Practice Management Focus: IT – Accountants under pressure to go

Accountants are facing increasing pressure from their clients to go online, writes Ken Rozier (right).

There is a growing acceptance that e-business allows firms to operate with minimal infrastructure, reduced overheads and greater economies of scale. But until now, accountants have been unable to offer their two most popular service offerings – tax and accounts – over the net.

But this is all set to change with new web-based applications.

Take for example, the tax return checklist. The checklist prompts clients to fill in details for the current year and provides space for any new sources of income. Web-based applications will enable clients to access a password-protected on-screen checklist. A click on the mouse will automatically send an e-mail to the accountant to flag up any entries causing difficulty.

Effectively, the use of the internet as a means of communicating with clients at their convenience could enable firms to even out their workflow.

At present, many firms spend the latter part of each year pressing their clients to supply income and expense details for the year end. Repeated requests frequently fall on deaf ears and the situation can become quite intense as the 31 January deadline edges closer.

Imagine the productivity gains of being able to collect clients’ tax data throughout the year. Specialist products are already available to accountancy practices who want to create their own website. Costs are relatively low and some products also include free hosting. These products do not rely on the user being computer literate; they guide the user through a number of templates using the commonly recognised ‘wizard’ approach to create a site that suits the image and profile of the firm. Professional looking sites including logos and photos can be created within an hour and launched on the internet within four working days.

Merely doing a good job for your client is rarely enough. The relationship between firms and their clients is set to become more interactive. With more time pressure, the only way to achieve closer relations with customers is through the effective use of IT. There are real advantages to implementing a strategy that puts the focus back on the customer to rebuild the sort of relationships local bank managers enjoyed 30 to 40 years ago. New systems will allow firms to get to know their customers again and treat them as real individuals, anticipating their needs and delivering exemplary service.

The level of service accountants can provide is increasingly being determined by how cleverly the practice has been computerised. Being up-to-date with information will provide the opportunity to offer advice that could benefit a client. Traditionally, accountants may only discover key transactions after the year end when it is too late to change them. Unable to do more than comment that the tax bill could have been lower if the client had done things differently, new systems will be able to fulfil the role their name suggests.

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