Accountants are turning to cloud client portals to speed up the approval process of documents and returns as they enter the busiest time of the tax year. With the Self Assessment deadline of the 31st January fast approaching, the use of the portals is resulting in improved service delivery, a quicker turnaround and lower administration costs as well as a more secure alternative to email.
Sending a return by post to a client can result in long delays and can cause serious problems, according to Martin Bugg, a Supervisor within the Business and Private Client Division at Larking Gowen; a leading accountancy firm with offices throughout Norfolk Suffolk and Essex.
Following an initial trial, the firm took on 100 publishing licences in August and now plans to extend to 250 licences in a move that will allow the team to set up as many client portals as they wish. The firm has seen the speed with which returns are approved improve dramatically, which leads to other efficiencies too. “We can publish a tax return on a client’s personal portal, let them know it is there and request their digital signature and the system will tell us if the client has looked at it and how many times,” explains Martin. “If the client has a query, we can resolve it quickly and in practice, we are finding that documents are reviewed more quickly and some have been returned to us within 45 minutes.”
The streamlining of the process has distinct advantages for the practice including being able to finish a job on the day it is started. This represents a major breakthrough in terms of efficiency savings. Formerly, the accountant would have to go through a series of processes including password protecting the document and saving it as a PDF before emailing it to the client. When it reached the client, the return would have to be printed, signed and scanned before returning it to the accountant. The portal cuts out all of these processes and enables fast digital authorisation and counters the problems they used to encounter with the post. Martin continues, “A client had experienced ongoing difficulties with the postal system. We resolved the matter by setting up a portal and within the hour, the return had been signed and returned to us so we could file ahead of the deadline,”
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Individual cloud portals provide the added security professional firms require when communicating confidential financial information. This was an important consideration for Larking Gowen in their decision to implement integrated document portals supplied by Cambridge document management specialists, Lindenhouse Software. Changes to the Data Protection Act are expected that may impact next year as it is likely that Europe will move closer to the US where it is illegal to send confidential information by email.
The majority of clients have bought into the process wholeheartedly. “At the outset when we invite them to use the portal, we tell them that storing documents in the cloud provides another layer of protection.” Martin says. “The feedback from clients is very positive and they like the process. They also like the fact that the firm can set up the portal as a document library where their documents can be stored. They no longer have to contact us and ask us to send them copies of their accounts and returns if they have lost them; they just need to look at the portal.”
The added value lies in the fact that clients can also upload their documents and send them to their accountant in two-way document exchange. As each user has the ability to upload documents up to 100mb data per time, it overcomes the problems of sending large files by email and instead of adding another system to the chain, such as Drop Box, the files go straight from the portal into the document management system.
Larking Gowen sees cloud client portals as an important differentiator. “It is all about adding value and providing clients with new services. We are using cloud technology to set us apart from the competition and at the same time, we are benefiting from speed of approval of documents, which leads to other efficiencies,” concludes Martin.