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Business Growth in the 21st Century: How Technology Can Help You Expand Your CPA Firm Services


Oct 5, 2020
Every CPA firm reaches a point where it needs to find creative ways to change for the times. In today’s market, productive growth often means adopting new technologies that enhance not only the efficiency of your work but the very character of your business. Your CPA firm may not need to dive right into untested technological waters. But technology can help you expand your services by making it much easier to work remotely with your clients and your team, automate essential tasks and enhance digital security for all stakeholders.

How Technology Can Help You Expand Your CPA Firm Services

Make Remote Work a Priority

Although remote work was already trending prior to the global pandemic, most businesses were apprehensive about the prospect of fully-remote work environments. Then 2020 happened, and our collective way of working changed almost overnight. Zoom became the norm, much to that company’s favor as its stock value skyrocketed 250 percent in the months following national and state-level shutdown orders.
Remote work should become a core part of what you offer, not only as a benefit to current and future teams, but as a service and a selling point for your clients.
While companies felt immediate growing pains from the unprecedented transition, it was only a matter of time before that transition would have been made. In a joint study released in February 2020, FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics reported that 4.9 million Americans were working from home prior to COVID-19 shutdowns. Even back in 2013, 92% of millennials desired to work from home at least part of the time.

Consequently, those companies who already offered remote working opportunities to their teams seamlessly converted the entirety of their operation to a remote environment. All it took was scaling up their existing remote infrastructure.

Even if your CPA firm had no remote options prior to the pandemic, you certainly do now. What’s important is that you don’t let your current infrastructure crumble post-pandemic. While most people don’t want to work from home all of the time, most of your employees do want the flexibility to work from home, something you can only offer if you keep the infrastructure you now have in place.

Remote work should become a core part of what you offer, not only as a benefit to current and future teams, but as a service and a selling point for your clients.

Tools for Remote Work

For your remote teams, consider the following apps and services:
  • Sococo — Virtual office tool with built-in functions for team member status, availability and video conference
  • Slack — Chat tool with private rooms, public rooms, topic-specific channels, file sharing and other app integrations
  • Trello — Collaborative task manager with calendar boards and file sharing (can also integrate with Slack)
  • GoToMeeting or Zoom — Video conferencing tools that offer screen sharing, file sharing, breakout rooms and other features useful for distributed teams

There are also several digital tools you can incorporate into your business that allow you to have telepresence with your clients. These are tools many top CPA firms already utilized pre-pandemic to great effect. Your firm can use Zoom and GoToMeeting with clients, but you may also want to consider exploring Smartsheet.

The Smartsheet platform gives you, your team members and your clients access to a collaborative space to share, track and verify documents. Its immensely familiar interface looks and works like Microsoft Excel, helping to ease new users into the process with an exceptionally small learning curve. Once up and running, it’s a high-powered tool for documentation requests and project management.

Note that moving to a remote working environment does not mean sacrificing the community or the cohesiveness of your teams. Treat remote work and remote workers the same as you would in a physical work environment. Organize get-togethers (physically or digitally), foster discussions and know when to disconnect.

Find Ways to Automate Common Tasks

Automation is often misunderstood as something far grander than its more commonplace applications. In fact, you’ve already dipped your toe into automation if you’ve ever used an out-of-office email message. While more complex machines like self-driving cars and human-like robots are at the forefront of what makes the news for automation, there are far simpler and more practical uses of automation already most businesses currently use or can quickly adopt to great effect.

Automation tools are readily available for any task that is both repetitive and technically simple. For a CPA firm, the tasks that most fit this description include customer support and database management.

Chatbots Never Sleep

As far as customer support is concerned, AI chatbots are a hot-ticket item, and understandably so. Chatbots are great at reducing the workload on customer support agents. Their effectiveness is also increasing. Juniper Research expects the success rate of chatbots to skyrocket by 2022, especially for critical industries like healthcare and banking. The research firm also predicts chatbots will save organizations up to $8 billion by 2022. Those cost savings can free up capital that you can then invest right back into your CPA firm.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tools

It may seem like a few minutes here and a few minutes there, but back-and-forth communication between yourself and clients could result in hours of lost productivity time each week. You’ll need to be responsive to clients, of course, but not all interactions necessarily require your direct input. Some can be automated using customer relationship management tools, also known as CRM.

CRM tools usually offer a litany of features, including automated billing and automated lead responses. But one of the best features these tools possess is client-facing appointment setting. Tools like HubSpot allow you to connect your calendar that shows your availability. Clients can then block off time on the calendar with their associated details. This feature lets you turn over appointment setting to the clients, reducing the amount of time you spend figuring out schedules with clients over phone or email.

Not sure exactly what that would look like? Think Airbnb. You set the days and times you’re available (often as far out into the future as you want). After you publish the calendar, clients will see that availability, and can block off that time for themselves. Times and dates clients block off will automatically disappear from the client-side view, so you don’t have to worry about costly or embarrassing double-booking incidents.

