In light of the recent GDPR changes, and with ePrivacy on the horizon in 2019, now is the ideal time to review how your accounting firm shares sensitive information and ensures it is properly protected.
There are many options when it comes to file sharing, but which is the best for accountants?
Email remains the primary means of sending documents electronically. The clear advantages are that email is universally accepted, user-friendly and the process is entirely digital.
However, unless you are using an encrypted email the data in a PDF or other common file types is largely insecure and can be read by anyone who intercepts it.
Using encrypted emails creates its own set of problems because of the amount of technical knowledge required, and whilst you may be comfortable with those intricacies your clients may not. If you opt for the best-supported encryption option you’ll need to install an email client, an extension and an encryption software package separately and your client will need to do the same.
File sharing sites
File sharing apps and services help users to share and receive multiple files, and there are now a number of cloud-based file sharing options available. Dropbox, ShareFile and Google Drive are common examples. These are a leap forward in security and provide a convenient alternative to email.
Many file sharing services operate on a monthly subscription service. Often free-for-life starter plans are available with limits on file storage and features. Features related to security, file tracking, reporting and storage space are usually included in a paid subscription.
The objective of these sites is to gain general market use across many industry segments, not to specialise or create services tailored to the needs of accounting firms. As a result, these solutions may be less customisable and may not integrate well with CRM, document management or other systems in use in your firm.
The new alternative: Accounting firm portal sites
Accounting firm portal sites are similar to file sharing services, in that they rely on internet technology and allow secure transmission of documents between firms and clients.
A portal designed specifically for accounting firms offers several additional advantages over standard file sharing applications:
- Access control: Access control is better in that it inherits permissions from that application.
- Secure transmission during upload/download: Look for 256 bit SSL encryption for best security.
- Custom branding with your firm’s identity: Some portals offer this at no additional cost. This is an affordable way to create a sense of community with your clients.
- Integration with document management files and binders improves productivity: Having the portal and document management view as part of the same application presents numerous advantages over having separate applications. It is much more intuitive and there are synergies from each application on the other such as:
- Drag and drop
- User interface familiarity (no learning curve)
- Setting up purge/access is similar to document management applications.
- eSignature integration: Since signature management is so often required in document exchanges with accounting clients, look for the ability to easily handle digital signatures within the portal.
- Mobile access: If accountants and staff work on the go, they’ll appreciate full access to client files from their tablet or phone.
- Cost control: Look for an accounting portal priced at a monthly rate per user, without storage or volume-based fees.
In order to meet regulatory compliance in the area of data security accounting firms must ensure that all files are being shared in a secure way. Moving to a secure portal site designed to support an accounting practice can help firms meet the demands of more technology savvy clients, while improving firm efficiency and productivity.
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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.