The assistance you give can sometimes provide a life-changing benefit to the client while enabling your firm to increase its service base and gain additional revenues.
The in-person interview is quite important to getting a tax return prepared. However, most tax returns are now prepared without an interview. Many clients simply mail or email their information. However, for the clients that we do meet with, the interview becomes a document collection process.
While chatting with clients, many of us ask what would be considered financial-planning questions. These questions can lead to opportunities for additional services. For clients you do not meet with in person, you can still ask what’s going on during a phone call or two.
Many of the questions we ask have to do with saving taxes by suggesting tax beneficial investment alternatives. For instance, clients in high brackets with a large amount of taxable interest should consider tax-free government bonds or repaying their mortgage if they still have one. Clients with unrealized capital losses or concentrated portfolios could learn about ways to realize these or diversify without substantially altering their investment allocations while decreasing risk. Those with children in college could be told how to maximize college cost tax breaks. Clients who give large cash donations should be presented with noncash alternatives such as donating appreciated securities.
How the interview proceeds depends on how you value your time and your appreciation of what you can do for the client. You can spend the hour helping your clients open envelopes or by providing “free” personalized financial guidance. You should make your clients understand how they are spending their money for your time. During the interview, be interested in the client, ask what they are concerned about, and really listen. Get the client to articulate what they care about and what “keeps them awake.”
Another feature of the interview is to ask questions about the current year and then suggest the benefits of a current year projection to give a heads up of what they might owe or to discuss some tax-planning moves.
I use the questions to determine if there is interest in additional information. If there is, I will send a follow-up article, blog or fact sheet a few days after the interview. I then follow this up after tax season to see if they should come in for a consultation. Sending the info and making the follow-up calls indicate the scope of our expertise in areas concerning our clients.
There are many opportunities during a tax return interview to help the client, showcase the range of your expertise, and generate added revenue. Do not miss the opportunities that are there.
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.