03 Feb February ’19
I’m so excited about 2019! First and foremost, we’re celebrating 10 years of serving entrepreneurs like yourself. I’m also excited to tell you about Rootworks’ plan to launch a major rebranding initiative this year…but more about that at a later date.
It’s in my nature to spend my time looking forward as opposed to looking back. However, today, I want to do a bit of both.
Looking back to the very beginning, Rootworks was founded on the notion and vision that accounting professionals could shed the dogma of the industry to build a business that supports the life you want to live. We accomplished this by helping firm owners understand that they had choices in every aspect of firm operations. We coached firms on the necessity of selecting the right technologies—those that supported standardized processes and workflow collaboration. We also introduced our website platform as a place for clients to do business. Overall, our main focus was to guide firm owners on the technologies required to run a far more efficient practice, providing them more freedom.
Fast forward to today, and we are still supporting our members by vetting solutions and providing insight on technology infrastructure and best practices. We also understand that a Modern Firm is so much more than the technologies used to support operations. We believe that at the very foundation of a Modern Firm are sound, proven strategies, including the following:
- Building a well-defined business model.
- Productizing offerings to bring clarity and maximize realization.
- Identifying the right technologies to support streamlined client-facing and back-office operations.
- Developing a strong, positive culture and leadership.
Rootworks will continue to support our members at every level of business operations during the decade to come. And because I know that technology will continue to be a core component of a well-run firm, we will continue our efforts to vet solutions and help our member firms navigate the ever-changing and ever-expanding technology landscape.
Technology is never one-size-fits-all
I recently met with the president of CPA.com, who informed me that there are about 700 technology vendors serving the tax and accounting profession. Adding to the complexity is the fact that, oftentimes, there is more than one solution to solve a given problem within a firm, and not all solutions integrate with one another. This leaves firm owners to figure out what solutions are the best fit in terms of functionality, features and integration with other applications that are central to firm operations.
Consider a few examples:
- Internal collaboration—For firms looking to implement a collaboration solution to streamline internal communications, there are many choices. These include: Slack, MS Teams and Glip. While Slack is best-of-breed, it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for all firms. If a firm is using RingCentral, Glip is built-in, making it the better option. For firms deeply connected to Microsoft products, MS Teams is likely the better choice.
- Payroll—For firms that want to offer payroll as part of a client accounting services bundle, there are many options, including Accounting CS, QuickBooks and ADP Run Wholesale. The right solution is the one that supports the firm’s unique payroll model, which could be in-house, outsourced or hybrid.
- Practice management—For firms looking to implement a system that provides the data required to assess firm operations at all levels, there are many options available; for example, Practice CS, OfficeTools and CCH Axcess Practice Management. The best application choice depends on how a firm likes to work, the functionality required and other tools the firm utilizes.
The Rootworks team not only works to stay current on both existing and emerging technologies, but we also leverage feedback from hundreds of member firms to identify and vet solutions that will solve common pain points. Because we know that there are no true one-size-fits-all applications, our goal is to keep expanding our reach across the vast technology marketspace—including all the top vendors, such as Thomson Reuters, Wolters Kluwer, Intuit and others.
Years ago, it was all about the software suite, but times have changed. While the industry giants like Thomson Reuters and Wolters Kluwer still provide mission-critical compliance software (i.e., tax preparation, depreciation and practice management), today’s firms can choose from hundreds of other cloud-based solutions to meet day-to-day operational and client needs. The point is that Rootworks won’t look at the marketplace with tunnel vision, constrained to only a few select vendors and applications. It’s our mission to ever expand the scope of our view and shed light on all solutions that can prove helpful to accounting professionals.
That said, we will continue to work closely with our long-established vendors. We’ll be intently monitoring Thomson Reuters and their progress with Onvio. But we will also be vetting CCH Axcess to better understand its value and place in a Modern Firm. Rootworks is home to many firms that use CCH Axcess, so we believe it’s important for our team to have a deep understanding of the product to better support these members.
Our member base comprises firms using an array of technologies to support and serve a variety of industries. Some firms choose Microsoft Office, others Google Suite. Some are using Practice CS, and others choose OfficeTools. Many firms use UltraTax CS, while the number of firms joining Rootworks that use CCH Axcess continues to grow. Despite the different choices of solutions among members, the unifying theme across successful firms is a commitment to strategy—a well-defined business model, productization of services, and a strong culture built around people, technology and leadership. Rootworks is dedicated to supporting members in all of these areas.
During our first 10 years, the diversity of our member base and the range of our skill set has changed significantly. As a company, we are committed to seeking best-of-the-best solutions, vetting those tools, and providing feedback and guidance. We’ve come a long way, and we are excited to continue the journey with all of you over the next 10 years and beyond.
