This isn't to say that what's available for your mobile device is necessarily better, but an increasing number of accountants are simply enjoying the fact that, no matter where they are, they can access a practice management system, conduct tax research, perform accounting functions and even do client tax work.
Below are four cases of firms that have found that their clients either expect them to be more mobile, or that it is a welcome (and often natural) extension to the practice that allows them to offer more real-time services to clients.
Closer to clients
Firm: Zielke & Co. / Vancouver, B.C. (via LedgersOnline Inc.)
Size: 18 staff
Product: Kashoo iPad app (Kashoo)
Commencement date: 2012
On record: Wayne Zielke
Challenge/objective: To be more connected to clients for bookkeeping and accounting work, preferably on an iPad so that they can get more out of the services they are buying from the firm.
Amount spent: Free for firm with subscription to the Web application.
Process: Despite a physical office in Canada, the nature of LedgersOnline allows the firm to conduct business wherever its clients are. The firm started the Web-based bookkeeping and accounting service several years ago and has approximately 300 clients spread across Canada and the U.S. that utilize it.
In fact, with the majority of the firm's revenue coming from online bookkeeping, Zielke wanted to ensure that the firm was doing all it can to remain connected to clients. The firm was a very early Kashoo user, and when the company came out with its iPad app last year, they were quick to adopt it. The app allows both firm and client to be involved in accounting and bookkeeping work, directly from the app. Clients can even invoice right in the accounting system.
"Clients don't often use the accounting system they have, especially when growing a small business, because they have a business to run or just don't know how to do the accounting they need to," said Zielke. "With this app, you whip out the iPad, you have it hooked right up, everything is right there for you, [you] can even run receivables. The iPad app is mainly on the client side to capture it at the source."
The accounting firm uses the Kashoo Web app and can log on and have multiple clients on the platform. Zielke did note that it helps to have an "expert" in the office learn the app, but he said that it didn't take long to use.
"Where this really helps is with small clients -- they can be painful. They can't afford a lot of help and they bring in the shoebox and don't know if they made money or not for the year," said Zielke. "Kashoo has auto bank downloads too. Clients can look at revenue close and get reports, it makes my job easier - any accountant's job easier. And if [clients] see the receivables report, they can call up the accountant and have a more current discussion with them."
Results: "Using the Kashoo iPad app allows us to start effectively addressing a marketplace we couldn't access before. We hosted desktop apps to do books for years, but that is a different client," said Zielke. "Now we can push out into the field and allow the smaller companies to access accounting. In every market they will transition to be a bigger client and the mobile app is a good entry point to doing business with these clients long-term."
Next steps: The firm is simply looking to garner more awareness of its LedgerOnline service, and may explore public relations or other marketing strategies.
Firm: Taxgrl LLC / Manchester, N.J.
Size: Sole practitioner
Product: Intuit Tax Online mobile app (Intuit)
Commencement date: January 2013
On record: Owner Jessica Shoenleber
Challenge/objective: Wanted a true mobile tax app to showcase being a "tech-centric, 21st century accountant."
Amount spent: Pay per return, averages $10 per return for current package used.
Process: Shoenleber runs an online-based tax service and is in the midst of building her client base. She is also a long-time Pro Series user and found out about Intuit Tax Online through an Intuit-run Accountants Advisory Council session back in November 2012. She claims she was not "locked in" to using any particular tax product, but also realized that there was "not much" in the market in the way of an online tax product, especially one with "a decent mobile component."
Shoenleber then decided that for the upcoming tax season she would use Intuit Tax Online and its mobile app in the field since, while she was impressed with what she saw at the Council session, "Demos don't always tell the whole story." But that wasn't the only factor in deciding to use the product.
"I'm a Mac user and most tax programs are Windows-based. There was always a workaround to do if you wanted to use them on a Mac and I had yet to find Mac-native tax software until now," she said, noting that the mobile app for Intuit Tax Online can be used on an iPad. "Other tax programs on the market aren't really outside the box; the mobile app was the sticking point for me, since I'm in the field a lot and I am trying to go after clients who want an accountant like me that uses the latest technology."
