#TechTips: A Walk Through the Cloud

By Jonathan Rivlin for MSATP

I’ve written a cycle of posts that will take you through the entire cloud, at least as it exists today.

Here are a couple of guiding principles to help you understand the cloud better:

  1. The new tax law is both an opportunity and a threat. For those firms with clients that can avail themselves of the new QBID, it’s an opportunity. For those firms with an abundance of Schedule A filers, it’s a tremendous threat.
  2. Whether the new tax law is a threat or an opportunity, or some combination thereof, it’s important to keep innovating and updating our service offerings and practices if we want to stay relevant.
  3. I’m speaking from hard won experience – I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the cloud. I lost a client because I resisted going into the cloud. I’m actually not that tech savvy. If I can do this, so can you!
  4. You’re not alone! Your society – the Maryland Society of Accounting and Tax Professionals is here to help you! The MSATP has multiple programs – beyond seminars and webinars – that will be rolling out over the next 12-18 months specifically geared to helping its members adapt. That’s why the MSATP is here – to help you!
  5. If you’re facing pricing pressures in a “race to the bottom”, there are a few strategies to consider, and offering cloud based accounting services is a corner stone of these enhanced service offerings.
  6. The days of selecting a software platform (Lacerte, Drake, UltraTax) and “setting it and forgetting it” are over. The apps you adopt today may or may not necessarily be the apps you’re using 5 years from now. This is both good and annoying. Good in that (in theory) we’ll be using apps that deliver value and make our lives easier. Annoying in that we have to always be on the look out for these new apps.
  7. The ideas, opinions, and suggestions expressed in these Tech Tips posts are not necessarily the opinions of the MSATP or it’s Board of Directors – they are mine alone. I offer these posts for educational purposes.
  8. I recommend reading “The Radical CPA” by Jody Padar, CPA and her sequel, “From Success to Significance: The Radical CPA Guide”. While I don’t agree with everything she says, she has done what we’re doing at our firm, and what the rest of us need to start doing.
  9. One of Jody’s recommendations in her books is to dedicate someone in your firm to do the R&D (finding/testing/vetting/implementing) new apps; that change should be our constant. I realize that many MSATP members may not have the resources to appoint someone in their firm to this task. That is why I wrote the cycle of 12 posts to follow.
  10. The posts to follow will detail the apps we use in our firm, how we found them, why we selected them, what their features and costs are, and ways to implement them into your practice.

Expanding on #5 above; ways to manage the downward pressure on pricing brought about by the combination of TurboTax and the new tax law, here are a few ideas:

  1. Focus on U/X (user experience). Yes, a client can do their own return, but what do they really get out of this? When you prepare their return, you’re not selling the return, you’re selling the warm and fuzzy feeling they get when you sign their return.
  2. Your commitment to CPE and professional ethics, your fiduciary responsibility to the client is the most valuable part of what you do – but only if you tell your clients you do this.
  3. We are our client’s personal “Google Search”. clients have questions, being able to answer those questions takes time and costs us money. True, the client can go to Google for free; but we’re not taking their data, we’re not trying to sell them everything under the sun, and we are legally and ethically bound to give them the most accurate information. No free service can do this!
  4. Expand your service offerings to include wealth management services. After 18 years of practice, I sat for the Series 7 exam. The following year I sat for the Series 66 and insurance exams. True, it was intimidating sitting for a professional exam after so much time since the exam to end all exams, but it was worth it. The rigor of studying for these exams helped in my tax practice, and the wealth management services provides a different source of revenue. True, there are regulatory annoyances with FINRA and the SEC, but there are no collections issues. The Broker/Dealer takes care of that for us. If you’re concerned about your age, I would point you towards my own father who’s commitment to education, certification, and technology has been an inspiration and motivation for me. At the big convention in Ocean City, everyone was asked to state how long they’d been in practice. My father was the second most veteran member there; only being beaten by one year. He’s living proof that it can be done, and if we’re to survive, it needs to be done. Think about all the changes he’s seen in the past 46 years. When viewed in that context, the new tax law is just another one of those things to manage.
  5. Consider novel ways of getting clients. For example, you can form alliances with attorneys to provide tax advice for divorce and bankruptcy settlements.
  6. Expanding on novel ways and using the cloud – you are no longer limited to a pool of clients in one geographic location. Your clients can literally be anywhere in the world – all you and they need are decent internet connections (and secure passwords).
  7. Consider remote work for other accounting firms. Firms of all sizes are having trouble retaining talent. There are sites like https://accountingfly.com/ that help accountants with extra time capacity match up with firms who have projects.

For those of us in areas where you can’t just jettison the type of demographic that is price conscious, the only way through this is to adapt. You can try some of the methods above, or create your own. Whatever you do, if you want to stay in this industry, you can’t stand still.

You will always have my compassion and concern. But you have to meet me half way. Reach out to the MSATP and get involved with our programs. We’ll get through this together!

We’d like to hear from you! Please submit your own tech tips to us at techtips@msatp.org! We will award a free subscription to The Tax Book to the person who submits the best tip.

Thanks, and catch you next time!