Remote possibilities: Tax pros look to a distanced future


The COVID-19 pandemic looks set to be a work mate for a while. Key for accounting firms and tax practitioners — where the business has historically relied on handshakes and talking to clients across no distance more safe than a width of a desk — will be how to operate in this coronavirus future.

“I fear that many tax professionals with separate offices, employees and person-to-person client contact have more difficult decisions to make,” said Phyllis Jo Kubey, an Enrolled Agent in New York.

For some firms, the shift may be minimal. Many, for instance, reported building a work-from-home culture long before the pandemic.

“I’ve always been, mostly, a virtual tax firm,” said Manasa Nadig, an EA and owner at MN Tax and Business Services and a partner at Harris Nadig, in Canton, Michigan.

“I haven’t changed anything. Clients have always had the choice to use the night drop, fax, mail or upload documents to my portal, or sit down with us in a face-to-face,” said EA Terri Ryman of Southwest Tax & Accounting in Elkhart, Kansas. “Granted, more of them are using the alternative methods rather than face-to-face, but we’ve had no problems.”

“We have eight members on our team and all of us [except] one have been running our practice from our homes for the past 10 years,” added Bruce Primeau, a CPA and president of Summit Wealth Advocates, in Prior Lake, Minnesota. He does anticipate changing how his firm meets with clients. “We hope to have one face-to-face meeting with each client per year and one virtual meeting as well,” he said. “The virtual meetings save a lot of travel time and entertainment costs for us.”

“We’re probably not going to have any face-to-face meetings for the rest of the year,” said Lawrence Pon, a CPA at Pon & Associates in Redwood City, California. “We might be planning next tax season like we did when the governor locked us down: no face-to-face meetings, send us your information ahead of time and we’ll schedule a telephone appointment.”

“I miss the hugs from my clients. I never realized I got that many hugs until I didn’t get them,” said Pon, whose practice has stocked up on hand sanitizer, face masks and sanitizing wipes and has purchased a forehead thermometer.

Sophia Germer/Bloomberg

No choice but change

“Accounting firms and the CPAs working within them now face a significant learning curve,” wrote Paul Epperlein, vice president of channel sales for ADP (see story). “As everyone returns to the office, concerns — and opportunities — abound.”

No doubt, but the choices seem clear: in-person, over the internet or some combination of the two.

Many accounting firm leaders reported a drop in staff productivity during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by Accounting Today’s parent company Arizent. Slightly fewer than a third of large accounting firms also reported plans to downsize their office space after the pandemic.

One advantage of the new world, at least for accounting firms, is that long-resistant clients may have to finally adapt to paperless practices such as e-signatures, screen-sharing and portals. “I’m fortunate that my clients are already familiar and comfortable with my messaging platform, virtual meetings and other ways of working remotely,” Kubey said.

“I can’t go 100-percent virtual with my current clients,” said Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor at Armstrong Financial Strategies in Cheshire, Connecticut. “I can transition 80 percent in that direction. Technology is there, but it’s also an attitude adjustment on the part of everyone.”

Going virtual hurts interns and new staff most, according to Pon — a sentiment now echoed by more business leaders. “I heard from fellow CPAs that their interns and new staff did not have a good experience this tax season,” he said. “This is going to be an interesting debate. It’s easy for us old and experienced people to work remotely, but the younger staff have a lot to learn before they can work alone at home.”

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Cramer’s lightning round: I can’t recommend Wheels Up since it’s unprofitable
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity. Can they really replace a human financial advisor?
Proposal to Raise Vapor Taxes in Washington State Gets Base and Rate Wrong
Nasdaq futures slightly lower after index closes in correction territory
Is 25% the new 20%? How much to tip in a post-pandemic world

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *