5 Innovative Ways to Modernize Your Accounting Firm in 2020
With 2020 right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start planning your resolutions for the new year. And while we may not be able to provide expert advice on how to eat healthier, create an exercise plan, or get better sleep, what we can do is offer tips on building a more innovative, successful accounting firm.
Here are five sure-fire strategies for modernizing your accounting practice in 2020.
Adopt Online Payments
For CPAs and accountants, technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes running a successful firm considerably easier. On the other hand, technology has helped fuel the skyrocketing growth of client expectations—especially when it comes to convenient payment options.
The most recent Survey of Consumer Payment Choice found that 60 percent of bills are paid online or automatically. In addition, about 20 percent of consumers who had paper checks available didn’t use them, not even once, in 2017.
Based on this data, it’s safe to assume a large number of your clients would prefer to pay online by credit card, debit card, or eCheck.
An online payment solution allows your clients to securely pay invoices how they want to, instead of restricting them to only in-person transactions with cash or requiring them to mail a paper check. Additionally, online payment technology enables you to offer automatic recurring payments. All you have to do is input the client’s payment information, the amount to be charged, and the frequency, and the transactions will run automatically at the designated interval.
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Moreover, sending invoices and accepting payments online can go a long way towards achieving a paperless office.
Speaking of a paperless office, you may not realize it, but paper documents consume a lot of resources in your office. According to the EPA, paper accounts for 90 percent of all office waste, largely due to the fact that the average office employee uses about two pounds of paper per day.
Further, while a standard four-drawer filing cabinet may only take up a few feet of floor space when closed, it actually requires at least 10-15 square feet of space in order for an employee to access the files inside. Considering your office almost certainly has more than just one filing cabinet, that’s a lot of floor space you could be using for something else. And don’t forget the time you and your employees lose trying to locate one document in a stack of hundreds.
If you want to reduce waste across the board (and modernize your accounting firm in the process), make the transition to a paperless (or at least a paper-light) office.
Begin the shift with internal documents and processes first. An easy first step is to opt in to paperless billing for your utilities, internet, and other monthly expenses. Digitize expense reporting by scanning or taking photos of receipts instead of making physical copies and request to receive receipts by email whenever possible.
From there, start transitioning your external correspondence and paperwork. Give your existing clients plenty of notice that you’re converting to a paperless office and you’ll now be sending all documentation electronically and using e-signatures. For all new clients, make the process paperless from the start.
Going paperless will take several months, but the increase in security, productivity, and flexibility will be worth it.
Invest in a Practice Management Solution
In addition to taking a more modern approach to your documentation, consider upgrading the rest of your firm’s operations with a practice management solution. Practice management software gives you better control over nearly every aspect of your firm, including:
- Accounts Receivable
- Client Relationship Management (CRM)
- Expense Tracking
- Task Management
It minimizes the time spent on repetitive administrative duties so you can focus on more important projects. Premium solutions have dashboards and reporting tools to help you better manage engagements and make your workflows more efficient.
They also have client portals that allow clients to easily upload necessary paperwork and also enable you to securely share documents with clients such as contracts and tax forms. This feature eliminates the need for clients to come to your office to pick up paperwork and prevents you from having to mail physical documents to clients for signatures and wait for them to send them back.
Practice management software is also an integral component of a paperless office. While you can certainly use cloud file storage or standalone document management solution, utilizing a practice management software means all of your important information and files are accessible via a single interface.
Most importantly, practice management solutions integrate with online payment platforms (like CPACharge), which makes collecting and managing payments even simpler. This technology combination not only supports your efforts to modernize your accounting firm, it also gives you the ability to dedicate more time to enhancing your client experience.
Optimize Your Onboarding Process
Prioritizing the client experience should absolutely be among your list of 2020 resolutions. And one of the most impactful aspects of the client experience is the onboarding process.
What happens after a client signs a services agreement will set the tone for the rest of the engagement. These initial interactions will have a major influence on whether your client decides to stay with your practice long-term or go to a competitor as soon as the contract is up. It may sound counterintuitive, but the more of the onboarding process you can systematize and automate, the easier it will be to create a more personalized client experience.
For example, consider the challenge of arranging a call or meeting with a new client during busy season. Because your availability changes day-to-day, using email to try to coordinate a time to speak or have an in-person meeting can take weeks. But with tools like Calendly, a free online scheduling software, it’s easy for clients to find and reserve an appointment slot that works for both their schedule and yours. You can integrate Calendly with your Google, Outlook, Office 365 or iCloud calendar, so your schedule is always up to date. And when a client selects a time via your personalized Calendly link, the meeting is automatically added to your calendar.
Another effective way to make the onboarding process more efficient is to establish a standard checklist and timeline for your team.
Start by assigning roles and responsibilities to specific individuals. You and your associates won’t have to worry about a request falling through the cracks or multiple team members accidentally working on the same task or chasing down the same documentation. Instead, you’ll have additional time for answering questions and addressing concerns.
Upgrade Your Data Security
Financial services firms are popular targets for cyberattacks. And, unfortunately, smaller institutions often report the largest losses from cybercrime, likely as a result of lower investments in IT and data security.
To avoid being a cautionary tale, one of your primary goals must be ensuring client data is properly protected. The most effective way to accomplish this is to utilize a secure cloud storage service.
Providers of cloud storage technology have considerably more resources to not only keep sensitive information protected from external threats like malware and ransomware but also safe in the event of hardware failure. Since copies of your data are automatically backed up and distributed across multiple servers, your files are always safe even if a server crashes.
Along with adopting cloud technology, you should implement internal security measures like the following:
- Require employees to sign an official information security policy that outlines all rules and expectations regarding computer use and data security upon hiring.
- Immediately remove any terminated employee’s access to sensitive information and revoke all user permissions.
- Ensure all software, computers, and mobile devices on the network are regularly updated with the latest patches and security updates.
It’s the end of a decade and consequently the perfect time to abandon outdated approaches and embrace the modernization of accounting. By updating your onboarding, making your office paperless, improving your data security, and implementing practice management solution and online payments, you’ll be setting your firm up for success for years to come.
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