One of my first “welcome to the real world” moments came as a young tax intern at a small accounting firm. That tax season, an older gentleman came by the office to drop off his tax documents in a shoebox—literally. A shoebox with receipts spilling from under the lid that had apparently been repurposed and reused for document storage since a distant time when cars still came with cassette players.
Standing in the file room staring down at the crumpled mess of receipts, I wondered aloud, “Who’s going to organize this mess into some kind of usable data?” At which point a partner of the firm who was passing by turned around, smiled, and said, “Why, you are!” I guess I walked myself right into that one. Better get to work, internally.
For generations, that is how tax work and the relationship with your accountant were done: find the best option in your area code and drop off your proverbial shoebox.
However, it’s 2022 and we have the capability to go much further than this. Modern business owners have access to a national spectrum of accountants through the power of technology; they’re no longer restrained by being within the bounds of the same city or even the same state. Similarly, accountants can group themselves in new ways, specializing and focusing on specific industries and types of businesses in a way that wasn’t possible before.
In this article, I’ll highlight three areas where technological developments are changing the way our firm interacts and does business with our dental clients. Technology changes quickly so we’re constantly evaluating new options, but I’ll focus on some of the specific applications we use right now to implement this technology.
A natural place to begin our discussion is with the cloud. We use Citrix’s ShareFile system to securely store and share documents through the cloud. ShareFile also provides e-signature services to documents, which has been a lifesaver during the pandemic. Similarly, we use Intuit Link as a digital tax questionnaire and tax organizer to help clients sort and upload their documents each spring.
In general, clients want a smooth process to submit their tax documents. They want to be able to take some of the pain out of tax season and to file on time without having to extend their returns just for administrative delays. Using cloud technology helps our firm organize the flow of information to provide the optimal results for clients.
Zoom and Loom
Another technology everyone has become familiar with in recent years is Zoom. We’ve all had both positive and negative experiences with virtual meetings, but Zoom has undeniably become a useful tool in helping us meet with clients remotely. However, one drawback to virtual meeting technology is that it requires synchrony between users—ie, both users must be signed on and available at the same time to use the service.
One company I’ve been experimenting with recently that is trying to solve this problem is Loom. Loom provides video recording software designed for asynchronous communication. I can use it to record videos for clients, send them a YouTube-style link, and they can watch it on their time. Part of the beauty of Loom is that it streamlines the video creation process—there’s no editing software required, no rendering or compression decisions to make, and no confusing array of file extensions (who really knows the pros and cons of .MKV versus .AVI anyway?). You simply click a button to record a video on your computer, and then, a few seconds after you end it, your video is available in the cloud, ready to share with a link.
I confess I’ve only scratched the surface of this technology so far, but there is an array of add-ons—such as polls, responses, comments, statistics, and more—that can be implemented. The applications for our firm are endless, from how-to videos on using the payroll software or electronically funding your IRA, to educational videos such as 401(k) education for new employees or an on-demand video review of a tax return.
No code app builders
Finally, another area of technology that has me excited by the possibilities is the growing list of no-code app builders. These are applications that enable people who have no computer coding knowledge to build, automate, and innovate new microapplications.
These platforms allow users to easily create applications to serve the custom needs of their business in a greatly reduced time frame than what was available even a few years ago. Although there are numerous platforms serving this space, our firm has adopted QuickBase as our primary platform.
Over the last few years, we’ve created dozens of custom applications for our firm’s needs, from client billing and data collection to organizational project management, such as tax return tracking and client 1099/W-9 data wrangling. A glance at my internal dashboard can tell me the status of a client’s bookkeeping, any outstanding tax returns, a missing invoice, or even the status of their 401(k) census and allocations.
I can also organize and submit my receipts from a recent business trip, schedule a room for an upcoming client meeting, download my human resources and compliance forms, or access my team’s emergency contacts, just to name a few. All these applications were designed by our firm, and I promise that while we may be nerdy, none of us would consider ourselves to be advanced computer programmers.
Another way QuickBase has been useful to us was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it helped us get organized as the government was rolling out relief programs at an incredible pace. Our internal apps for PPP1, PPP2, Employee Retention Credit, supercharged unemployment, HRSA Provider Relief Fund, and more were lifesavers over the past two years. The apps allowed our teams to collaboratively build out and update these programs in real time as details changed or new knowledge emerged. In turn, this helped us keep our clients at the front of the line to quickly claim these benefits during the pandemic.
I am a bit of an innovation and technology junkie, so exploring new options always gets me excited for opportunities to come. But when I think about the way things were done before—and how many practices in the accounting field still feel decidedly 1980s in their technology—I’m thankful to be able to expand the resources in my field. After all, I made a promise to myself a decade ago to stay as far away from shoeboxes as possible!
If your current CPA is leaving you feeling frustrated by a lack of forward-thinking technology options, consider looking for a more progressive accounting firm.
Author’s note: Moss, Luse & Womble, LLC (“MLW”) is a registered investment advisor registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The information contained within this article is intended to provide general information and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to offer investment advice or substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional accountant or financial advisor.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the May 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.