How to Address Tax Client Concerns Amid the Coronavirus Diseaseby
Amidst the daily changes brought about by the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Internal Revenue Service has of yet to declare an extended period to file for those who are affected. So, it’s business as usual in order to beat the tax-time deadlines, right? Not really.
In the last few days, inboxes have been flooded with emails from all types of organizations on the policies being carried out due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Moments ago, one received from the Texas Comptroller telling taxpayers “We strongly encourage you to use our online tools, tutorials and other resources for tax services and establish 24/7 account access.”
The state of California, meanwhile, a few days ago already extended its tax deadline for taxpayers, with likely other states to follow. Changes are coming in by the minute. So what are you doing to address client concerns?
As trusted advisors to our clients, we should be proactive, not reactive. There is nothing sure in life except death and taxes, as they say. It does not say one should challenge death in order to do your taxes.
Here are just a few key tips to hunker down and be safe during these uncertain times(if you have not done these already):
- Institute a work from home policy for all staff
- Know that everything we do can be done virtually
- Communicate with your clients, check in and assuring them of your commitment
- Immediately change all in-person appointments to virtual meetings or phone calls
Hopefully you have future-proofed your practice by now, whatever you can do in the cloud needs to be done. As a cloud-based firm, my own practice is already up and moving, with little to no down-time and a means to do all the communication and doc swapping remotely.
Tools & Tips for Getting Taxes Filed on Time
• Online file exchanges will help clients get those documents to you in the safest way possible, coronavirus transmission free. If you have one that integrates with your tax software, this will also help your workflow. Whichever you use, make sure it will work in a mobile browser so your clients can take pictures of their docs and upload them from their phone bank.
• Online collaboration tools for you and your team, like Microsoft Teams or Slack will make a WFH mandate much easier. These apps also track and keep your work in one place so everyone can benefit.
• Planning ahead is always a good policy, and in this situation, is critical. Look at your tax return audit trail thus far and what’s upcoming, make decisions and act appropriately. For example, if you are moving to virtual meetings or phone meetings, contact everyone that’s set on the calendar in the next 3-4 weeks and do the transition now.
• Make drafts of various responses and emails that will be needed during this time to communicate with your clients. They will be at the ready for proactive sending.
• Treat all your clients as long-distance clients and taxes will get filed on time. Even if you are not in the cloud, there is still the good old-fashioned US postal service to receive sensitive information securely. And there is still time too! Don’t rely on clients encrypting and password protecting documents before they email them to you.
A Message to Fellow Practitioners
I am a California-based Enrolled Agent. When we first heard the announcement from Governor Newsom, late on March 12, that all gatherings larger than 250 people were to be postponed or canceled, it seemed a bit surreal. Schools were closed the next day and, by Friday morning, we had already decided to handle client meetings differently.
Local team members were told to work from home that same evening. Our outsourced team member was mandated by his government, as was everyone in his country, in the early dawn of the March 16 tax filing deadline to work from home. The only down time so far has been his commute back home, boot up and log in, totaling an hour and a half.
All returns that had to file went up according to schedule, the only delays resulted not from COVID-19, but from the clients that decided to deal with their 2019 accounting in January. So far, we anticipate for the April 15 deadline, an increase in appointments and tax return filings knowing that could change any day. People have more time on their hands right now and we have had more people move up appointments than canceling and waiting for this to be over.
When we sent out emails to our clients assuring them that their taxes would be filed on time and notifying them of the suspension of in-office appointments, what we weren’t prepared for was the response which was absolutely no pushback. A link to a three-question Microsoft Form was also included, with a choice of virtual, phone or extension and postpone. Within an hour of that email, 100 percent had filled it out with only one client asking for an extension and postponement of his appointment.
My Ccients are showing a relief and an eagerness to move forward, despite the outbreak. There is concern to be had for the businesses we serve. While we, as tax and accounting professionals, have a future and crisis proof (barring the internet failing) business, many of our clients do not.
This is the time to reach out to our business clients and be a support and guide for them to weather these times. If our clients know their current financials, they can make better decisions for now, next week and for the next few months. This will be critical to their survival. Educating them on ways technology can work for them and protect them during a time of forced isolation.
My hope from all of this is that my clients(and hopefully yours) will like the virtual meetings and continue this for future tax seasons and other meetings. It is far easier to manage a day of web conferencing than a day of in-office visits.
I also hope that this will push my adoption rate for the paperless system up even higher. Paper is dirty, especially when it passes through many hands.
With the city of San Francisco about to go into lockdown, doom and gloom on the news about another recession, quick decisions and actions we made early are paying off right now.
Being a firm of the future allowed us to be nimble and make proactive, rather than reactive plans of action. If you haven’t yet made the decision – The time is now!
Susan Tinel, EA, heads up April 15 Taxes, Inc., a full-service, cloud-based firm offering services in tax, accounting and entity filings. Based in San Diego, she works with more than 150 clients across the country, in Canada and the United Kingdom, 75 percent of which are small businesses. She is a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and certified in...