Tax Return Client Delivery

Written by Brandon Gray

As tax season winds down, CPA firms reflect on how they could be more efficient so that their team doesn’t wind up working overtime and weekends to meet the deadline next year.  Today we are going to be talking about “Tax Return Client Delivery” processes.  Waiting on the client can be the most infuriating of all the time delays. You have done all the work ahead of the deadline, all you need to do is get the client to sign off and pay so you can submit their package to the IRS, but now you have to wait for them.  


Our passion is understanding the needs of small and medium sized accounting firms and making their processes as efficient as possible.  To accomplish this, we interview hundreds and thousands of people in the accounting industry every year. We look at the problems they face, and figure out how we can help them improve their processes.  Tax return client delivery almost always comes up as one of the areas that has room for improvement.


The Situation

You have finished the client’s tax return.  Your partner has reviewed it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if that was it? You can just submit it to the IRS and the cash is in the bank? 

Here is a breakdown of the steps required to get from a prepared tax return to “DONE”.

  1. Send the client a copy for review and comments
  2. Print a final client copy out of the Tax Software
  3. Store the documents for future reference.  Typically you generate a client copy, a preparer’s copy, any work papers, and the Client action items.
  4. Deliver the final client copy and get it signed by the client
  5. Send the client an invoice
  6. Collect payment for invoice
  7. Submit the tax package to the IRS either by e-filing or mail
  8. BONUS - In August, the client is refinancing their house and needs a copy of the last two years tax returns, can you send them again?

The stakes are big!  Some firms bring in over 50% of their annual revenue during tax season.  You just busted your tail for months to get everything done, and now if you don’t get paid for that work in a timely manner, it can put a burden on your firm’s cash flow for months!

Scenario #1

Let’s break down some common processes that we have seen real firms using:

Mr. Peter Paper - CPA firms have been using paper documents for years, and it worked fine, why change now?  Here is how this type of firm typically delivers a tax return:

  1. Call the client, tell them you are all done and just need them to take a look.  Email them a PDF of their tax return.  You aren’t crazy, you saw a blog post on hackers, so you password protect the return, using the last 4 digits of their SSN.
  2. Put the package at the front desk, and have your Admin schedule a time for the client to come in and pick it up.
  3. When the client picks it up, you give them the package (including a paper invoice) and ask them to write you a check for the balance due.  They didn’t bring their checkbook and will drop it in the mail “later today.”  They sign the forms, so that you can e-file their return.
  4. The admin makes copies and puts them in the file cabinet.  Bonus points if they scan them and put them on a shared drive on the office computer.
  5. The admin notifies you that the package has been signed and delivered, and now you can submit it to the IRS.
  6. In August, when the client calls you because they are refinancing their house, the admin has to go find the paper file and you dutifully scan it and email it to them, password protected with their SSN.

Pain Points:

  • Clients expect to be able to handle this without taking off work and driving to your office.
  • Client forgot their checkbook, then forget to send you the check for 2 months until you call them.
  • Password protected PDFs are better than nothing, but far from perfect.
  • You are stuck waiting for the client to be able to come into the office. The client wants to come in at 6:30pm or Sunday after church, or some other inconvenient time.
  • You have to pay someone to find the documents every time the client needs a copy.

Scenario #2

Mr Donnie Digital - This firm has been through the digital transformation.  They love it.  All their files are on their computers instead of in file cabinets.  However, the tax return delivery process is still quite time consuming.

  1. Call or email the client.  Tell them their tax return is ready.  
  2. Upload the document to the firms document storage service for future reference. 
  3. Upload it to your client portal, so the client can get access and review it.  
  4. Help the client reset their password that they created 12 months ago and since forgot.
  5. Upload the return to your e-signature solution, send the signature request to the client
  6. Client signed the document, now download the signed copy and upload the signed copy to the document storage system and the client portal.
  7. Generate and send the client invoice
  8. Wait for the client to pay.
  9. In August, the client calls you because they are refinancing their house, and they forgot you have a portal.  When you ask them to check the portal, they call back and ask you to help them reset their password.  You either help them or give up and send them the document directly at this point.

