With most entrepreneurs too involved in their companies' daily operations to establish or manage a detailed financial strategy, the role of the accountant has changed considerably. Accountants have evolved into trusted business advisors, with most offering a wide range of year-round services designed to keep companies' economic pipelines flowing smoothly.
For today's accounting professional, communications and mobility are critical business tools that provide the flexibility to serve clients and work on business development from nearly anywhere.
Advanced tax and financial management suites drastically reduce the time and complexity associated with recording routine transactions, preparing financial reports, and filing required tax and regulatory documents.
By making routine financial management easier, technology opens time that accountants can better use providing higher-value services to their clients.
Time and Money
Time and billing management suites offer accountants tools to record and better manage the amount of time spent on clients’ accounts. These applications often include features like automated invoicing, check writing, bill customization, practice management solutions and more.
The routine addition of transactions to a client's general ledger, for instance, can easily be automated by connecting the company's online banking account to a desktop or Web-based financial management suite.
Depending on the volume, these updates can be scheduled to occur daily, weekly or monthly, giving you and your client an up-to-date view of the company's financial status.
Most applications provide a variety of visual graphs, charts and reports that can be displayed on a single screen (known as a "dashboard") to provide an easy-to-understand overview or insights into potential problems.
Some advanced versions allow accountants to use their client's monetary records to create a detailed business plan, forecasting income and expenses for the upcoming year.
Designed to increase efficiency and organization, brands like Office Tools Pro , ImagineTime , LexisNexis and Tenrox usually offer upgrades to accommodate each firm's financial and in-house clerical needs.
Smartphone apps designed to track time spent on specific projects or clients, as well as expenses, can benefit accountants in two ways. First, they help you keep track of how you're spending the day (critical for time-based billing) and allow you to record any expenses you may incur.
In addition, encouraging clients to use smartphone apps can improve their time and expenses tracking, and make your life easier. Instead of untangling an envelope packed with receipts, you can import a data file into the client's financial management tool and move on to a higher-value task.
Staying in Touch
A cornerstone of maintaining a trusted business advisory role is being available when client needs emerge, and wireless communications plays a critical role in supporting your practice.
While smartphones are an obvious choice for voice and email communications, a variety of remote-access applications and services such as gotomypc.com use Web-based, screen-sharing software, so you can log onto your office PC, or a client's computer, to research and answer more complex questions or retrieve documents wirelessly.
Several document-sharing applications such as Dropbox or Box allow clients to securely upload documents that you can access and review to provide timely advice about questions that arise.
If you need to address a tax question outside the office, CCH Mobile makes the company's tax research platform available to iPhone and iPad users. This can be valuable for researching issues if you're meeting with a client or need to answer a quick question. The service offers the ability to access tax news, tools and calculators directly on your handheld or mobile device.
Other smartphone tools that can be helpful for accounting professionals include financial calculators, as well as project and task management tools.
Small businesses may be well served by Web-based applications designed for their needs. Many small businesses rely on their accounting professional for help with setting up or managing such applications, or for training staff members.
Some leading online accounting and bookkeeping services for small businesses include: Quickbooks Online , Sage 50 Accounting , FreshBooks , LessAccounting and others.
Customer relationship management (CRM) was once available primarily for large enterprises willing to launch expensive and complicated initiatives, but a new generation of CRM tools designed for small businesses can integrate with applications such as Quickbooks, Outlook and other common tools.
CRM apps provide an up-to-date dashboard of your company's sales activities and improve productivity by helping you manage time, tasks and customer communication. CRM apps can share data with financial management suites and help your client manage follow-on sales and additional opportunities.
Mobile CRM apps such as Salesforce Mobile , SAP Business By Design and others offer similar automation and collaboration tools through smartphone apps designed with mobility in mind. You can easily check current information about a customer such as recent sales, payments and other data, and update your records wirelessly.
Reducing Tax Burdens
The tax filing frenzy usually kicks off in January and continues full tilt through midnight on April 15. During this hectic span, accountants work with a range of different IRS forms. From the better-known 1040 to the less common 3468, accountants face mountains of paperwork at the end of the first quarter. At least that was the case before software companies developed tax preparation suites.
Premium versions of these programs provide a digital cache of tax forms, schedules and worksheets. To speed up the filing process, many tax preparation programs include automated data entry. This feature recognizes previously used information and places it where necessary on other forms and lines. Even more, certain tax software will automatically draft an email to the client listing any missing data needed to complete a form.
Tax preparation suites typically include printable templates and e-filing capabilities.
Aside from tools designed to prepare and file taxes, these programs often compile a final summary for each client, detailing the number of forms and schedules required for that particular year.