Make the 2024 self assessment season your best yetby
Now that accountants can say goodbye to another self assessment season, many are vowing to use more automation to chase clients earlier.
So, now that you’ve got through the January 2023 self assessment season, it’s a good time to take stock of what went well, and what could be improved. Were you faced with a last-minute rush, or did you manage to get the information you needed from your clients in good time?
Even if things went well, there will still be ways that you can improve things for your clients and your practice. If any of your clients were among the 600,000 who missed the deadline, why was this? And what could you do to prevent that next year?
In a recent episode of Any Answers Live, AccountingWEB editor Richard Hattersley polled the audience about how the 2023 busy season had gone. It was a mixed picture, with 31% of the attendees saying that things had gone better than last year, 34% saying the same as ever and 35% saying worse than last year.
As last year’s busy season saw the UK facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, it’s perhaps disappointing that more than a third of accountants reported having had a worse January this year. However, it’s also true that HMRC suspended late filing penalties last year. This effectively extended the deadline until the end of February, which wasn't the case this year. Nevertheless, it still suggests that there are real issues for many accountants to address, if they’re to have a less stressful time in January 2024.
What were the main headaches this year?
There were two clear headaches put forward by AccountingWEB members. One was how to deal with potential clients needing help with a last-minute return, and the other was the perennial issue of clients not having all necessary information ready in time, or turning up with their records in shoeboxes or carrier bags.
Any Answers Live panellists Johann Goree and Sam Mitcham, both practice owners, took on a number of new clients this year, some even as late as January. This added to their self assessment workload and although it meant extra work, both felt that it was worth it as the clients would bring recurring revenue in the years ahead.
Many accountants don’t like to take on new tax return clients in January. This is due to the time it takes to meet the client, send them a letter of engagement, complete anti-money laundering (AML) checks and onboarding, and then get the information needed to complete the return itself.
However, Goree disagreed with this idea. “Because we've got some new onboarding processes in place, if the client is responsive, we can have a client from letter of engagement to fully onboarded and AML checks done within an hour or two,” he said.
“We’re careful when taking on a new client so late in the day, to make sure we’re clear about all the information we will need, and that they’ve got everything ready so it doesn't come as a surprise to them.”
Mitcham agreed. “After promising myself that I would try not to take on new clients in January, this year I did,” she said. “But I did pick and choose. So I’d ask, 'have you got everything ready or is this going to be a real scrape to the deadline?' And then as the practice owner, at the end of the day, it's our decision whether to take them on or not.
“The ones I took on were because I felt they’d be good ones going forward. And actually, that relationship is now going to be very solid because they do feel like I kind of saved their skin last minute.”
If your practice is flexible and can take on clients during that busy period, the potential returns from growing your client base can be far greater than a one-off fee for filing a return.
Dealing with disorganised clients or those without good digital records is an ongoing issue for a number of practices. It appears that client education, better communication and using the right tools and software are key considerations.
The panellists both agreed that the most important thing to improve was chasing clients throughout the year in order to minimise the January rush. It’s important to make sure that important records such as P60s, and other documents from employers, pension providers or HMRC are available well ahead of time to avoid the risk of any technical glitches and customer service delays due to spikes in demand at pension providers or HMRC.
How you can improve the next self assessment season
When asked what they would do differently next year to improve things, both panellists and the audience put forward a number of solutions. 57% of attendees were in favour of chasing clients earlier for data. In particular, the panel agreed that the automation of client chasing was an area to improve.
Automated processes and integrated solutions across your entire practice are vital. These can synchronise with HMRC and other data sources relevant to each client. As your practice grows and the margins on compliance work such as self assessment are squeezed, this becomes ever more important.
Having a fully integrated suite of tools is the ideal solution here. Getting a complete picture of each client’s accounts, tracking your whole client base and using automated emails to chase outstanding information can really pay dividends.
The challenge that practices face is identifying the best solution, with so many software solutions available on the market. For practices that would rather not waste time ensuring that multiple apps are integrated properly, an all-in-one platform such as Wolters Kluwer’s CCH suite can be significantly advantageous.
How self assessment season can help your practice grow
Once you have delivered a great service to your new and existing clients, it’s also important to identify opportunities to upsell further services. This will help to grow your revenue per client, leading to overall practice growth. Again, technology is key here.
Johnson Smillie associate Anne Melville said “The reporting tool for CCH Personal Tax is very good. As a firm, we like to be proactive on behalf of our clients. We use this to identify opportunities where they might benefit from advice or tax planning. It’s simple to produce a report of clients with a certain source of income, or those earning above a particular amount, so that we can market our services accordingly.”
To make the next self assessment season better, you need to help your clients become more efficient throughout the year - using the right technology and tools. This will help you to manage your annual workload more effectively.
If you’d like to hear more about how Wolters Kluwer’s integrated suite can help make your 2024 self assessment season more profitable and hassle-free, please get in touch.
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