Cleaning Databases

Your CPA firm likely has multiple databases, all of which are expanding in size. Good database management is an ongoing process, especially as your databases grow in size and complexity. Much like an engine, databases can get problematic over time if they aren’t serviced regularly.

On that end, a fair amount of database automation now focuses on verification, and specifically on the accuracy and efficiency of your databases. Database automation tools can clean up data by getting rid of redundancies or help speed database searches by improving the index.

CPA firms are incredibly data- and customer-driven. When you reduce the amount of the time you spend on repetitive tasks, you can free up valuable time that you can use for anything from skills training to marketing to acquiring more clients.

Improved Data Security (For You and Your Clients)

Data security is something that many small businesses often ignore, much to their own peril. You put your entire CPA firm at risk when you fail to roll out strict data security standards. Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report found that 28% of all data breaches were against small businesses. IBM Security reports the average total cost of a data breach in 2020 is $146 per record lost. The larger your client base, the more records you have to lose.

There are several must-have security measures every firm should employ:

Multi-Factor Authentication

Also known as MFA or 2FA (two-factor authentication), this security standard helps prevent one of the most common and easiest types of hacking bad actors now use: credential stuffing. MFA requires a secondary device to access secure accounts. This is commonly accomplished with a code sent via email or text message to the account holders’ device. MFA should be a standard on all of your CPA firms’ user accounts.

Strong Password Security

Your CPA firm should implement strong password security policies for all of its employees and for any client accounts. Accounts should have unique passwords, which can be created using one of many available strong password generators. If a breach occurs, your IT policy should be to immediately enforce password resets for all accounts.

Password management tools are a convenient way to accomplish this goal. Summit CPA uses LastPass, which stores passwords security and allows your team members to insert credentials automatically into login pages accounts from any device. Among other features, LastPass also has a password security scoring feature. All Summit CPA requires all employees to maintain passwords with a score of 90 or above.

Phishing

Cybercriminals have a lot of tools in their sinister toolboxes, including phishing. Phishing comes in many forms, but against businesses, it typically involves hackers sending malicious emails to you or your team members. Sometimes, those emails contain malware, other times, they’ll contain links to fake websites that collect user data. Whichever the case, you’ll want to employ tools to help mitigate phishing attacks.

There are two routes for this. The first is education. Your team needs to be educated on common phishing practices so they can easily identify and avoid opening phishing attempts. The other necessary step is technological mitigation. Many scalable anti-virus tools include anti-phishing software. You can also roll out server-side mitigation. Before doing anything, however, use a service like KnowBe4, which can help you test your team’s vulnerability to phishing attempts.

Secure Cloud Storage and Backup

Working in a remote environment means you’re doing a fair amount of work in the cloud. Make sure your organization utilizes cloud storage services that implement strong security standards. Cloud storage can also provide much-needed automated file backup. Many cloud storage services automatically back up documents to the cloud. If documents get lost locally, you won’t lose them forever.

Whether you have an in-house or managed IT team, you’ll need to review security standards with them to make sure you’re up-to-date. Your IT team likely has plenty of ideas and recommendations for stronger security measures. Now is the time to listen to their suggestions and, if necessary, increase your budget for security improvements.

Innovate with Technology to Expand Your CPA Firm

When you take a tech-based approach, you can more easily attract top talent, develop efficient and cost-saving practices, and expand the type of services you offer to your clients. Most tech solutions are also scalable. Adapt to technology trends today, shift them upward as your firm expands, then experience the benefit of operating a forward-thinking CPA firm in a competitive environment.

 
Summit CPA Group is a fully distributed accounting firm and leading provider of Virtual CFO Services in North America. In addition to providing VCFO coaching, CPA firm augmentation, Summit CPA Group is building a community of CPA firm owners who want to learn how to provide or enhance their existing VCFO service offerings. The CFO Community includes: free monthly CPE webinars, a Slack network, and more. Join the community today and start getting the support you need to grow your firm!


Jody Grunden
About the Author

Jody Grunden is the Co-Founder and CEO of Summit CPA Group, the leading provider of Virtual CFO Services for creative agencies as well as one of the largest Virtual CFO firms in North America. Summit’s team of CPAs and accountants provide professional Virtual CFO Services and 401(k) Audits for companies all over the United States .

Jody co-founded Summit CPA in 2002 and transitioned the company to a distributed accounting firm in 2013. Since 2002, Summit CPA has grown from a team of 2 people to approximately 40. The company has grown extremely fast, experiencing 3-year 150% growth consecutively over the past 3 years and being recognized by Inc. 5000.

Jody is passionate about changing the way people think about accounting. Author of Digital Dollars and Cents, he literally wrote the book on helping digital companies create a financial roadmap to success.