There are two problems with all the paper that used to be involved with tax preparation: knowing where any given piece of it may be at any given point in the process, and knowing where to store it all when the process is over. These are two of the chief reasons firms turn to tax workflow software.
But when they do, they tend to find efficiencies that they didn’t know they could access, enabling them to grow service lines or spend much more quality time with clients — thereby providing better tax work. Here are two firms’ experiences with their tax workflow software.
Firm: Strategis CPAs & Consultants
Staff users: 7
Start date: 2011 tax season
Cost: Non-1040 binders — $4 each, 1040 organized binders — $6 each
On record: Tax manager Tina Davis
Objective: SurePrep was recommended to Strategis by Rootworks, a professional community of which the firm is part. At the time, Strategis had no workpaper organization, and its goal was to create a paperless workflow.
Implementation: “At the time, SurePrep was a desktop software,” Davis said. “A couple years later, it went completely online. We just had to install the software, and we set up custom binders for our non-individual clients.” (“Binder” is the term SurePrep uses for its virtual folders of multiple documents related to one client.)
Davis also described how the firm was able to create custom templates in SurePrep for particular client returns.
Advantages: “One of the best things we’ve found is [SurePrep] enables us to create tax documents that we then provide back to clients in a PDF format that’s bookmarked and easy to search,” Davis said. “We then put that in their portal so they have it forever.”
Staff can also create PDF workpapers, so in the event that a user doesn’t want to log in to the software, they can still access the documents outside SurePrep.
“The partner finds the review tool to be extremely helpful,” Davis said. “He knows what documents he’s looked at, what he’s reviewed, and he can easily write notes asking questions of the client or the staff.”
Users can also use an in-software calculator to perform computations right on a workpaper, and write virtual sticky notes. “It helps keep very good track of what was done on a tax return.”
Challenges: Strategis experimented with various tiers of SurePrep before finding the level that works for them.
“We’ve tried the 1040 scan where it populates into the tax return,” Davis said. “Not that it doesn’t do a good job, but our processes almost duplicate it. We’ve not had the competence in it to allow us to go full-out on that.”
Strategis has also tried SurePrep’s service of providing outsourced verification of information, called ScanVerify; however, the firm found that because their staff knew the clients best, they preferred to retain control of information verification themselves.
“ScanVerify worked well, but the cost benefit was not there for us,” Davis said. “It would be a great option for high volume.”
Firm growth: “SurePrep has helped us to achieve efficiencies that I don’t think we would have found without a similar software,” Davis said. “It enables us to remove paper and clutter so we can focus more on content, instead of shuffling things around. It’s an efficiency tool.”
KNOW WHERE THINGS ARE
Firm: Friedman LLP
Staff users: Approximately 300
Start date: 2009 tax season
Cost: Contact vendor
On record: Tax principal David Schneyman
Objective: Back when Top 100 Firm Friedman implemented XCM for tax workflow, it was “the only real player in the game,” tax principal David Schneyman said.
“We were using a very simple due-date monitoring system,” he explained. “The process itself of tax return preparation is circular, not linear, so due-date monitoring didn’t help us. It didn’t tell us exactly where the return was at any time.”
Implementation: Schneyman called XCM a “pretty intuitive program,” and added that the latest version is even more intuitive. “It’s a very friendly user interface.” Any issues at implementation related to usability are irrelevant now, he said, because of the complete overhaul of the software’s user interface.
Advantages: “The capability of knowing where a return is — what the open points and review points are at the moment at any given time, without having to get up from your desk and find a staff person, is invaluable,” Schneyman said. “I can do this from home because it’s cloud-based. It’s so much easier to know where things are.”
Challenges: Schneyman said that the challenges they face with using XCM are “because of just people being people, or getting everybody to use the program. We’re a 400-plus-person firm, so you don’t get everyone using it. Policing to make sure everybody uses it — that’s probably the biggest challenge I have.”
Firm Growth: Schneyman said that because of the great efficiency that XCM injects into the tax workflow, the firm has been able to grow its client service offerings.
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