Pain Points:

  • This fully digital process utilized 3-5 different systems.  The amount of time spent clicking between systems downloading/uploading the file to transfer it around adds up to frustrated staff.
  • The client can never remember their password and probably hates being told to use this “Secure portal”
  • When working on a client throughout the year, their documents aren’t readily available, you have to go search through a separate document management system to find what you need.

Scenario #3

Mr. Harry Hybrid - Everything is good in moderation.  This firm uses technology where it makes sense and more traditional methods where needed.

  1. Call the client, tell them tax return is ready, email them a copy (password protected)
  2. Print out a copy for the client to come in and sign
  3. Scan the signed copy and put it in the document storage solution, file with the IRS 
  4. Send the client an invoice that they can pay online in a system not tied to the client management system.  When it is paid go in and update both systems, so everything is in sync.
  5. In August, when the client calls you because they are refinancing their house, the admin prints a copy, and sends it to the client (password protected)

Pain Points:

  • The client still has to drive into the office, which is inconvenient for them
  • The admin spends a lot of time (and paper) printing and scanning
  • The client still needs your assistance to access documents in the future

There Has To Be A Better Way

Each of these scenarios has some pros and some cons. The big disadvantage that they all share is a large amount of staff time goes into delivering client tax returns.

At Firm360, we think that the optimal process for tax return delivery looks something like this:

  1. Print the client tax return documents from your tax preparation software (UltraTax, CCH, etc) directly into your document management system.
  2. Send the tax return for electronic signature directly from the document management system. This system must support KBA authentication to be IRS compliant.
  3. Once the client signs the document, it should flow back into the document management system and notify you that it is complete
  4. Send the client the completed return from the document management system to their client portal, which does NOT require the client to use an insecure password that they are going to forget anyway.
  5. Send the client invoice, which can be paid online.  Invoice reminders should be sent automatically if not paid by the due date. 

How Do I Get There?

You have a few options, let’s go over some of them.

Option 1:  Separate Tax Return Client Delivery solution

There are some interesting solutions popping up in this space, and they solve the problem well.  Some of them charge anywhere from $5-$20 per return.  For a firm with 2000 clients, that can add up to $40,000.  At this point a reasonable alternative would be to hire an admin to deal with it and then they can help out with other projects all year.

Option 2:  Multiple solutions

You can research and subscribe to a separate solution for each piece of the puzzle, and hire someone to build out all the integrations between them.  This will be very expensive and take 3-6 months minimum to go live.

Option 3:  Firm360

You can go with Firm360.  We were founded to solve problems like this.  Our core concept is saving you time by having a single integrated solution to run your tax firm efficiently.  You can be up and running with the process described above in weeks and never look back to the old ways. All the tools needed to use the tax return client delivery process we have described in this article are included in your Firm360 subscription at no extra cost!

Benefits

When you use Firm360, your tax return client delivery process becomes much more efficient. Everything is integrated and streamlined, which saves you time and money.

Betsy at Banks, Gray, and Crumpler estimated that they save over 100 clicks per individual tax return using this process with Firm360, compared to their previous solution.

Amanda at Moore & Spivey used to haul boxes of work documents between home and the office if they wanted to work remotely.  Now they are fully paperless and their clients love it!

Leigh at Mark Ashman CPA was also in need of a digital overhaul of their firm.  They now use the client portal to deliver documents securely, collect signatures and payments electronically.

Your firm can be next! All you have to do is book a call to discuss how we can help you revolutionize your processes.


And Finally

In addition to tax return client delivery, Firm360 is an all-in-one solution for all your firm’s needs.  We handle client relationships, project and workflow management, time and billing, invoicing, reporting, client portal.  We would love nothing more than to have a call and find out how you are handling tax return client delivery and how we may be able to help.  Hit the button below to book a call and we look forward to talking soon!