As the number of Web-based programs that accountants can use for internal and client purposes increases, so too does the number of applications that allow them to work on any mobile device.
While some mobile apps don't yet offer the full functionality of a desktop or Web-based program, their ability to do enough of what a user needs them to do while out of the office is catching the attention of many practitioners. Below are a few examples of how firms are finding mobile apps that are relevant to the work they do, helping them save time and money, and in some cases giving them bragging rights over other practitioners.
Firm: Krueger & Associates / Tampa, Fla.
Size: 8 staff
Product: CCH Mobile for IntelliConnect
Commencement date: February 2013
On record: Managing director Kevin Krueger
Challenge/objective: Stay connected with clients and respond to inquiries quicker.
Amount spent: Free with IntelliConnect subscription.
Process: Krueger had used IntelliConnect for several years, and once he discovered that CCH had a mobile app for it he "had to have it." Krueger has been on CCH's list of practitioners who often get to experience software and applications before their official release, offering feedback on the user experience and any other relevant information. As such, he received the pre-release version of the app and had a CCH representative load it on to his iPad for initial feedback.
It was loaded in time for the busy part of tax season, and he found the app to be "very intuitive" even though there were aspects not yet available until the full version was released a few weeks later. "I tried it out from home and I liked how all of my client contacts were there on my iPad. My documents were there too, and it just made me want to have even more things, but I could see the value in it right away," said Krueger.
During the past tax season, he recalled receiving an e-mail from a client one night while watching a football game. The client was asking about some information on his taxes, so Krueger went to the CCH Mobile for IntelliConnect app and was able to receive the answer to the client's question and e-mail him within a few minutes.
Results: Krueger has found that his response times to clients, especially during busy season, have "greatly improved."
"Before, if I got an e-mail at night, asking for refund information or other data, I wasn't able to always answer because you need certain data in front of you in order to find that out," said Krueger. "It's one thing if I'm at work, but at 10:30 at night it's just me, so it's just as easy to go to the app, grab the information, shoot back an e-mail and answer the question or solve the issue. I don't have to flag e-mails, write notes or anything else to remind me to do what my client asked me."
Next steps: Krueger is looking forward to a timekeeping feature - which should be out in July - that will allow him to enter time from his app.
Firm: Alpern Rosenthal / West Palm Beach, Fla., and Pittsburgh
Size: 25 staff (in the Florida office)
Product: PDF Expert (Readdle)
Commencement date: 2011
On record: Partner Tammy Clarke
Challenge/objective: Clarke wanted a top PDF editor, as sometimes she had very large PDFs in a board meeting or with a client and wanted to get from one bookmark to another quickly.
Amount spent: $9.99; can be less depending on version.
Process: Clarke, a partner in the West Palm Beach office, had used a few other PDF apps before this one and was always looking for something better, but at the time the one she used didn't allow for fill-in forms. She subscribes to lots of RSS feeds and discovered PDF Expert, which was highly reviewed, and thought she should try it. Once downloaded, she was able to use Adobe to create a form, tab from one field to another and then pull it into the PDF Expert app.
"As opposed to regular viewing, you can do commenting like text boxes, strike-throughs and other note marks that Adobe doesn't have," said Clarke. "If I'm reading a contract for a client, I can highlight, make notes and it stays in that format so when I e-mail myself and pull it up in Acrobat, the comments are there too. I have various forms, like client meeting notes or forms for our tax returns, so in Adobe I create a form from the PDF, tab from one field to another and can pull it into PDF Expert."
Results: Clarke has found that particularly in seminars, partners really want to understand and use technology - specifically some that she is using. In addition to her own use, she even found that one of the more senior partners will now go to a full-day seminar and use PDF Expert for making notes.
"A few years ago, you had a notebook with your notes and it often just got back to the office and sat there, but if it's in a PDF, it's searchable, so as long as you save your materials in a Dropbox folder, you can access it; it's much better than having a big stack of conference materials," said Clarke. "It also now has a signature ability, so you can get a form, and if someone needs me to sign one you can sign with your finger, resize it if you need to, and send it on."
Next steps: Clarke said that she's very happy with what the app allows her to do, but would like it to work better with Dropbox.
Firm: Tax Care Inc. / Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Size: 15 staff
Product: NetClient CS mobile app (Thomson Reuters)
Commencement date: January 2012
On record: Director of operations Moises Alvarez
Challenge/Objective: Wanted to streamline the process of clients calling the office and requesting reports, documents and other requests.
Amount spent: $175 a month for NetClient CS, up to 1,000 users, then the app is free.
Process: The firm was starting to franchise more and becoming more mobile, and with 80 percent of the firm's target market being young entrepreneurs, the firm wanted a way to serve them. In fact, Alvarez found that as he was speaking with potential clients, none of their prior or current accountants were using mobile apps, so using any might also impress them.
Before they had a mobile app, Alvarez was in the process of finding out how to build an app for client access to the portals, which would have been thousands of dollars. His account rep at ThomsonReuters let him know they were developing one, so he waited on it. Once clients accessed NetClient CS from the mobile app, they found it was branded for the firm so when clients open the app they see a banner page of the firm's logo, even though on the device it's the NetClient CS logo.
Once the firm was able to download the mobile app, they began a marketing campaign to target existing clients using portals on NetClient CS, explaining to them that they now have a way to access files on mobile devices by downloading the app. "The behavior change [to regularly using the app] was a challenge; we had to educate some clients to use it and it did take a little time but we worked with them, set up a customer service line and starting getting some buy-in," said Alvarez.
Results: The firm can now provide documents to clients using the mobile app at any time. Within the first three months, 60 percent of the firm's clients started using the Mobile CS app. Currently, about 75 percent of the firm's clients use the app. "This was a value-add that was free for them to use, and an easy, fun piece to talk about when prospecting as well," said Alvarez. "We can tell clients everything we do for them is going to be here in NetClient CS."
Next steps: The firm is looking to add additional folders within NetClient CS and those will show up on the mobile app as well. They also want to show information on things they do in the office, like the client orientation process. The firm would like to provide documents on marketing tips, industry news, and other items of interest to clients all through the mobile app.
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