Mergers, tech and the economy create a volatile mix in forecasting filing season.
by Rick Telberg
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Washington gridlock, last-minute tax changes and continuing economic uncertainty are undermining tax professionals' outlook for the 2013 filing season, according to new CPA Trendlines survey results.
The new survey results shed light on:
- The changing mood of the profession and it's leading competitors and decision-makers,
- The effects of mergers and new technologies,
- The chief operational, competitive and economic concerns,
- Expectations for key financial metrics, including revenues, profits and number of clients, and
- The strategies firms are implementing to cope with the issues and opportunities.
- On the Texas Gulf Coast, one CPA, who is buying into an existing practice, is looking forward to a "much better" season. She credits "new cloud-based software" and "more familiarity with firm procedures." With the new systems in place, she expects to "use technology to drive productivity."
- Meanwhile, the CEO of a Top 200 firm based in the industrial heartland expects a "somewhat" better year, based on the fact "We know we have more clients and we are concentrating on delivering our services more efficiently." His main concerns, however, include staffing issues, making plans correctly, and handling new work processes.
- But new software systems and Federal tax changes are combining for many practitioners to create more-than-the-usual heartburn and headaches. One tax pro, explaining his negative outlook, cites: "Our firm is changing software packages" and "late changes by Congress."
About 46% of practitioners are forecasting a "somewhat" to "much" better season this year. At the same time a year ago, 56% were reporting optimism.
Still, 78% of practitioners expect an uptick in revenues, up from 69% a year ago. And, uncertain as the economic outlook remains, 43% now see the economy improving, up from 32% a year ago.
Busy Season Outlook 2013
The top concerns of practitioners as they prepare for filing season are led by worries about late and unprepared clients; followed by tax code changes; late or erroneous K1's; 1009's, etc.; the general economic situation; staffing issues; IRS operations and technology and software problems.
Top Seven Chief Concerns
On the financial metrics, however, practitioners appear relatively positive. Few, if any, are bracing for declines in any category. And most are looking at advances in total revenue, net profit, number of clients, number on extension, revenue per client, and profit per client.
In number on extension, for instance, 38% are forecasting an increase this year, compared to 21% at the same time a year ago, clearly a reaction to the political and economic environment.
The Outlook for Critical Financial Metrics
And, in terms of the effects of the economy, the outlook may be less than cheerful, but more CPAs are more optimistic this year than last year, with 43% projecting improvements, compared with 32% at the same time last year.
In addition, most CPAs see better times ahead for their clients, themselves and their firms.
The Economy's Impact in Key Areas
In off-the-cuff comments, practitioners are clearly focussing on nailing down efficiencies and new workflows -- demonstrating the massive amount of technological change and upgrades in recent years and months.
Here are some typical comments:
- Bill more, keep track of my time better, get returns out the door more quickly, get more sleep. Work at home on Sundays instead of the office.
- More staff training time
- More client communication. Upgrade IT systems. Do more social media.
- merge, hoping for efficiencies
- Streamline processes & narrow my focus in order to create more time with family.
- attempt to sell more services to existing clients
- Collecting more fees up front; asking for higher retainers; requiring proof of abiltiy to pay fees before taking any representation cases
- Cost control and more advertising.
- Push cost increases through to clients, be more aggressive in asking for client referrals, force staff to work harder
- get rid of c and d clients early
- Prepare more during the slow months so busy season is ready to start and so are we.
- Try to be more diligent in making good choices.
- Better staff management
- try to have personal time away from office.
- We have raised staff awareness of the need to be more efficient and profitable on each engagement
- Attempt to work more efficient. Be more selective of new clients. Delegate more.
- Try to stay ahead of the curve.
- As appropriate, discontinue less profitable and more time consumptive clients.
- Even more paperless preparation of tax returns.
- More scanning of paper to reduce the paper in the office.
- Try to be more efficient as we seem to behind entering bussy season
- Taking only larger clients - hopefully minimum fees is low 6 figures
- More emphasis on the changes in 2013 since this will be driving up client's tax liabilities.
- Plan better, execute better and kick ass to make it happen
- Spend less, higher staff at lower levels to push down work and increase leverage
- Increase procedures featuring scanning to lessen paper, printing and copying.
- Try to be more efficient. Have my part time person work more hours.
- Hopefully use my time more wisely - try to be proactive
- Be even more conservative in spending.
- start longer work days earlier / be more direct with delegation and instruction to staff
- "try" to stay focused, get work done when in the door.
- new workflow process, not signing client copies of returns
- Try very hard to be organized and efficient in everything we do.
- Better time budgeting, more emphasis on better staff utilization, more client interaction.
- Try to be more efficient in what we do and the use of our resources
- Work on efficiency by streamlining how we get our data.