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Accounting Firms That Aren’t Paperless Need to Get Their Act Together

Gone are the days of meticulously color-coding client folders, strategically placing sticky flags and paper summation tapes and making perfectly placed tickmarks on each beautiful sheet of paper. Let me just say…I made a gorgeous client binder; it was a thing of beauty.

But I can’t help but say, firms that aren’t paperless need to get their shit together. How is this even still a thing? What is really amusing are the firms that say they are paperless but still use paper processing sheets. You know, those lovely pink (or insert another obnoxious color here) sheets of paper that you use to write all the details of a tax return to be processed and filed. Then, you have the joyous experience of walking office to office to get the sign-offs of each person that breathed on the return. It’s almost as productive as hard keying every single word into the tax return software and writing review notes on a sheet of coffee stained notepad hoping that it doesn’t get lost in the enormous pile of wasted paper.

We understand, a lot of accountants don’t like change. But it’s like some firms went paperless kicking and screaming. Now in 2016, they clutch onto the paper processing sheet as a distant reminder of the glory days. The paper processing sheet is their last protest and they are stating loud and proud “I hate change! I still have my 10-key with the paper tape and I’m prepared to use it!”

So why is the paper processing sheet the bane of the CPA firm’s existence? A few reasons…

You’re telling a funny joke when you say that your “paperless.” Can all of your employees work remotely the majority of the time in an efficient manner? Can client documents be processed and filed completely electronically? If the answer is no, then you are probably not paperless. See we have these things called computers and they are magical. You can even send documents to people securely without killing a tree. 2If an employee needs to walk to multiple offices in person to receive sign off for a tax return, that’s not paperless. That’s antiquated.

Millennials work at your firm. So yeah, millennials really don’t want to walk the pink processing sheet down the hall to get a return processed. That is so 1993. Also, most millennials really love using technology to decide how and when they work. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey, good work/life balance and work flexibility were two of the top priorities for millennials when evaluating job opportunities. Did I mention that millennials will dominate the workforce by 2025? It’s time to get on board.

Here is a better solution. Sally finalizes a return around 8 pm. Why 8 pm? Well, Sally loves being able to work wherever and whenever. She works from home a couple days a week and she is more productive after she finishes her evening workout. I digress about work flexibility. Anyway, she finishes the return then sends the processing sheet electronically from the comfort of her own home. Then, the processor receives the processing sheet at 8 pm instead of 14 hours later. Sounds more productive and efficient already.

So how can you get your firm to put the paper processing sheet out of its misery?

  • Step 1: Put all of the pink processing sheets in the recycling bin. Chuck out the window.
  • Step 2: Create an electronic processing sheet via Microsoft excel. This can even look exactly the same as the paper version.
  • Step 3: Draft an email detailing the new process including a FAQ section for all of the naysayers.
  • Step 4: Send email and attach the new processing sheet. If necessary, have a 15-minute meeting or video conference detailing the new procedure. (Not a 1 hour meeting. This is an electronic processing sheet; not rocket science.)

Let the paperless magic begin! You can thank me later when you’re working from home in your bunny slippers.

I’d love to hear from you. Does your firm still use paper processing sheets or is your firm completely paperless? I’ve found that the global firms are pretty much paperless but the regional / local firms are not as far along in the process.

Image: iStock/Abscent84