The past several years have ushered in a host of changes for accounting firms nationwide, particularly regarding how firms communicate internally and with clients. The passing of privacy legislation designed to protect client information ushered in a radical shift from standard email to client portals and encrypted attachments. This shift has brought unexpected workflow and efficiency improvements to accounting firms, including easier transfers of bookkeeping files and less password management.
The way CPAs communicate is changing again due to the growing adoption of tablets and smartphone by both CPAs and their clients. Unlike several years ago when there were only a few available portal solutions, there are now over a dozen secure product offerings for communicating with clients. Accountants now have more flexibility and selection than ever before.
The software as a service (SaaS) market for secure communication tools for CPAs has become commoditized in recent years and most product offerings have improved to better meet the needs of accountants. Although these offerings have evolved, it can still be difficult to determine the right solution for your firm.
Having helped provide cloud offerings to accountants for over three years now, I can offer advice on what to consider when evaluating a product. These suggested items will help you to identify and clarify the features of a secure product that will be the best fit for your firm’s needs.
This is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a secure portal. Think about how you communicate with your clients—is it effective? Do your clients use your system and does it reduce unsecure communication? If you’ve been using a portal for years but a significant portion of your clients still refuse to move away from email, it may be time to explore another solution. Consider a solution that will combine file sharing through a portal and email so you can benefit from both.
In a commoditized market, high-quality service and exceptional customer support are the best hedges against growing competition because clients, particularly accountants, value good service that’s often so hard to come by. Is your software provider reliable, good to work with and easy to reach? Do they increase their prices every year without improving the product or charge additional fees for support? If there is a problem with reliability or if you’ve been unable to get help when you really need it, it’s likely time to switch. There are plenty of solutions that invest in support teams so you don’t have to waste time struggling with problems. Vendors with 24/7 support are best because work doesn’t only happen during standard business hours, especially during tax season.
Does your system work easily on a tablet or smartphone? Take time to consider if your current product works the way you need it to. Some solutions may only work from a desktop, but you will want to invest in a product that will be able to adapt with the ever-changing landscape of technology.
- Security and Efficiency
Does your current software provider offer improvements unrelated to security? Although security should be the most important consideration when looking at a SaaS provider, it’s also important to look for a tool that works in a number of different scenarios. In this very competitive market, you can afford to be selective. Look for features like file sync, which can be helpful when working remotely or at a client’s office; large file transfer, that can help with bookkeeping efforts; or e-signature adoption, which can save huge amounts of time and expense when sending out engagement letters and other documents. The more you can get out of a product, the better.
In our commoditized market, there is no reason a company should require you to commit to a contract or annual payment. These protectionist requirements are designed solely to benefit the vendor, not the customer. What if the product doesn’t work or clients don’t use it? Look for solutions that don’t require contracts or annual/multi-year commitments. It will help your bottom line and avert a potential crisis if the solution you try is poorly received by staff or clients.
The cloud and the growth of SaaS offerings will only continue to benefit accountants going forward. It may seem overwhelming to look for a new secure solution, but keep these considerations in mind when evaluating vendors. You will be sure to find the one that best fits your firm’s unique needs.
Grady Slane is an Associate Product
Marketing Manager at Citrix. Citrix ShareFile allows firms the ability to
share, store, sync, and secure data on any device, anywhere. To learn more,
please visit http://www.sharefile.com/.