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Ask the Expert: Using Technology in Tax Practice

Ask the Expert: Using Technology in Tax Practice

As you start to plan for a tax season in the time of COVID, opportunities to communicate with remote staff/workforce are important. Zoom meetings are fine, but Catherine finds that Slack offers a fast way to send messages to groups, plus the information is retained. She also finds Liscio a great tool for communicating with clients, which includes delivering tax returns, getting electronic signatures, and in the next three months, they will be rolling out a link with Zoom so that Liscio can be used to communicate meeting information with clients.

See the video and transcript below. Let us know in the comments what you use, or head over to the Facebook group to add to the discussion there.

In early August, Tom O’Saben, EA, interviewed one of our Tax School instructors, Catherine Riddick, CPA, JD about her use of technology in her tax practice. Catherine is founder and owner of Xponent Group, an accounting firm based in LaGrange, IL.

Catherine talked about how she uses technology in her tax practice to protect client data and increase efficiency among her staff and clients. She also discusses what she sees as the biggest challenges facing tax preparers in the years ahead.


[To make the video larger, click the icon in the bottom right of the video screen, or click the YouTube logo in the bottom right of the video screen to open in YouTube.]

Tom: So in 30 years of practice, you’ve seen a tremendous amount of technology changes, I would assume.Catherine: Yes.

Tom: Are you a person that embraces technology? And are there some certain specific areas that you’re actually looking at growing into in the technology world?

Catherine: So I’m a huge fan of technology both in the efficiency that it brings to practice, and I also… And yes, I am branching into a couple of new areas. I have a pretty strong belief that it’s not good for our clients or for us to have a lot of communication in email. I find email, almost, to be frustrating. There’s just lots and lots of junk oftentimes can’t trust the pdfs that are coming in. So two things we’ve done: one around the office, our inner communications are all through Slack, an internet-based communication system, so we use a slack channel for talking amongst ourselves.

Tom: Is that sort of like instant messaging or…

Catherine: It’s very much like instant messaging. It’s a free service, anybody can do it and it allows you to have regular communications, you can actually keep those communication so it’s not like it shows up as a text message on your phone. You can actually have a history of how the conversation has been, but it keeps it out of email. One of the things you hear as you learn about cyber security and data breaches; some huge percentage of those data breaches happen because somebody opens an attachment to an email that they shouldn’t have opened. So first, I get my staff out of email by making sure those communications are in Slack. That prevents an employee from opening a bad email that they thought was from another employee. Then I’ve also moved to client communications through an app that we subscribe to.

That one’s called Liscio and I actually have an app on my phone. When clients communicate through there: For them, for the clients, it looks just like email looks just like it, but I actually get those messages, faster. You think that email is an instantaneous thing, but it actually doesn’t happen that fast.

And then sometimes your email provider has to scrub the message that’s being sent and so it can take a while.

If I have a client who messages me through Liscio, I get notifications right away. And I don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s a message that I can open. It’s safe and I know it’s from a client because I know the only people that have access to my Liscio app are people I’ve given permission to communicate that way, so I love it. They can send me documents that way.

Most people… All across… So whatever age group, you’re talking about, most people have a cell phone, most people have a camera function on their cell phone and they can take a picture of a document and send it to me right through Liscio. I never have to worry about whether it’s something I can open or not. And we can push their tax returns to them that way, they can sign their 8879. There’s just whole world of communication that doesn’t require email and I love that.

Tom: And I guess the fact if they subscribe for lack of a better term, that it’s secure.

Catherine: Absolutely. It is not open to the public. It’s like a closed network yes, yes, and extremely secure. They’ve invested a lot of money. If you, in the background they will tell you that their data security is as safe as NSA. So their protocols are like NSA. I’m very comfortable that it’s completely safe. Yes.

Tom: Thirty years of experience in the tax world. What do you think the biggest challenge is facing tax practitioners and maybe even yourself going in to the next era of your career?

Catherine: So it’s kind of interesting because I think about it not so much the law itself. So I think that we have a good grasp of what it is and how to learn it, and those things change, and that’s always been the case. I think that what’s going to change more significantly, is the way we do business. So I look at my 30-year-old son and how he does business in the world.

If he can’t find you on the internet… If he has to spend time with you on the phone, time with you in your office, he has absolutely no interest. He rarely if ever walks into a retail store, almost everything he gets, he buys and it gets shipped to him. And so, you know, Tom, you know me ’cause you’ve know me for a while, and I don’t do interview type tax returns.

I think that that’s going to be an ongoing challenge for practitioners who’ve built their business that way, and finding a way to reach and do business with the generation that’s coming along those that are in their 30s [between 30 and 40], particularly if you’re in large communities like Chicago. I just think more and more of them will be looking to find you on the internet and they’re going to want to be able to do business with you that way, not necessarily make an appointment and come in and see you.

You know, if you look at it, all professionals… So you know that there are some doctors that you can actually have an appointment with them over FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and they’ll diagnose and provide information to you, and you don’t have to make an appointment, you know, go in and see them. It’s all done right over your phone.

I just think that’s where we’re headed.

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