06Jun

What CPA Lawrence Pon misses most are the hugs he got from clients at face-to-face meetings.

“I never realized I got that many hugs until I didn’t get them,” Pon told Accounting Today.

Because of the COVID safety restrictions, he doesn’t expect to get any for the rest of this year and probably not until after tax season, if even then.

“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,” said Pon, whose firm is in California’s Redwood Season.

Going entirely or almost completely virtual has become the norm at accounting firms nationwide. To what extent that continues into the future, even if just through April, is a question accounting professionals are puzzling about.

“I fear that many tax professionals with separate offices, employees and person-to-person client contact have more difficult decisions to make,” enrolled agent Phyllis Jo Kubey said.

In interviews with Accounting Today firm owners and partners that have conducted at least some of their business virtually before the pandemic said more clients than ever have chosen to forego face-to-face meetings. “We’ve had no problems,” said Terri Ryman of Southwest Tax & Accounting, whose clients have long been able to choose to do business remotely.

Bruce Primeau, CPA and president of Summit Wealth Advocates, said all but one of his eight member staff have operated from home for a decade. Much of their direct client contact has been done remotely, though they did conduct in-person meetings. Now, he said, the firm is looking to limiting clients to one virtual meeting and one face-to-face meeting a year.

“The virtual meetings save a lot of travel time and entertainment costs for us,” he said.

If there’s any silver lining for accountants it’s that, as the Accounting Today article observes, “long-resistant clients may have to finally adapt to paperless practices such as e-signatures, screen-sharing and portals.”

Summarizing the challenge, Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor, observed, “Technology is there, but it’s also an attitude adjustment on the part of everyone.”

Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

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Big Four Firms Starting to Recruit Again

After almost two months where hiring at the world’s largest accounting firms came to a near standstill, there are signs the Big Four are again recruiting.

Job posting data from Burning Glass shows unmistakable signs the four firms are beginning to again post job openings.

It’s “green shoots,” eFinancialCareers said in reporting the news earlier this month. “After recruitment plummeted relative to levels in late February, Big Four firms in both the U.K. and the U.S. are beginning to hire again – tentatively.”

Collectively, the four – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – employ about 1.1 million people worldwide, so, as the eFinancialCareers report notes, “When the hiring engines …splutter to a halt, it matters.”

Now, as businesses slowly begin to reopen, the Burning Glass data shows the Big Four have slowly begun to recruit for auditors, consultants and business analysts. The eFinancialCareers report says, “There’s also notable demand for digital consulting expertise at Deloitte in London, alongside roles in data science and for cloud consulting professionals and cyber-security consultants.”

Summer internships however, have been significantly altered.

Before the coronavirus caused governments to order businesses to close and citizens to shelter at home, the four firms would have spent the first months of the year completing their summer intern hiring and finalizing the recruiting of top accounting and MBA students. eFinancialCareers said PwC alone hired almost 4,000 entry level auditors and interns in the U.S. last year.

This year, that hiring has been scaled back. Both Deloitte and PwC scrapped their UK internship programs, according to the Financial News. In the US, all four firms have made significant changes to their internship programs, transitioning them into remote work or, as in the case of KPMG, Deloitte and PwC, shortening them but promising the interns full-time entry level jobs when they graduate in 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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Taxpayers Love Their Accountant, but Want More From Them

Clients love their tax accountant, though half wonder if they’re doing enough to cut their tax bill.

Those seemingly contradictory opinions come from a survey by practice management software provider Canopy.

85% of the taxpayer respondents say they would recommend their accountant, despite 53% not being confident they’re getting enough help minimizing their taxes.

What the survey takers most appreciate is the in-person communication with their accountant. In fact, they appreciate these meetings so much they also list them as the No.1 thing they would change in their relationship. Both business owners and individual taxpayers want more in-person meetings.

Since the survey was conducted before the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, we don’t know if taxpayers still consider in-person meetings so important or if Zoom meetings and phone calls have become an adequate substitute. However, all types of technology were clearly important before the pandemic.

After meetings, taxpayers said what they most liked next about working with their tax accountant was being able to send and receive documents online. That could be as simple as using email or a file hosting service like Google docs or Dropbox. In reporting on the survey. AccountingToday notes that “the most common ways clients exchange documents with their accountant are during in-person meetings, through hard printouts and via email.”

Before the shutdown, taxpayers were already noticing technology shortcomings. After in-person meetings, improved technology was second among the three top things they would change in working with their accountant.

Besides a secure way of exchanging documents, the technology features clients most want from their accountant are text chat and appointment scheduling. Women, according to the survey, want a chat feature even more than do men.

Chat would help get timelier responses, which is the third more important improvement they would make in their accounting relationship. A chatbot could help with routine questions, but the survey respondents felt getting a faster response directly from their accountant was most important to them.

One especially troubling finding is how little clients know about post-filing services like audit protection and legal tax services. A third of all clients don’t know if their accountant provides audit protection. Business owners are even less likely to know.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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