SURVEY RESULTS: Bullish on Busy Season 2017

Busy season bulls outnumber bears three to one. Via CPA Trendlines Research

Profession plows ahead with high hopes.

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By Rick Telberg
CPA Trendlines Research

If expectations pan out, Busy Season 2017 might be a banner year, according to the first soundings from the 18th annual CPA Trendlines Busy Season Barometer. There’s optimism in the air.

A full fifth of respondents tell us they foresee a busy season “much better” than last year’s. And more than a third—36 percent—believe their season will be at least “somewhat better.” Together these optimists make up 56 percent of respondents, more than three times the number who are dreading a tougher slog than last year.

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Granted, that number isn’t as high as 2016’s, when 61% reported improvements over 2015, but 2015 was the infamous annus horribilis, the year of tax prep hell. It wasn’t hard to imagine the next year being better. So 2016 wasn’t so bad, making it surprising that so many see 2017 turning out even better. Three upbeat respondents typify the three main causes of optimism.

“We have added some processes, software, and staff to make things more efficient and take work off of partners’ plates and push it down,” explained a senior partner at a medium-sized firm in South Dakota.


Daniel P. Allen, CPA, head of his small firm in Overland Park, KS, brings up a second common cause of optimism. “There will be less last-minute tax code changes this year,” he says.  “There has not been a significant enough change or event that will confuse taxpayers or tax professionals in the 2017 filing season.”

An anonymous senior partner at a small firm outside of San Francisco tells us, “I am seeing new clients calling in.  Pricing is on track to be competitive, but not too low.  Already see a 10% growth BEFORE tax season even started.”

We are receiving enough similar comments to draw three general conclusions why upbeat CPAs are upbeat:

  • More efficient offices
  • Fewer government, code, and regulation problems
  • More clients, often paying more than before.

Reg Relief but Gummier IRS?

A solo practitioner in northern Ohio bases her “much better” expectations on a combination of these factors.

“We have a grasp on ACA, and clients expect to receive and provide 1095’s,” she says.  “I have increased my fees and feel better about being compensated more appropriately for the service I provide.”

Abd Al-Jawwad Ali Hussein, reporting from Isreal, has everything set up for success. He’s going to have a good year “Because of new business development,” he says. “New technology, new discoveries and inventions, new clients and employees, new expansion, new firms, and branches.”

Other quick quotes:

  • “More business. More enthusiasm.”
  • “Better organized and prepared.”
  • “Fired employee was hard to work with.”
  • “More experience with 1095-b's etc.”
  • “I have more help this year. “
  • “Strong economy and change in political offices”

Size doesn’t seem to matter. Small and very small firms with staffs of one to ten make up most of the most optimistic, and there are several others with up to fifty people. But these numbers are in line with the general membership of CPA Trendlines.

These firms also tend to be those that rate themselves as slightly above average. On a scale of one to ten, almost none rank themselves below a five. Most score themselves a six to eight, with quite a few nines and a single confident ten.

Privacy, identification theft, and security are by far the biggest concerns of these firms. But that holds true across the board, from the most pessimistic on up. Though several expect the new Republican government to bring relief from tax code and regulation, fear of IRS gum-ups are very common.

Will the president’s promises of tax code simplification come to pass? If so, 2017 may just turn out to be a tax prep dream come true.

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