and SmartVault for ProSeries can automate sending organizers, collecting tax documents and delivering tax returns.

SafeSend makes tax season easier for Intuit Lacerte® Tax users by automating assembly and delivery of the tax package, creating a bookmarked PDF of the workpapers, collecting eSignatures, and simplifying the client tax experience. 

Canopy and TaxDome are also popular applications that automate and simplify workflows around document collection, collaboration, workpapers, eSignature and storage.

Client collaboration

Zoom is a powerful tool to standardize client meetings on video. Video meetings save time for the firm and clients, increasing firm capacity. Some firms also use Zoom to record videos to share with clients, because short videos can be more engaging than sending another text email. Consider integrating a meeting notetaker into Zoom, such as Otter.ai, that automatically transcribes conversations, captures action items, and next steps. It is a great way to standardize client notes.

Calendly is a popular tool to empower clients to self schedule meetings within your firm’s available calendar blocks in smaller increments (10 minutes, 15 minutes), eliminating the traditional phone call to schedule a phone call or video meeting. By integrating Zoom meetings, staff can literally just show up to the next meeting on their calendar to meet with clients, skipping multiple non-value scheduling steps. Calendar links can drive more engagement, with less effort.

Google Workspace is a cloud suite of spreadsheets, documents, and more to engage with clients in real time and avoid exchanging files. ProConnect Tax users can easily drag and drop tax documents into Link for data import into the tax return.

In addition to managing and integrating data, QuickBooks Online  facilitates collaboration between trusted advisors with clients, in their books and reports. 73% of clients say they want an advisor who will coach them year-round.* By engaging in the same platform with clients, advisors are better able to coach, train, and update systems in real time, powering prosperity and deepening client relationships. Cloud advisors help clients keep books current, which creates huge workflow benefits for the firm. Alternatively, firms supporting desktop applications often perform reactive cleanup during busy times, creating stress for the firm and clients.

Practice management

The Intuit platform includes a suite of applications to support the firm’s operations. Firms that use QuickBooks Online Accountant for their own accounting and invoicing, QuickBooks Time for employee/client time tracking, and QuickBooks Payroll to pay employees are much better coaches and advisors to clients using the same applications. Nothing is more trusted than, ‘this is the same solution we use.’

Ignition is an integrated application to automate engagement letters, proposals, scope, menus of services and subscription billing. Firms who lead with planning and advisory services often switch from time and billing methods to subscription billing.

John D. Jordan

“The integration between ProConnect Tax and Ignition makes getting your client list into Ignition seamless,” said John D. Jordan, CPA, owner of his own firm and is also a member of the Intuit Tax Council. “Sending tax proposals with the engagement letters in bulk is a huge timesaver and a great way to collect all the client’s payment information upon signing. We also send client request in bulk from Intuit Link, which client’s love. Using these two bulk features saves days of time compared to doing them individually, or a week compared to doing them on paper as we did years ago.”

Canopy is another practice management cloud application that streamlines client requests, document management, project management and time & billing, while Karbon is a cloud practice management solution integrated with ProConnect Tax and Lacerte that enables a collaborative place for firms to manage workflows, confidently scope work, automate data collection, scale client onboarding and communicate with teams. Karbon’s strength is email and inbox management.

Intuit has declared we are an open platform to help businesses, including tax and accounting firms, combine the best solutions to automate operations and power prosperity. This means we integrate with many solutions to enable our customers to use the applications that best meet their needs. Some competitors are closed systems and focus on traditional write-up-like workflows that disempower clients. Update your workflows with the solutions that help create the most capacity and automation for your practice.

*Based on blind survey of taxpayers who used a tax professional in the 12 months prior to July 2023

Jim Buffington, CPA

Jim Buffington, CPA, is an advisory services leader with Intuit® Accountants. He has 20+ years of professional experience in sales management, public accounting, strategic alliances, product marketing, business process design, new business development and strategic planning. Connect with Jim on Twitter @jimatintuit. More from Jim Buffington, CPA

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