7 areas to consider when evolving your tax practice

IStock_59008810_XXLARGEThere’s no question that this was a tough tax season. And, with the tax deadlines delayed until July 15, it isn’t over. In our recent Tax Section survey, 60% said COVID-19 had an enormous effect on tax season. Practitioners noted the top three pain points related to assisting with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), understanding new legislation and guidance and struggling with ambiguity in the relief.

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Mainly due to necessity, tax practices significantly changed in 2020 to adapt to the current environment. In a webcast about the evolution of the tax practice, Brandon Lagarde, CPA, JD, LLM, and Jan Lewis, CPA, shared ways their firms try to think differently during this strange time. Here are some key points:

Get up to speed on legislation and evolving guidance.

Information was flying around at a rapid pace during the past few months when CPAs are normally hunkering down and knocking out a lot of work. Clients were anxious and calling their CPA more than ever. Emails were racking up. Firms were trying to make decisions about stay-at-home orders and how that affected working at the office. Timely absorption and dissemination of information were crucial.

Here are some ideas to get yourself, your staff and your clients up to speed:

  • Read the law. No, it’s not a summer fiction novel, but by reading the actual legislation, you can identify the gaps and questions.
  • Communicate often with your clients; consider providing a snapshot or client letter to discuss the highlights of the new laws and encourage them to contact you to discuss their specific situation. There are many client-facing resources on AICPA Tax Section’s coronavirus tax resource hub.
  • Consider hosting webcasts for staff and clients on important aspects of the law. Zoom, GoToWebinar and WebEx are some of the popular options but do research to find your best option. Webcasts explain information quickly and efficiently. Be sure the information is dated because it changes rapidly.
  • Another similar option is to record quick videos on topics. When you get client questions, you can direct them to a video rather than explaining for the 100th time how to calculate payroll costs for a PPP loan.

Automate workflow systems and remote working.

If your firm wasn’t set up and ready for a remote work environment before this tax season, the last few months have probably been tough. Once the dust settles, it’s a good time to consider firm processes and documenting them appropriately. Consider these questions:

  • Is your practice operating in the cloud or does it use a virtual private network (VPN)?
  • Does your firm have an automated workflow system?
  • Is there a client portal for secure information transfer?
  • What manual processes in the firm’s workflow can be automated?

Billing policies

Now may a good time to revamp your billing policies. Try noodling on a few of these ideas:

  • Does your practice accept credit cards or have a way to pay via bank transfer?
  • Would a subscription-based model help with cash flow for both the firm and clients?
  • Have you considered providing an alternative for clients to pay in installments?
  • Are you frequently contacting clients to gauge if they are having issues paying you or other service providers? Working out payment plans early is always preferred.

Manage remote employees.

Many people likely dabbled with working from home before COVID-19, but the stay-at-home orders made it a necessity. Many factors led to working from home during this time to be different, but there were employees who likely thrive in this environment. This could be a good time to formalize staff policies for remote working. That includes communicating clear expectations, frequent check-ins (consider video check-ins) and adding flexibility for different situations. 

Planning for the rest of 2020’s paid time off (PTO)

Mental breaks and vacations are important. It may be challenging to plan a vacation in this time of the unknown. But if employees do not take paid time off, the end of the year may roll around with some of them having a lot of “use-it-or-lose-it” PTO hours. December can be a busy time for year-end planning, and it isn’t a good idea for employees to take three weeks off in December to use their PTO. Consider asking staff to plan for time off between now and the end of 2020 based on the best knowledge available.  

Plan for contingencies and getting back to the office.

Your firm may have had an emergency plan in place before the outbreak of COVID-19. If so, kudos are in order. If not, now would be a good time to create a plan. Consider all the steps necessary to maintain business operations and a rapid response plan to deal with any situation. As businesses start to reopen and establish a new normal, consider surveying employees to determine their specific concerns and needs. Be sure to think about the risks associated with bringing employees back to the office.

Business advisory services

As tax professionals, you likely know more about Small Business Administration (SBA) loans than you ever thought you would. Given this difficult economic environment and all the uncertainty surrounding small businesses, clients need CPAs now more than ever. Have deep conversations with your clients about their needs. Guide them during difficult conversations related to cashflow planning. Now may be the time to consider adding client accounting services (CAS) since it is so important to make decisions with reliable accounting data.

It’s a wrap, or is it?

All things considered, you’ve weathered the past months and still have more to do. Adjusting to this new environment of running your practice will be a challenge. But, with a little strategic planning and organization, you can continue doing great things for the rest of the year.  

April Walker, CPA, CGMA, Lead Manager — Association of International Certified Professional Accountants