#TechTips: What’s Your Plan?

By Jonathan Rivlin, CPA

We need to talk.

Those four little words are laden with baggage, I know. In the crush of the most insane tax season since 1913, when every thing happened at once, when nothing makes sense, when the rules change daily, when our clients are freaking out and grasping at whatever shred of hope we can provide them, we need to have one more uncomfortable conversation.

Last year, as part of the IRS’ continued attempts to reduce taxpayer identity theft, we were required, as part of our PTIN renewal to state that we had a plan for what to do in case of a breach.

The good folks at Quest Insurance have some materials that can help you develop your tech plan if your plan resides between the ears, when it really should reside in a filing cabinet, or your firm’s secure portal.

This post of Tech Tips is not about your tech plan. It’s about your COVID-19 plan.

No one has been talking about this, and we need to. We’re numbers people, so I’ll lay this out by the numbers.

It has been widely reported in reputable news sources that it’s not a given that we will have a vaccine for this virus. It’s possible that a vaccine will never be possible. If there is a vaccine for this virus, it is a long shot for it to be available within eighteen months. Further, it has been reported (again, widely and from reputable sources) that we as a species won’t truly get a handle on this virus until ‘herd immunity’ approaches 70%.

So, some numbers: 70% of 7 billion humans is: 4.9 billion people.

Back in the beginning of our lockdown (Mid-March for those who’ve completely lost any sense of time; said for my own benefit as much as yours, gentle reader), there was an article detailing the experiences of people in Italy as they coped with rising infections and deaths and an austere lockdown. This was about the time that the news here was reporting how Italians would sing to each other from their balconies each night.

This article went on to state that we in the US are trailing Italy’s experiences by a few weeks. The writer of this article, a US journalist based in Italy, noted that a few weeks prior to writing that article, she could say that most people knew of someone who had contracted the virus, and that on the date she was writing the article, most people would say that they knew someone who had died from the virus.

We need to examine where we are in this journey. Do you know someone who has contracted the virus? Do you know someone who has died from the virus? (I hope you don’t and you never do.)

My answer is yes to the first question and, mercifully, no to the second, as of now.

Many of us – though not all of us – have been able to lock our offices and work remotely. Many of us are taking precautions and sanitizing our groceries and wearing masks in public. This is all good, and we need to keep it up, even as these steps take their toll on our emotional reserves.

Let’s return to that 70% figure. If that is true; if what the scientists are saying is to come to fruition, then we need to ask ourselves this question: “What is our plan for if one of us or one of our family members contracts this virus?”

Do you have a plan for what will happen to your clients if you are unable to work?

MSATP has a committee, The Assistance Committee, whose sole purpose is to assist those firms that suffer a loss of one of its principals.

Understand that I’m not trying to be overly morbid, and one doesn’t need to die of this virus to suffer a severe business interruption event from it. But we need to address this issue. A few suggestions are in order:

  1. Designate someone that can contact your clients in the event that you become incapacitated.
  2. Designate someone that can access your office, your computer and paper files, in the event that you become incapacitated.
  3. Keep your keys and passwords accessible to this trusted person so they can take over with minimal interruption.
  4. Leave ‘a trail of breadcrumbs’ for your fellow accountants to follow should the need arise for someone else to pick up where you would have left off.
  5. Notify your clients that you have a plan in place.
  6. Reach out to MSATP for support and resources.
  7. On the home front, designate an area of your home where you or your loved one can sleep, separate from the rest of the family.
  8. Discuss these issues with your family members.
  9. If you have a will or other documents, revisit them and make sure your family knows where they are kept.

We are accountants. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the unpleasant matters that occur in society. If we see something, we have to say something.

70% herd immunity. Have a plan to deal with that number. And in the meantime, wash your hands.