All progress starts with the truth! So what worked and what didn't work this past tax season?
Most firms go through this type of after-tax season review, but many fail to benefit from real change due to the fact that the scope of their review is too narrow and the parties involved are often too entrenched in existing processes to consider significant changes that only occur through better planning, improved processes and training. Too often, the focus is more on the technology and software than it is on processes and people. While all are important, let's call this the "big picture" approach from:
- Pre-season planning, to:
- Scheduling of appointments, to:
- Scanning, aggregating and organizing client information, to:
- Preparation of the returns, to:
- The review process, to:
- Assembly, to:
- Billing, to:
- E-filing, to:
I know I have left out many steps in the process and firms perform the steps in different order, but the main point is that few people see the entire process from start to finish, or where all the breakdowns and inefficiencies often occur. IT professionals and firm administration generally sit in the catbird seat, but have too little influence regarding processes. The problems are generally not technical, but more behavioral with regard to people following the firm's processes and procedures.
There are several lessons that firms can learn from peers that will save them time, yet the tendency is to revert back to the way they have always done it, which may not be as efficient and effective as possible. Often, firms do not leverage their investment in technology, and have multiple processes depending upon individual partner desires. This causes confusion and inefficiencies, and makes it difficult to utilize resources across the firm.
Each firm is different, and I realize all of these suggestions may not apply to your tax practice, but in high-volume tax practices we have seen significant savings and resulting efficiencies and fee increases from the accompanying tips (see "Get better," below).
These 10 suggestions are just a sample to get you thinking. Many firms are already doing many of these best practices. Often the problem is more about your thinking about the problem. In this case, I find a few questions that are very important.
1. Do you believe your processes can be improved?
2. Do people adhere to your processes?
3. Do you believe you are doing work for the right clients?
4. Are you willing to change?
It may be worth your time to engage a Six Sigma expert with CPA firm and tax experience to review your processes and assist you in documenting and improving them. A firm like Flowtivity (www.flowtivity.com) has a great reputation working with firms that are members of the Boomer Technology Circles. The results have been significant.
Another action may be to define client criteria for filtering and accepting. Perhaps you are serving clients that are no longer a fit. A single criteria (like revenue) is generally not enough. Therefore, we recommend multiple criteria such as:
- Utilization: Do they buy multiple services from your firm?
- Appreciation: Do they follow your firm's advice? Are they coachable?
- Reward: Do they pay promptly and willingly?
- Enhancement: Do they require services that enhance the firm's capabilities?
- Risk: Does their track record indicate that they are a manageable risk?
- Referral: Do they refer other good clients?
Providing the right services to the right clients is very important. Most firms are trying to grow and stay relative in today's competitive market. Improvement is about progress, not perfection. As Jack Dixon says, "If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, the results will happen."
10 ways you can make next tax season better:
- 1. Schedule client appointments in advance.
- 2. Scan and organize client data into a digital file.
- 3. Utilize a digital workflow system.
- 4. Implement one-way workflow and avoid loops. You do not have to send work back for training purposes.
- 5. Review returns on a timely basis.
- 6. Grade preparers on each return to drive out errors at the lowest cost.
- 7. Bill and collect with the return.
- 8. Reduce cycle time to increase profits.
- 9. Utilize portals for aggregation of client data and the delivery of returns.
- 10. Utilize a technology surcharge to achieve a return on your IT investment.
Gary Boomer, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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