Tax season drives adoption of client portals
Collaborative web portals are now becoming an accepted feature of accountancy practice.
Feedback from respondents to AccountingWEB’s tax season survey with Xero added weight to comments and anecdotes from elsewhere in the profession that portals were helping advisers to overcome one of their biggest headaches - extracting data in a timely fashion from business and personal tax clients.
Out of more than 1,100 tax season survey respondents, 13% said they planned to introduce portal - one way of improving client communication and data collection that was highlighted by 42%.
As reported previously on AccountingWEB, the buzz around document-sharing portals has been circulating for a couple of years. But the way that technology adoption works is that once all the hype has died down and the early adopters have overcome the initial hurdles, the wider market quietly goes about implementing tools that deliver practical benefits.
In the words of accounting technology enthusiast Kevin Salter, portals are “old hat” now.
“But I know for a fact it will be a big topic again, because the [ICAEW] IT Faculty has been told that practice assurance reviews are still finding firms who are emailing returns to their clients - and that is no longer acceptable,” Salter said.
Over at IRIS, the developer’s cloud division saw very rapid growth during tax season, driven by its “freemium” storage portal, IRIS OpenSpace. The first gigabyte is free, but as the volume grows, which would probably happen in a busy tax practice, it starts charging £5 per gigabyte per month.
The document-sharing portal, which has built-in electronic authorisastion, has been “incredibly successful” during the January busy season, according to IRIS CEO Phill Robinson. After a surge in new users during December and January, the application now has 40,000 subscribers, he said.
“Streamlining the process of tax returns and making it more cost effective is pretty compelling. I think it reflects the growing acceptance of cloud and the willingness of accountants to use collaborative web technology alongside their compliance products.”
Xero UK managing director Gary Turner also saw the recent surge as confirmation of a long-developing trend. “The concept of client portals always spoke louder than the practical realisation of them for most practices because the technology just wasn't mature enough to support broader adoption. Roll forwards to today, though, and with the proliferation of cloud-based services we certainly see many firms enthusiastically embracing file storage services like DropBox or Box.net to enable smarter collaboration with clients. So the principal is the same even if the deployment is selective.
“Looking ahead from today, I believe that merging documents with their corresponding accounting transactions in a shared space is the next natural step for accounting and bookkeeping software in that practice/client context.”
Further survey findings and practical advice about practice processes and online collaboration will be offered in an online webinar on 26 March. Register here.
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