Written by: Rob Millen, Product Manager (Cloud & Practice Management)
Perhaps one of the most frustrating pastimes of any accountant or auditor is the annual, quarterly, or perhaps monthly chore of gathering information from “challenging” clients. On par with extracting blood from a stone, it seems every accounting professional has their own record keeping horror story fit for Halloween.
So why is the simple job of collecting records from a client such a pain point in so many cases? Many would argue that there is little incentive for clients to deliver perfectly balanced books with immaculately referenced documentation. Many business owners or executives are extremely busy and any time spent on exercises not directly linked to raising revenue are low priority, or at times completely ignored. Difficult to argue with the logic. Most firms would recognise this and some use incentives, or should I say punishments, written into the letter of engagement. “If your records arrive late, our fee increases”.
Having discussed this subject with firms that use these incentives, this often leads to further complications, especially when particular records are only deemed necessary once the initial round of records was delivered and reviewed. Do these follow up requests for additional information fall under the same deadline? Tricky questions for staff to answer, which leads to more internal discussions and more time on the costing… and perhaps an unexpected fee increase for the client.
What about software?
Clearly software has a part to play here. Most firms by now would at least use email correspondence when requesting this information from most of their clients. Emails are however starting to feel dated and are far from a secure method of transferring information. In many cases a firm-wide email template or Word/Excel checklist is agreed and sent to all clients to ensure a level of consistency when it comes to collecting records, but does this really help the client? Sure, it may save you some time writing a bespoke request for each client, but in a lot of cases this causes confusion for the individual trying to fill out a checklist, where 75% of it does not apply to their situation.
It’s time for a new generation of software tools that focuses on bringing you and your client closer, rather than sitting you on opposite sides of a game of “find the email”. Collaboration is the key. Secure client portals are an obvious choice for any modern accounting firm. Giving clients the luxury of accessing a live overview of their outstanding requests whenever it suits them is a much more effective way of engaging them in the process. If they have to call or email to ask whether a particular document is required, it is more likely they will leave it and wait until you chase for it, again.
So we have replaced emails with a portal, but how do we deal with the impersonal record requesting checklist? Am I suggesting we go back to writing bespoke requests for each client? Certainly not. Standardised query templates are crucial for covering all bases and ensuring consistency. The important difference is that these query checklists need to be intelligent; by that I mean they are self-tailoring. For example, if question 5 is given a particular answer, we may need to ask additional questions, or perhaps skip an entire section. Unfortunately, this kind of functionality is missing or at least difficult to achieve easily in basic software solutions. As a result we need our client portals to help us out.
So what has CaseWare got to offer?
As an extension to our Cloud Hybrid platform, we have an exciting new tool called Xtend. This cloud-based solution can be used standalone, linked to a desktop engagement or embedded in our new cloud-based engagements, and is used to securely manage information sharing between staff and clients. With intelligent, self-tailoring checklists available out of the box, with options to build unlimited firm-wide alternatives, CaseWare Xtend will allow modern firms of any size get closer to their clients, making the process of collecting records more of a pleasure, and less of a chore.