I hope everyone experiences a smooth and satisfying tax season! Please know that our team is working hard to support you.
All my best,
PS: Now into tax season, it’s important to keep your client communications flowing. Check out how our client magazine and content package product keeps you connected to your clients with ease, even at the busiest time of year.
February is not a month to start implementing new processes, new technology, etc. That is, unless you aren’t involved in the tax process! Here are some things to keep in mind now that the sprint to get to March and April 15th has begun:
- Have an internal deadline to prepare both Individual and Business Extensions. Do not wait until the last minute of the deadline day to file extensions. Pick a date four to five days prior to the deadline and file them there. If you happen to finish a return or two after you file the extension, consider that a win!
- Have a plan in place for communications to clients. This time of the year, it’s common to get stuck in just getting work done and dealing with things as they come. Being a little bit prepared to communicate key things to clients can be the difference internally from getting all documents in the last two weeks vs. getting them in advance. Here are some examples of key communications to send out during February (not just once either).
- Deadline to have documentation for business returns. If you have annual only businesses, set a date that documents have to be received, otherwise the client will likely be put on extension. Make sure this date is at least two weeks prior to the deadline.
- Same thing for individuals. Have a date that data needs to be received. This date will typically be three weeks prior to the deadline for most firms.
- Communicate your office hours for availability to pickup, sign, etc. This is especially key if you typically don’t keep office hours on Saturday, etc. But I’d advise you to have a few in place specifically close to deadlines.
- Keep track of workflow or technical issues you are encountering as tax season progresses. After tax season, we recommend having a big debrief of tax season. That is when our coaching team can work with you to help you make the next season (or extension time) better.
- If you are accepting new clients, have a set minimum fee and stick to it. Make sure the fee is known if the client calls, and don’t waiver on your pricing.
- Keep analytics and let everyone in the firm know them. Each week, update how many returns have been completed or how many returns are remaining. Keep everyone on the same page whether you are ahead or behind where you want to be.
- Don’t forget to have a little fun during tax season. Refer to the January ThoughtLeader for ideas!
These are just a few things to consider. While it’s important to have all hands on deck to get through tax season, there are some key things you can do to reduce or spread out the workload you may traditionally have!
As we’re getting into tax season, it is important that everyone who works in an accounting firm reacquaint themselves with the basic tactics that criminals use that lead to data breaches so that you do not fall victim to a data breach or theft.
The site databreaches.net was tracking how many businesses publicly disclosed that they fell victim to a W-2 phishing scam in 2017. It was over 200 businesses by the end of tax season. The W-2 scam is just one of many, but the tactic is usually the same for most phishing attempts. Here’s the likely scenario.
Our unfriendly hacker sends an email to a payroll staff member, often impersonating a business owner or manager. Most of the information required to pull off this scam can be obtained through public means online, and email addresses are easily spoofed.
The email will usually start with an innocent sounding question to get the payroll staff member to let down their guard, such as “Hey, are you in the office today?”
Once the hacker has a response, they will reply with a request for information, usually with an urgent call to action. For example, “I think there may have been some errors in a few of our W-2s, can you please send them to me ASAP for review? I really need to get this resolved today.”
Once the payroll staff member sends those W-2s, a data theft has occurred.
Here are a few ways you can minimize risk and protect your clients’ identities:
Train staff! Building user awareness with phishing simulations is the most important way to mitigate risk.
Know your policies. If you have methods for securely exchanging sensitive information, do not comply with requests to communicate outside those channels.
Use two-factor verification. When you get a request via email, confirm the request with a phone call.
Share suspicious communications with staff. Phishing is less effective when multiple people review communications. When in doubt, seek assistance.
Schedule communications for auto launch—With today’s advanced email marketing solutions, you can easily schedule all your client communications ahead of time…and then fa-getta-bout-it as you move into busy season.
Rootworks Member Survey
A sincere thank you to those firm owners and firm admin staff who completed our first annual member survey! We had responses from 132 people across more than 120 firms (We can’t say exactly how many firms completed the survey, as a portion of the responses were anonymous). We are presently reviewing all responses. For those who asked to be contacted, we’ll be reaching out soon.
2018 Benchmarking Survey
Over 110 firms have started the Benchmarking survey for 2018. Thank you for your participation thus far! The more data that is captured by the system, the more valuable the comparisons can be.
Inspire Conference hotel booking links are ready
Ritz-Carlton Hotel Booking links for the Inspire Conferences are now live on the event page at Rootworks.com.
February 8 – Staff Training: Tax Return Delivery (including 8879 digital signatures)
February 13 – Staff Training: Client Accounting Platform Best Practices
February 20 – Staff Training: Tax Season Status Check and Extension Filing Process