Email is comfortable, but not always secure.
By Roman H. Kepczyk
Quantum of Paperless: Technology Guide & Checklist
One of the most critical steps in transitioning a firm to a paperless environment is capturing information in a digital format at its root source as that information enters the firm.
At the base level, this means having clients provide you information in a digital format, which can be done via email, digital fax or through a portal rather than with a physical document. While email is currently the most prevalent tool utilized by clients, it is anticipated the security concerns will help clients transition toward portals.
Email has been the most frequent tool used as most clients are comfortable attaching a spreadsheet or document and sending it to the firm. This method allows the digital file to be easily accessed and saved into the firm’s file storage applications.
“82% of firms request audit documents prepared by clients be delivered in a digital format.” – AAA 2013 Survey
While clients are usually comfortable with sending files to the firm via email, there are often times when the information is confidential. For privacy and confidentiality, firms need to use email passwords, email encryption or a firm-controlled portal. Applications that encrypt email such as Citrix ShareFile and cPaperless SafeSend were the most commonly selected solutions according to the 2020 CPAFMA IT Survey. The cost of a secured connection with a client can be somewhat expensive but can be justified for the overall gains in efficiency and security.
While secured email or a portal would be the preferred delivery solution, some clients will not have adequate internet access and opt to bring in documents (such as their QuickBooks files) on a USB flash drive. Firms should make a concerted effort to discourage client use of thumb drives as they carry the risk of introducing malware into the firm’s network. When personnel do receive physical media, there should be a procedure to thoroughly scan it before loading any files to the network and then return the media to the client immediately, so the firm is not tasked with disposing of the media.
The key to successful adoption of this Quantum Leap is to provide proactive training and reminders to clients on how data should be digitally transferred to the firm. Some firms have begun documenting this information on the firm’s website as well as using remote screen control tools to assist clients. According to the 2020 CPAFMA IT survey, the top three products selected were LogMeIn/Join.me, TeamViewer and GoToMyPC/GoToAssist.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Formalize process to have clients transfer files electronically.