Since sending clients their tax returns via email is not an option, accountants are searching for alternatives to email communicating and collaborating with clients. Client portals offer a secure alternative with added benefits.
Many firms are experiencing significant time savings and increased office efficiency through the use of client portals. Not only does this help practitioners comply with federal and state regulations requiring encryption of sensitive information (like social security numbers), but there are real practice management benefits as well.
Client portals can be used for receiving client information such as QuickBooks files and source documents (typically too large to email). An increased number of accountants also use the portals to post clients’ completed tax returns.
Many tax software vendors are offering client portals built into their software including Thomson Reuters, ATX, TaxWise, ProSystem fx, and Drake. There are also a number of alternative providers in the form of website hosting services for accountants. AccountantsWorld, CPA Site Solutions, and EMochilla all offer client portals included with website hosting.
Although some client portal providers charge a significant amount for the service, small business accountants find that improved efficiency and reduced requests for tax returns copies help to offset the expense. Others have been able to pass on the cost to their clients either directly or indirectly by padding their fees.
Implementing client portals can be a challenge as any new way of doing business. Setup can be accomplished with an all-at-once approach, or by responding with a portal when clients request documents. This resistance to change appears to be decreasing with the acceptance of online banking practices. The more taxpayers get comfortable with handling their finances online, the more they expect this level of service from their practitioners.
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