No Steroids Required: How Client Portals Can Help You Can Pump Up Your Tax Workflow (without unwanted side effects)

Client Portal Performance Enhancement – Your Prescription for the 2013 Tax Season

Performance enhancements seem to be a hot topic these days – just ask Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey. But whether you’re an athlete or a tax accountant, if your goals are to improve your overall performance, there are a few different ways to accomplish this… legally, and without side effects. You can increase your output, increase your efficiency or improve the effectiveness of a process.

For this discussion, we will focus on increasing your efficiency as a means of improving the performance of your business (we’ll leave the rest to Lance and Oprah). When it comes to tax prep workflow, there really is no better solution for dramatically increasing efficiency than adopting a client portal to streamline the flow of information from your clients to you, and from you to your clients.

With April 15th just a few short months away, increasing efficiency in tax prep work is at the top of the accounting firm to-do list. The good news is that even with just 84 days of tax season to go, there are quick and easy ways to ramp up your productivity today, that can make a world of difference to your firm and to your clients. The goal of any successful tax season should be to streamline the flow of information from your clients to you, and from you to your clients – so that everyone gets more done in less time, and always has access to the information they need, when they need it.

Enter the client portal. You know client portals are good. But have you thought about why integrated client portals are better? According to the accountants we talk to, a portal by itself is really not enough. Your client portal needs to be integrated with the business processes that support your tax workflow – including your financial and tax applications, and especially your document management solution.

Why Integration Matters When it Comes to Client Portals

So let’s look at a common tax prep workflow, and how an integrated client portal can add immediate value. Around this time of year, you are most likely sending engagement letters and tax organizers to your clients. Your clients are also busy collecting their supporting tax documents and either emailing them to you, dropping them off at your office or putting them in snail mail. Bottom line, there is an enormous amount of paper flowing back and forth that ends up in various silos. Some documents may be scanned into your tax prep software, some are filed in client folders (probably stored for the rest of it’s life in a filing cabinet), some may be uploaded or scanned into a document management system – and all of this workflow is most likely being shepherded by a human.

Insert an integrated client portal into this tax preparation workflow and the efficiency scale increases pretty dramatically. With a more streamlined workflow, you can:

  • Upload your engagement letters and tax organizers to a client folder in the portal and trigger an automated email to notify your clients that these documents are ready to pick up (SmartVault offers the ability to custom brand the client portal, which extends the overall professionalism of the user experience)
  • Provide a secure path for your clients to scan and upload the signed engagement letter as well as all of their supporting tax documents to you for processing. Getting clients to change their behavior may take some time. But if you can get 25% of them to adopt the concept of uploading files to you rather than driving them across town or mailing them, you are on your way to greater efficiency. As your process matures, so will your clients’ behavior.
  • Adopt an efficient process internally for scanning and uploading documents so that all source files related to tax prep end up in one system so that they can be easily and securely accessed by only those involved directly in processing the return
  • Export and save the completed tax return directly to a client’s folder in the portal, and finally…
  • Notify clients automatically via email that their return is ready to review, and provide a secure link for them to access the return 24/7

A client portal allows you to share and exchange files safely with your clients. But a client portal that is integrated with your scanner, your tax application and your document management platform provides dramatic improvements to your tax prep workflow, so you can streamline largely paper-based processes, which will in turn lower your overall costs and increase your profit.

Imagine the efficiencies gained in your business when you are:

  • No longer printing and mailing engagement letters and tax organizers
  • Providing a secure path for you and your clients to exchange confidential information relating to the preparation of the tax return
  • Automatically sending email alerts to notify your client that their return is ready to review
  • Increasing the level of client satisfaction by providing the convenience of 24/7 access to their documents
  • Remaining in compliance with IRC rules around data privacy, and the exchange of information containing personal or sensitive information

Our recommendation: Make a commitment this year to integrate a client portal into your business processes to create a highly efficient tax workflow. Not sure where to start? Join our Tax Season Tune-Up Webinar, to see how SmartVault can help you pump up the productivity this tax season. No steroids required.