By Matt Jagst, Drake Software Head of Product
For many tax and accounting firms, methods of client interaction changed dramatically in the spring of 2020. Firms accustomed to having their clients visit the office to serve them face-to-face had to switch to a completely contactless and often remote working environment. This shift has become permanent in many ways, and the results from a recent survey conducted by Drake Software shed some light on the current perspectives of tax professionals on best practices for contactless tax prep. Many firms say they would never want to go back, at least fully, to their past service models (30% of survey respondents said they prepared almost all of their returns with no in-office contact with taxpayers). Technology solutions exist to help support firms that operate in a remote environment and this post will talk about some of the key technologies, processes and trends in this space.
Historically, tax preparers encouraged their clients to come into a physical office, sit down with them and communicate face-to-face. There were many benefits to this; connection with their clients, ability for the client to communicate any changes in their situation, Q&A sessions, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity for the professional to determine if there was any add-on service that the client might need down the road such as tax planning, small business creation, etc. Of course, there were challenges to this model, especially during the busiest times of the year when a client might want to chat about a non-time sensitive question while the tax professional was trying to crush as many returns as possible in a short window of time.
Fast forward to today — many tax professionals have grown accustomed to working remotely and no longer prefer to open the office for face-to-face meetings. Additionally, many clients are not interested in taking the time to travel to an office (27% of clients prefer virtual but are open to in-person and 10% insist on virtual) when they have grown accustomed to managing their daily tasks online. Of course, there will always be a segment of your client base that will want to meet in person (7% of clients insist on in-person appointments and 56% prefer in-person but are open to virtual) and nearly all firms still support that, but adopting a hybrid approach of serving clients at their convenience is a winning strategy.
Communication and client collaboration are key to ensuring that a contactless tax preparation service will be successful. Efficient tax preparation during busy seasons is reliant on receiving information and documents from clients on time and firms today understand that online document exchange must be extremely simple to use and safe and secure. While many firms have adopted a secure online portal to exchange documents for clients who choose not to visit the office (46%), we still see email (29%), in-person drop off/pick up (15%), and mail (10%) as common methods for document delivery. If your firm has not fully adopted a secure online portal and document exchange solution, this is one area to explore today. Additionally, an e-signature solution is a must-have if you’re going to deliver returns remotely. Surprisingly, our survey found that only 59% of respondents are collecting e-signatures remotely.
In summary, the profession and client base are not likely to return to the face-to-face model that existed prior to 2020. Clients are demanding that their tax professionals support them as comprehensively as they’ve done in the past, but they now want it to be done remotely using technology that they’ve grown accustomed to. Like many things in our profession, there is not a one size fits all approach and, in this area, we recommend that firms prepare themselves and their firms to serve the client in the best method for them as an individual.
Our survey found that most tax professionals have a positive viewpoint about their ability to transition service methods (89% of respondents believe they can offer the same, or very close to the same, level of service for both in-person and contactless clients). There are many great tools out there that support a contactless tax prep service and the team at Drake Software would love to discuss tools such as Drake Tax, Drake Portals, E-Sign and others that enable your firm to fully embrace a contactless tax business.