She noted that it did "take some time" to convert files from her previous tax software to Intuit Tax Online, but she allowed for that and was able to start using it with clients "fairly quickly" starting with the 2013 tax season.
Results: Shoenleber (and, effectively Taxgrl LLC) currently has 35 clients on Intuit Tax Online and is able to use the mobile app from wherever she is. Her overall client base has doubled in the past year as well, and she said that Intuit recently rewrote the program to be faster and allow for more rapid development for features.
"The best part is impressing my clients, and I do run into them sometimes. I may get a question about payments or such, but I can pull out my phone, pull up the return and answer them wherever I am," said Shoenleber. "This is what my clients expect from me."
Next steps: She is looking forward to using more client-facing abilities where she could save time during tax season and ultimately advise more.
Firm: Butrica Ployd & Associates / Lansdale, Pa.
Size: Five staff
Product: Mobile CS (Thomson Reuters)
Commencement date: 2013
Amount spent: $200 per month for client portals, $5 per month for Mobile CS.
On record: Principal Michael Butrica
Challenge/objective: The firm found it was becoming difficult to track staff time on projects to factor into its growing fixed-fee structure, even as it was becoming increasingly mobile. They also wanted secure transfer of information through a portal system.
Process: The firm had been using another mobile app but found it was "limited" in what it could do, and Butrica said that over the past few years they had been trying to be seen as a more "technology-forward" firm.
Through his research, Butrica found that Mobile CS had "a great time-tracking tool, so we are out on the road more and growing and we need to track that and take notes out in the field. We can do that right in the app." He also noted that his firm's previous practice management system didn't have a very good client tool and the publisher's training "was a bit lax and didn't have enough information."
Training for Mobile CS and its use with the Web-based practice management system consisted of a quick phone call and an hour-long Web/self-training session: "I was up and running on it shortly after that and entering client information." Butrica also noted that the transfer of client information from the old system was also very easy, mostly because customer service was regularly available and walked him through "any bumps we had." He admitted that it did take some time, but they walked the firm through all of it and they blocked out the days and times to do it.
Results: "Mobile CS is connected through Bluetooth - in fact, it's directing me to a client I'm going to see right now; something simple like that is what it's all about. It can also tell me who is around in the area I can maybe go see," said Butrica.
He also found that staff were wasting time looking up client information and sending it to the client, noting that even a couple of years of documents can take a good half hour for an admin to look up and get to the client: "That process now takes moments."
Next steps: "Everything we require right now can be done," Butrica said. "At some point it would be great if they gave you access to their SaaS product through Mobile CS."
Info on the go
Firm: Bernard N. Ackerman CPA / Rock Hill, S.C.
Size: 18 staff
Product: CCH Mobile for IntelliConnect
Commencement date: 2013
On record: Principal Bernie Ackerman
Challenge/objective: The firm wanted to have complete mobility for all team members and needed full access to necessary tax information.
Amount spent: Free with IntelliConnect.
Process: The firm had been a CCH user for some time and became aware of the mobile product through a recent user conference. Ackerman particularly liked how IntelliConnect could be used on an iPad much in the same way it is used on the desktop: "I knew this was the way my firm wanted to go -- we were all using iPads at the time. It's an easy app to learn, very intuitive. It usually starts with me, so I installed it and had it installed on everyone's iPads."
Ackerman noted that he uses the Trackers feature the most, which collects topical tax-related information for use with this clients. He has individual and group client folders and a Tracker set up for each, "so if something comes up of concern to one of my clients, say with the Affordable Care Act, I let my clients know. I have my contacts on my iPad and can let them know. It's been a very convenient and informative tool to have to stay connected with my clients."
Results: Currently about half the staff use CCH Mobile, and Ackerman has found that client feedback has been "extremely positive" based on how connected they feel to the firm.
"[The app] helps keep me current no matter where I am, in the office or out. I don't need to call anyone or turn on a desktop computer, I just need 3G or a wireless connection," he said. "Clients see us using the app in meetings and may ask us something and we have the answer right there -- it really impresses them. When doing tax research, you create a folder, say, for depreciation -- it is invaluable to go to that folder and pull up that information."
Next steps: Ackerman is working to get 100 percent office use on the app and is conducting regular training to get them there.
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