Scrambling. While many words come to mind when thinking back to the 2019 filing season, scrambling is what everyone was doing in March of 2020, especially those in the tax and accounting profession. Busy season is one thing; extending busy season through July due to a global pandemic, is quite another. Not only were tax deadlines pushed back, but firms were scrambling to move employees to remote work – and many didn’t have the technology in place to run the office from home. In addition, taxpayers were generally in the same boat – scrambling to figure out how to do their own jobs from home – or out of work altogether.
Along with global upheaval came big tasks and big questions centered around the processing and filing of taxes in a remote, quarantined world:
· Do we have cloud-based solutions so we can get to our software systems?
· How do we access information that’s on premise when all staff is working from home?
· Is the tax deadline going to move again?
· Do we have a plan to function without paper or meeting clients in person?
· What’s the latest news on PPP loans?
Firms were waiting to file tax returns to see what was going to happen with the stimulus package – a situation that resulted in a lot of inbound questions from clients. The pandemic had introduced complexity to the issues facing tax and accounting professionals who were traditionally already running on adrenaline and putting out fires this time of year. And even after the July 16 filing deadline passed, there was no time for the normal “sigh of relief heard throughout the profession” - there were still extensions to file and client organizers to think about.
Firms Forced to Abandon Old Processes
Ultimately, when everyone looked up and cleared their heads in the middle of July, it was painfully obvious that more than just the tax-filing process would be different.
Staff were working from home. They didn’t always have the capability to generate an organizer out of the tax software system and get it printed to a PDF - much less paper. No one was in the office with big printers. Firms knew they couldn’t print paper organizers out of each administrator's home; they aren’t
set up to facilitate it. They began to wonder, “Can staff even perform that job from home?”
After such chaos, normally firms would have said, “Let’s just do things the same as last year,” but SALY was not an option. SALY would have meant paper organizers and clients coming into the office; but the same processes wouldn’t work. This was the crucial point where firms said, “We can’t do it the same as last year and we don’t have anything in place to make a change.”
There wasn’t time to phase-in a new process over the course of several years. Once again, firms were scrambling to find new technologies for digitally disseminating and retrieving client organizers efficiently and in a way that was also user-friendly for clients.
New Client Expectations Compound the Situation
The short-term solution of simply converting organizers to a PDF and emailing it out the door may have been an answer in the short term, but it ended up creating more work for remote staff and ultimately put the burden on the client. When the client received the PDF, it was then their responsibility to print the PDF, fill it out and then scan it back in if they wanted to return it via email or portal. This option created a myriad of problems on the client end:
· Wi-Fi issues
· Printer problems
· Slow or no scanner capabilities
· Files that were too large to send
Expecting clients to print tens to hundreds of pages of an organizer would result in frustrated phone calls about printer issues, not to mention the fact that asking clients to print them out in the first place consumed a lot of paper and ink. Creating more work for clients was not an efficient solution. Nor was it a way to encourage clients to return the organizer if, in fact, they were able to receive the PDF.
When our world turned upside down, some firms recognized the fact that SALY was out the window and working and serving clients remotely was the new normal. These forward-thinking firms identified this problem and contacted SafeSend in the summer of 2020. They needed a digital client organizer solution that worked.
Andrew Hatfield, SafeSend’s co-founder and Chief Growth Officer, explained, “We have always known that client organizers were one of the biggest, paper-ingrained solution processes in the tax engagement life cycle, but every year we’d look at it and say, ‘We'll address it later.’ But the sudden shift caused our clients to come to us and say, ‘We need this solution now. We have to do it digitally; we’re in trouble.’ That changed our thinking immediately and we sprang into action. Helping firms in the tax and accounting profession is always our first priority and we knew this had become a massive problem for firms of every size.”
Going from Paper to Digital Organizers
“My clients love filling out and returning their organizers,” said no firm ever. Filling out organizers has never been the most exciting task in the world; but collecting the information is a necessity. Historically, many clients disregarded it, leaving the information and source document gathering process for face-to-face meetings at the firm. Once the firm had the organizer information, the data entry process could begin.
But the pandemic put a halt to in-person meetings and the need for clients to complete the organizer increased exponentially. However, the process in the COVID “scramble” was cumbersome:
1. Send PDF to client
2. Client prints PDF
3. Client completes organizer, by hand
4. Client scans completed organizer (if possible)
5. Client electronically sends scanned document back to firm via email or portal, OR
6. Client mails printed and completed document back to firm
Either method still requires manual data entry of the client information into the firm’s tax software program. So, the creation of a fillable PDF paperless client organizer became the priority for SafeSend.
Hatfield explained, "It was an extremely difficult development process due to the vast amount of fillable information and document size. Some fields had to be required, others were not. Some fields had to be decisions with drop downs, some had to be a fillable text field. Prior to SafeSend Organizers, nobody had come up with a good product to do that,” Hatfield said. “Quite frankly, we have never launched a product that fast. It started in the summer; we had it out for organizer season.”
Benefits of a Paperless, Digital Organizer that WORKS
While society shifts from unprecedented times back to “normal,” it is increasingly clear that normal does not mean SALY. Many business practices will never be the same as last year, or any year prior. But when there is a paradigm shift such as this, it is not just a firm’s responsibility to shift. Technology providers and other vendors must also shift and adapt to provide support for firms and their clients.
You Asked, We Delivered
Creating SafeSend Organizers so firms can easily send fillable, digital client organizers is just one piece of the tax engagement puzzle. Eliminating the manual, tedious work at every client touchpoint through automation is the ultimate goal of the SafeSend Suite. Freeing staff from time-consuming, repetitive tasks means there is more time to focus on building and fostering client relationships.
There may not be another situation in the foreseeable future that will send society scrambling, but the resulting innovations will save firms the money and time normally spent printing and mailing paper organizers. Offering a digital, fillable organizer increases the return rate and decreases the admin frustration level. SafeSend Organizers is a win-win for firms and clients and leaves scrambling for eggs. To experience how paperless client organizers can help your firm and clients, sign up for the SafeSend Organizer group demo!
SafeSend’s mission is to automate the tax and accounting profession with innovative, emerging technologies that help practitioners work more efficiently and serve their clients better. Progressive accounting firms and tax professionals rely on our unique and robust solutions to make their lives easier and their work more enjoyable.
SafeSend offers several foundational technology solutions for the tax and accounting profession. Our flagship offering, SafeSend Returns® is a multi-year winner of the CPA Practice Advisor Technology Innovation Award and has redefined the way accounting firms digitally assemble, securely deliver, and quickly capture e-signatures from clients for completed tax return packages. Additional tools we offer include, TicTie Calculate®, an Adobe® Acrobat® plug-in for accounting professionals, and SafeSend Exchange™, the secure, bi-directional file exchange system. Visit safesend.com to learn more about our digital solutions.