Art of Accounting: A checklist not just for beginners

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In my updated checklist file, I included a “preparer’s work process and procedures checklist.” This started out as a checklist for beginners with step-by-step procedures to follow, but as I got into it, I realized that this list is not just for beginners, but for everyone preparing tax returns, so I removed “beginner’s” from the name.

I just presented three Managing Your Tax Season speeches where I had a slide with this chart. There seemed to be agreement that the checklists would improve preparer quality and reduce reviewer time. You can download the checklists to see this one. However, this column is not about that checklist but about establishing procedures that use each person working on tax returns to the fullest extent possible.

Everyone has a system for managing tax season. Some are good, some are just so-so, and some stink. My first rule for a system is that it be followed. If it’s not followed, then there is no system. Additionally, when it is not followed I believe there is no thinking about opportunities to tweak or improve it.

Many accounting firms have various systems to accommodate individual partners, many of whom like things done “my way,” usually out of habit. This discourages and confuses the staff and thwarts any sort of firm uniformity, making it harder to train new staff or to have staff members cross over to help someone with a return, or to step in to resume a return or project started by someone else.

Even with a great system, sidestepping a procedure to get a return completed sends a message to the staff that the system or uniform procedures are not important and expediency should rule.

When systems are established, a firm becomes more valuable since the work and processes are scalable, transferrable and independent of individual whims and urges of managers and partners. It also facilitates training since everyone is taught the same way and everyone can become a teacher. It will make everyone happier and their work smoother, with fewer employees wondering “what the partner wants.” That will enable greater profits.

My checklist for “beginners” is not just for beginners, but for everyone. Think about it! If you agree, do something. If you disagree, please post your comments or email me.

For a free download of my 80 checklists in a Word file, click here. If you have trouble downloading it, send me an email to GoodiesFromEd@withum.com.

We are now in tax season—enjoy it!

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, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements.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 emendlowitz@withum.com.

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