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Accounting

How to streamline accounting processes—a step-by-step guide

Most accountants know that choosing the right accounting technology can boost the ability to serve clients, satisfy staff, and build deeper client relationships. But how do you take full advantage of technology to streamline accounting processes?  

The answer lies in implementing an end-to-end tax workflow automation solution backed by an integrated technology ecosystem. The result? The ability to unleash your firm’s true potential and focus in on what matters most: analyzing data, advising clients, and uncovering new opportunities. 

While there are many options out there to help you connect the dots and streamline your accounting processes, let’s take a step-by-step look at where to start and how to maximize your firm’s potential with technology. 

1. Assess your current processes and tech stack

The goal of any assessment is to gather data to identify risks, opportunities, and priorities. With strong documentation, you can formulate a plan, gain approval, and implement/augment technology to streamline your accounting processes.  

Start with an end-to-end review of your current processes, systems, and data. Take some time to evaluate your firm, identifying your overall goals, and your pain points. Then, do some research to see how technology can help you overcome challenges and achieve your firm’s goals. 

Here’s how to start:

Document your processes

Identify all the steps in your tax workflow process, including all systems and software you and your staff use on a daily basis. Take look at how tasks are handed off—whether it’s from person to person, person to system, or from system to system. Flow-charting tools and diagrams that show data and document flows can be beneficial.  

Take inventory of systems

What technologies, applications, programs, and/or tools is your firm currently using? How do they work together? How could they work better together? 

Identify issues

Once you’ve identified the tools and applications in your current workflow, it’s time to troubleshoot. Expand your systems inventory listing to add a column to capture known issues.  

2. Standardize your tax workflow

With advances in accounting technology, the days of manually entering the same data multiple times is over.  

Integrated technology can help your firm automate each stage of the tax workflow. By connecting all platforms across your tech stack, you can enable different systems to talk to each other to deliver a customized workflow that works best for your firm. 

This integrated technology is made possible by Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are essentially software code that allow two unrelated systems to access and use each other’s features or data.  

By using APIs, your firm can solve disconnected workflow issues and streamline accounting processes in the following key areas:

Data collection

Automate key aspects of data collection including importing users and permissions and importing/exporting documents. Use automation to generate tailored document request lists and the retrieval of documents while using APIs to automate integration with your tax, document, and workflow software.  

Tax preparation

Streamline the creation of returns, the importing/exporting of Excel workbook data, and the completion, printing, and filing of extensions. Automate workpaper preparation and data entry with an option to outsource data verification. You can also automate cryptocurrency related collaboration and compliance while easily uncovering new planning and advisory opportunities.  

Review

Isolate key amounts to compare against workpapers and automate the standardization of workpapers to facilitate high-level, materiality-based reviews. 

Delivery

Streamline the printing and publishing of returns. You can then automate the assembly and streamline the delivery and e-signing of returns while providing your clients with an intuitive experience guiding them through the process. 

E-filing

Automate the creation and submission of e-files as well as the retrieval of statuses, enabling the creation of a custom e-file status dashboard. 

Workflow

Automate the creation and routing of workflows, standardizing workflows firm-wide which allows for extensive tracking, analyzing, and reporting while integrating with your other software using its APIs. 

Advisory

Automate the extraction and aggregation of data to form a data lake to use with your visualization and analytical tools. 

3. Power your day-to-day operations 

Every day, accountants waste hours searching for information and duplicating work — and in today’s fast-paced environment, you can let these types of inefficiencies slow your business down.  That’s why accountants need comprehensive practice management software to onboard new staff easily, invoice clients faster and more accurately, and analyze the profitability of the firm.  

To streamline accounting processes, look for practice management software that encompasses these features—all in one place.  

Digital dashboards

Customizable digital dashboards with specific information needed to manage the day-to-day details of the firm in one convenient location. 

Time, expenses and invoicing

Automatically record time and expenses and create customized invoices and statements that can be electronically delivered to clients. 

Project tracking and workflow

Track firm projects and tasks from any workstation and compare actual status with budget information or integrate with workflow applications. 

Client contact management

Centrally manage client contact information and set up custom fields for marketing list management.  

Integration

The ability to integrate with other accounting and professional software as well as with Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook.  

Reporting

Produce reports in the formats that are compatible with the firm’s processes. Look for a package that can generate the reports your firm needs (chargeable time, billing realization, work-in-process aging, accounts receivable aging, engagement completion status, etc.). 

Remote access

The ability for personnel to access the system from outside the office can increase efficiency and provide management with real-time, up-to-the-minute management information.  

Flexibility

The ability to accommodate your firm’s current user codes, client numbers, service codes, and other internal codes with little or no modification, and the ability to import prior data for historical comparisons. 

Scalability

The ability to expand and add users as the firm grows. 

Additional modules

Some packages provide several practice management features, such as time and billing, due date monitoring, project workflow scheduling, human resource management, and CPE tracking. These features may be standard features or add-on modules.  

4. Enhance collaboration and partnership 

In today’s environment, real-time collaboration and accounting information technology is vital to delivering value for clients and supporting work-life balance for staff.  

Cloud-based accounting technology offers the ability to share data and documents directly via private accounts, automatically extract data from client source documents, or easily transfer account balances from integrated business tax preparation software.  

It can also make working from home just as effective as working from the office. When you can collaborate with clients and staff securely in real time, from anywhere, you can streamline accounting processes and conduct business quickly and conveniently. 

When it comes to building deeper relationships and providing guidance to clients, look for an integrated research tool that offers fast access and trusted answers to your tax, accounting, finance, and trade questions so you can make confident decisions that position your firm as a trusted partner—not just a once-a-year tax return provider.   

5. Shift to an advisory services model 

As you work to streamline your accounting processes, consider expanding your firm’s services beyond tax preparation and into advisory services. In today’s complex and uncertain environment, many clients are seeking more than a tax preparer. They want a strategic partner that can advise and support them in growing their business.  

By automating your day-to-day processes with technology, you can begin to shift your focus to offering clients forward-looking advice, building more meaningful relationships, and adopting a business model for sustained revenue well into the future. 

Once you streamline your accounting processes, why make the move to advisory services? 

Surprise and delight your clients

Clients expect an accurate tax return, but they may not expect strategic insights that make a broader impact on their business. By proactively anticipating your clients’ needs, your firm can stay ahead of the game and deliver extra value.  

Stay ahead of tax changes and trends

When software handles manual processes, your staff has more time to focus on what matters most: serving your clients as trusted advisors and growing your firm. This includes researching and sharing insights on the tax topics and trends that affect your clients most.  

Unlock client insights

With advanced technology in place, you can get pertinent information and strategic insights to your clients ahead of time. From sending reports to notifying them of legal or regulatory changes or sending reminders to make estimated tax payments, integrated accounting technology can help you position your firm as a committed partner who supports your clients beyond tax season.  

How do I get started streamlining my firm’s workflow and processes? 

Look for an established accounting technology provider that offers solutions designed specifically for accounting firms. Whether it’s audit, tax, payroll, firm management, marketing, or staff training, accounting technology can help you unleash your firm’s full potential. Join the many forward-thinking firms now reaping the benefits of technology’s impact on accounting. 

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