Tax and accounting professionals have joined most other businesses nationwide in adopting a host of different new practices to survive the pandemic, from hand sanitizer and masks to entirely new ways of interacting with clients. Now that the crisis seems on the ebb and the new normal seems to be on the horizon, what procedures that prep firms adapted do they plan to keep in the future?
“The obvious one is working remotely,” said Rob Seltzer, a CPA at Seltzer Business Management in Los Angeles. “I think my staff and myself will continue to work remotely much more than we did prior to the pandemic, as it’s worked out well for everyone.”
“Prior to the pandemic, I was working mostly virtual. Now I’m working exclusively virtual,” added Bill Nemeth, executive director and education chair of the Georgia Association of Enrolled Agents.
On the plus side
Few catastrophes have disrupted business on the scale that COVID did. Yet some of the business measures for coping seem to be positive.
Working from home, for instance, is more productive for many. The accelerated shift to electronic communication for tax information seems to have been another plus. Nemeth’s standard practice, for instance, is to keep an 8821 disclosure on every tax client and their dependents, and “it’s proving invaluable, since I can look up their stimulus payments and their estimated payments online,” he said. “It’s especially worthwhile to have a disclosure authorization on every dependent teenager (and older) to monitor if they file their own tax return rather than stating they are a dependent on their parents’ return … The good news is that the IRS recently implemented the e-filing of 2019 and 2020 amended returns. This speeds up the process dramatically.”
For four years, the IRS has made wage and income transcripts available through the IRS Transcript delivery system in late May, he added. “We use commercially available software that compares the filed return with the income reported to the IRS and flags any inconsistencies,” Nemeth said. “We can then investigate and file amended returns as required months before the IRS would flag the return.”
Here to stay
According to astudy by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, business trends likely to last far longer than the pandemic include video conferencing and virtual events (both are also excellent client-retention tools, the Chamber adds.)
Other trends relevant to tax prep and likely to continue include:
- Increased sanitation;
- Increased investment in technology;
- Intensification of cloud and cybersecurity;
- Curbside service and delivery; and,
- Even more e-commerce and cashless and contactless commerce using cards or digital payments.
Small companies that have built out infrastructure and best practices to host their own online events will likely keep those in place even after the pandemic to reach customers online, according to the Chamber.
Larry Pon, a CPA in Redwood City, California, reports that his clients are good with Zoom and telephone appointments; his clients who insist on face-to-face are exceptions. “We’re located in Silicon Valley, so our clients are all over and they have been happy not having to drive to our office,” he said. “I lost at least one client who refused to do a telephone appointment. They’ll have to find a tax professional willing to see them in person and deal with all the PPE issues and wearing a mask.”
Drucker & Scaccetti in Philadelphia likes Microsoft Teams, said shareholder James McGrory. “Video conference calls with clients and video chats with other team members were a necessity that came out of the pandemic, but that will be standard practice for many years to come,” he said. “While I very much enjoy visiting my clients at their offices throughout the year, the convenience of not having to commute to see them, especially on the cold, rainy, winter days of early tax season, is quite a boon.”
“I’m actually enjoying not having face-to-face meetings,” Pon added. “Talk to the clients on the phone and move onto the next meeting. And yes,” he added, “I’m dressed.”