Spring has officially arrived. Jennifer Adams welcomes the new season with some practical suggestions about reviewing your client base, and perhaps to clear out the old and bring in the new.
Most accountants’ lives are controlled by deadlines, so there is invariably little time to be reflective. But there’s a lot to reflect about: not only your own firm and its future, but also the client businesses under your care. After all, an expanding business can mean expanding fees.
AccountingWEB and its contributors offer up lots of articles and comments about how to expand your practice, but this article looks at your clients. Now is a great time to consider the service you offer them. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Before you start looking at what you could do to clients better, you should consider whether they are worth helping in the first place. That sounds crass, but some are not cost effective to run. Decide which ones can be listed for clear out - after reading this advice.
- Review all Letters of Engagement. The text itself might not need amending but if a long standing client wants more specialist advice, it is easy to forget that an additional letter will be needed if the original letter only covers tax return preparation.
- Consider clients’ software needs. Payroll and VAT clients will probably already be connected electronically, but ‘once a year’ self employed clients may not be aware of what is out there. Suggest anything (a spreadsheet template, perhaps?) that will simplify and speed the preparation of their accounts. With internet technology coming on in leaps and bounds, it’s worth considering cloud computing for this task.
- Pension projections. Advise clients to apply for a DSS pension projection. A full pension will only be given if the client has the full number of years’ credits. People lead chequered lives and it is easy not to have clocked up the right number of years.
- Look at clients’ ages. Make a note to discuss succession planning with older clients and finding out if they have plans to sell the business, whether they will carry on after retirement, or whether they can afford to retire. If they can’t afford to completely retire consider deferring taking the state pension; each year deferred increases their annual entitlement by by 10.4% or they can get a one-off lump sum payment.
- Make a note of each client’s solicitor and ask clients whether have a will in place and/or whether it needs updating. Ask for a copy for your files. If the client’s letter of engagement covers IHT issues, have a look at planning around that, as solicitors can miss things and don’t have time to review tax arrangements unless specifically asked. Would a family constitution arrangement and/or trust be relevant if the business is going to continue after the client’s death?
- Submission reminders – Many practice management systems and smartphones can send automated emails. Set yours to dispatch reminders to clients ahead of their VAT, CIS and self assessment deadlines.
- Review clients’ details on HMRC’s website. Whatever the department says, it does not always update “customers” addresses, even when changes are indicated on a tax return. Check whether clients are paying on time or keeping to their payment agreement. If not ring and ask if they need any advice or help with their tax payments. Check notices of coding even if you do not do their payroll, as they are invariably wrong and picking up any incorrect code can save time later. Make sure you have accounted for every client for whom HMRC is expecting a 2014 return; amend as necessary.
- Create or review a checklist for staff to follow when preparing accounts. Many accountants use HMRC’s toolkits as a basis.
- Tax Credits Check that you have noted all clients who technically qualify, estimate the full amount that they are entitled to claim over the next few years to enable them to decide whether and how much to claim.
- Incorporation review each self employed client who might benefit from incorporation. Include an estimate of the additional tax credits that might also be available in combination of loan account drawdown.
- Ensure that clients’ email is set up for the Companies House Proof online fraud protection system
- Auto enrolment – segregate clients and list those who need reminding about forthcoming staging dates.
- If your firm undertakes the incorporation of new companies consider creating a director’s pack. Commercial formation firms do this, and you could create one for your clients including everything the directors might need: incorporation certificate; a copy of the model articles; share certificates; key filing dates with HMRC and Companies House; reference numbers for the company including payment references; your firm’s contact details; and any other relevant information.
- Review company articles – Companies incorporated after October 2009 are created with model articles, but many incorporated before then still retain Table A. These companies’ articles should be reviewed to ensure consistency with the Companies Act 2006. Inconsistencies can include:
- Older Table A provisions may contradict the CA 2006, for example by empowering directors to refuse to register a share transfer without providing reasons for doing so.
- Table A only makes reference to the payment of dividends via cheque, nothing is mentioned about BACS or electronic transfers. A guidance note is available from the ISCA that includes model resolutions enabling the board to decide payment method.
- Table A limits a director to actually being present at a board meeting; under the model articles, they can attend via video and audio technology.
- Consider dormant companies – are they needed? Striking off will reduce the possibility of missed filings, penalties and other unpleasant surprises.
- Change of year end – check whether any company client would save tax by extending its accounting period (perhaps because of falling profits during the recession). Estimate the tax saving in order to make an informed decision.
- Invite your main clients to the office (or lunch) individually to discuss their ambitions and concerns for their business for the coming year. Suggest helping create a basic business plan.
- Contact professional organisations for a list of forthcoming lectures and events near your office - not just for accounts and tax updates, but on other areas of interest, such as website design or social media.
- Update your website – an inordinately large number of accountants set up their websites and then forget about them. Make a diary note to load new text at least twice a month.
- Look for ideas to get clients to submit on time. This blog gives some good suggestions, as does Coalesco’s Linda Frier in her tax season whitepaper.
- The Accountancy Partnership commissioned an automatic client reminder system, which dispatches regular reminders following their financial year end until their records have been received.
- Like Coalesco, many accountants write to clients early November to advise that they cannot guarantee completion of their tax return before the January deadline should records be delivered later than say, Christmas eve at the latest. Remind clients of penalties for non-compliance. Set a tax return software task reminder for each client using a standard email template.
- Consider discounted fees for clients who get their accounts to you early. Stress the benefit of knowing how much to pay for the second instalment.
- Would bribery help? One accountant puts the names of those clients who get their details in by a set date in a draw where the prize is a case of wine.
And finally after having done all that, Woolley11 and other AccountingWEB members had lots of other ideas about what to do at this time of year: tidy up the office; reorganise files; put all client files older than six years aside for shredding; and bone up on benefits of a paperless office.