Life is tough on the front line of accountancy. For more than five years, our intrepid correspondent has been bringing us news and views from a typical West Country practice.
More carrot required, less stick
My January has got off to a rather slow start following a delayed bout of the Christmas stomach virus, which is rather unfortunate in view of the mountain of tax returns yet to be filed.
In fact, filing them would be a doddle - it's getting the information and/or the clients in that is holding us up. We started the month with a staggering 30 per cent of 2012 returns not yet started, and after a week I can't say that we've made huge inroads into them yet. A couple of small accounts jobs have appeared at last, but they won't take the currently under-employed corporate team long to polish off.
That still leaves each of the tax team at least 60 returns to start, finish and file by the end of the month - plus chasing down the returns still out with clients for approval (I would say "out for signature", but at this stage we're just happy to get verbal or email approval so we can file them online and receive the signed paper copy in due course!).
One of the lessons we have learned this year is that carrot beats stick every time. Last year we offered clients a discount for tax return information submitted (complete, that is) by 31 July, with the threat of a surcharge for info supplied after, I think, 30 November. We were inundated over the summer and managed to get many more returns filed before Christmas.
This year we rather unwisely assumed that those clients would work to the same deadline without the added financial incentive, although we have continued with the surcharge for late returns. Result: most of those early returns failed to appear. So financially we should be better off (if we can actually get the higher fees out of the laggards), but as far as workload and team morale are concerned I'd have opted for lower fees and a better spread of the workload over the year. Clients are clearly motivated far more by the prospect of saving money than by the threat of having to spend more.
Next year will be different (I say that every year)!