Why Busy Season May Never Be the Same Again

Rachel Wehr: “A shoulder to cry on.”

How many of these new pandemic-related management strategies will become everyday habits?

How accountants are battling the Coronavirus recession
Join the survey. Get the answers.

By CPA Trendlines Research

CPAs and tax practitioners tend to be a pretty sharp bunch. By their nature, they are good at analyzing a situation and figuring out what to do. And not just with numbers.

Case in point: the COVID pandemic. Every firm in the world, from the Big Four in the big cities to the sole practitioners in their garrets and basements, has had to assess the situation and figure out what to do.

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The reports from practitioners across the country are coming in through the Busy Season Barometer, which is serving as a central clearinghouse for sharing experiences and advice. The Barometer would normally be wrapped up by now, but since Busy Season isn’t, neither is the Barometer.

Here are the top seven most common points:

  1. Work at home.
  2. Social distance.
  3. Digital communication.
  4. Clean and sanitize the office often.
  5. Help clients stay in business.
  6. Help with PPP and other programs.
  7. Catch up on CPE.

Remain in Touch

Manuel Villarreal contributes some solid advice: “Try to remain in touch with clients on hand and those coming in. Good daily follow-up on the status of tax prep. Let them know we care, encourage the positive items, and give some guidance on negative results. Remind them that this situation will pass and next year will be better. We just have to prepare now, not wait for next year to just happen.”

A leader at a firm with almost three dozen offices across the nation has gotten very serious, telling us, “Some staff are working part-time or even less because there is no daycare — they are eligible for the Emergency FMLA… Laid off the marketing person because there are no networking meetings to attend… laid off a person I should have laid off months earlier – nonproductive. Fewer people in the office at any one time. We have kept our doors locked. Added a dropbox… should have done years earlier.”

Some firms have been especially client-oriented, checking in on the elderly, making follow-up phone calls, and offering more than the traditional accounting services.

Sole practitioner Rachel Wehr, owner of Lone Wolf Solutions in Lower Macungie, Penn., says she has been “helping clients, did not charge for any PPP applications, guidance with all funding options, unemployment, shoulder to cry on. Offered clients a payment deferment on my agreement if they needed it. The building is locked down, so limiting appointments, but not hiding from this pandemic. We will have to charge for PPP forgiveness applications because they are a nightmare and will be time-consuming.

Others have suggested good, basic counsel, some of it standard, some of it above-and-beyond:

  • “All in-person contacts have been canceled. Incoming data is either dropped off in a secure exterior box. Outgoing returns are either mailed or, if local, delivered to clients.”
  • “More CPE with stay at home thing.”
  • “Installed Thermal cameras.”
  • “Calling, checking in with clients – especially older clients and their families.”
  • “We are Covidizing our office and technology, expecting it will be needed over the next couple of years. We are researching ways to communicate more effectively in virtual meetings, office newsletters, basic courtesy emails, and exchanges.”
  • “Deferring raises, no bonuses, no layoffs.”
  • “Quarantine. Apply for EIDL, PPP, and PUA Help clients apply for EIDL, PPP & PUA.”
  • “Purchased UV-C lamps to clean office at night. Purchase air filters with UV-C light that are filtering the air.”

The urgent adaptations by CPA offices, made smack-dab in the busy season, have been relatively easy, compared with other industries. The nature of the business is conducive to remote work. Most clients don’t need to come into the office, and most offices are small enough to accommodate basic changes in process and structure.