Art of Accounting: Local global accounting magic

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Recently two things happened a day apart that I want to share with you. The first is that I was talking to a colleague who moved with his family to Israel. When I asked if he retired, he said, “Absolutely not!” Everything is done remotely on the cloud. He has a New York City lookalike phone number, and he comes back to the city about every six weeks for a week.

The second was that my firm moved its New Brunswick, N.J., office and the phone system was going to be down for about a day. We were told our Orlando, Fla., office would be answering our calls. Wow!!! to both of these. It is like magic!

At some point personal meetings were very important, but along the way the “meetings” were replaced with “client contacts.” Local offices are important for meetings, but most accountants always seemed to go to their clients’ offices instead. Now, in-person meetings have been superseded by more frequent phone calls and emails, Skype or WebEx meetings, and online access and interaction with a client’s system. I believe we see clients less, but speak and interact with them more, maintaining and strengthening the relationship.

Technology has reduced the necessity of being in the office. With cloud-based filing and communication methods, you can work anywhere there’s a secure connection. Many firms have reduced the size of individual offices or replaced them with common work areas with docking stations and conference rooms for meetings. Staff members regularly work from home, and the ordeal of air travel with long delays is made less burdensome by using an airline club or renting time in a concierge office at the terminal for some quiet and private time to work while waiting for a flight.

I noticed there is greatly reduced one-on-one communication even within an office. Sticking a head in someone’s office for a quick question has been replaced by email or text message. This even happens between people with offices next to each other because the habit or compulsion of the face-to-face has been replaced by not wanting to break the momentum of the work at hand. Direct-dial phone numbers with voice mail and transcribed messages have eliminated much of what the receptionist had previously been needed for. People working, sending or responding to emails all hours of the day and night has become normal with the hour difference barely noted anymore.

The magic has become reality. It is working, but we need to be careful to maintain the “touchy-feely” bond with clients with more frequent phone calls, speedy replies to emails and questions, being more responsive to and having more respect for promised due dates. However, we also still need to be available for meetings when there is a critical issue that requires personal interaction.

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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Client relations Client communications Client strategies Cloud computing Ed Mendlowitz