Tax season temps: What kinds of work do they do?

With tax season rolling up fast, some CPA and tax preparer firms will supplement their full-time staff with temporary help to ease the workload. What kinds of help do they hire? The answer has changed over time. Some firms hire temps to do actual tax work. But since Internet technology has made it easier to share the workload with colleagues in multi-location firms or to take work home, the tasks for which temps are now hired may be different than they once were.

Here's what some firms are doing.

Heather Villa (CMA and MBA), founder and chief executive officer of IAC Professionals, a company that provides help to small business owners and individuals and specializes in finding virtual assistants, opened her office eight years ago, and in that time she's gotten temp help down to a science. She knows exactly what she needs, and often is able to hire the same people, year after year. First she brings in an additional admin assistant whose job it is to manage the tax files. That is, the admin temp makes sure that all of the necessary support documents are there, the questionnaire is completed, the engagement letter is signed. When she's done, the tax file is accountant-ready.

Next Villa hires bookkeepers. Villa has an on-staff bookkeeper with a full load of write-up clients who also provides support with tax preparation. But she's learned that tax season invariably brings new write-up clients, as well as some accounting crises that need immediate attention. That's where the temp bookkeepers become invaluable.

Finally, Villa hires a customer service representative or quality assurance representative. This person follows up as tax returns are delivered, to ensure that the client is satisfied with the service received and understands the outcome of the tax preparation. If there are any problems, the customer service rep tries to get the client to come in for a face-to-face meeting with Villa.

Other firms hire tax season temps just to handle the front office. Matson & Isom in California brings in an additional admin assistant to pull and prepare files for the accountants, answer phones, and act as the receptionist. That way, the full time admin assistant and the office manager are freed up to provide support services that help the CPAs get through the busy days.

Then there is the Alabama's Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith. While they don't hire admin help or tax preparation help they do hire a "dedicated scanner" whose only job is to scan documents into the system. It might not be a glamorous job...but the work she does is an tremendous help to the firm which greatly appreciates her efforts.

For other firms that hire temps to provide actual hands-on work with tax files, the tasks for which they might hire temps may depend on the software and other technology they are using. Temps might be asked to proof returns, do data entry, organize client information into spreadsheets (for shoebox clients), or scan source documents directly into the tax returns. In some cases, CPAs are finding that because of the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley and the increased focus on internal controls, their regular staff members who were once expected to pitch in during tax season are now unavailable. For those firms, retired accountants wanting a little work and accounting students who need some practical experience (and a chance to show what they can do) may be good choices.

Whatever the task, if your firm needs it, you may find some good temporary help to be an investment that will let you get through the tax season with fewer new gray hairs and less gnashing of teeth.

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