As an increasing number of tax and accounting professionals begin to develop a Web presence, they may be overlooking the inclusion of a simple and valuable Web-based tool - secure file exchange. Sometimes referred to as an "online file cabinet," a file exchange portal is of particular interest in our current time of economic difficulty as it's an inexpensive technology investment that improves productivity, client service, and saves time and money.
In its simplest terms, a file exchange portal is a quick and efficient method of securely transferring bookkeeping documents, tax returns, and other financial documents from one computer to another.
Often, accountants run into problems transferring client information for two main reasons. First, current bookkeeping software files like those created in QuickBooks or Peachtree are notorious for becoming larger and larger with each fiscal year. As such, these files quickly become too large to be sent or received through common e-mail providers like Yahoo, Hotmail, or AOL. However, file exchange portals are specifically designed to transfer very large file sizes with ease.
Second, in the event that these bookkeeping files are small enough to send via e-mail, many clients are reluctant to do so because of the sense of a lack of security. File exchange portals require users to log on to an encrypted third-party server, ensuring a security level comparable to that of online banking (Bank of America, Chase, etc). Last year, Massachusetts was the first state to pass legislation requiring the encryption of sensitive information transfers between accountants and their clients, a move that will no doubt be copied by other proactive states.
So, how does this translate into increased productivity and improved client services? For one, a file exchange portal is an important step toward a paperless office. Being able to access documents online saves money on mailing costs, but more importantly, it saves time. Many tax professionals find themselves hounded for old tax returns, but with online storage, old returns can quickly be uploaded and stored on the portal to be retrieved at your clients' convenience. Also, with a portal capable of large file exchange, clients are no longer inconvenienced by having to copy bookkeeping files to a CD or flash drive to get them to their accountant. They can simply upload them for the accountant to access whenever they are needed.
Some Web developers that work within the accounting industry provide a file exchange portal as part of their basic services, while others require them to be purchased as a separate service.
Taking into consideration their ease of use and potential to streamline an existing practice, a file transfer portal is undoubtedly a smart addition to an accountant's Web site.
By Chad Brubaker, CEO, E. Mochila: Websites for Accountants