Posted by Kim Christman on Thursday, May 15, 2014 - 00:00
Now that tax season is over, tax professionals all over the country can take a few steps back to assess the successes and hurdles of the last few months. Robert Half Finance & Accounting recently sat down with Peter Tiffany, a CPA and managing partner at the firm of Bradshaw, Gordon & Clinkscales in Greenville, S.C., to get his insight on the highs and lows of the 2014 tax season.
Bradshaw, Gordon & Clinkscales is one of the largest accounting firms in the Upstate of South Carolina, offering a full range of accounting services. The firm serves primarily small and midsize businesses as well as individuals. As a managing partner at BGC, Tiffany consults with clients daily, prepares individual, entity and trust tax returns, and handles other day-to-day operations at the firm.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length:
Q: What was tax season like this year?
A: For us, it started slower than it normally does. Many of our clients brought in their information later in the season, a trend we’ve seen over the past several years. Obviously, this put us in a crunch as April 14 approached. In retrospect, we had a successful season, but we’ll need to address scheduling as we prepare for next year.
Q: What went smoothly?
A: At Bradshaw, Gordon & Clinkscales, we use an in-house software system to track client information when it comes in, where returns are in the production process and what information is still needed. We refined that system this year. Our staff chugged along and really bought into the concept of teamwork, which also helped make the season run smoothly.
Q: What didn’t go smoothly?
A: The late start to the season and clients’ delay in getting information to us resulted in extra pressure this year. We attribute much of the delay to our clients receiving their 1099 forms later and later each year. Financial advisors and brokerage houses have more requirements than they previously did to ensure the accuracy of 1099 forms. They’re taking extra time and precautions to complete those forms correctly so they can avoid having to resend corrected versions.
Q: What would you do differently next year as a result?
A: Our goals for next tax season include adjusting our staff’s expectations with regard to hours worked. We’d like to shift toward working more hours at the end of tax season rather than the beginning to help ease the stress of later returns. In the past, we’ve taken more of a traditional approach to employee hours, where employees have been expected to work extended hours throughout the entire tax season.
As we formulate plans for next year, though, we want to adjust schedules to compensate for the increased workload near the end of the tax season. We’ll also encourage clients who don’t have complex returns to get their information to us much earlier.
Lastly, I anticipate filing more extensions than we have in years past to help mitigate some of the late-season push. We’ll use announcements in newsletters, social media and other means to educate our clients about these topics.
Q: Do you typically encourage clients to file extensions if their information is turned in later in the tax season?
A: Although we did more extensions this year than in years past, encouraging extensions is always tricky. Some partners are more likely to file extensions than others, and some don’t like setting hard deadlines for their clients.
Many of our clients simply are not accustomed to being extended. It can be difficult to re-educate them, as some individuals attach a stigma to extending. In many cases, you can remedy that by making clients aware of the advantages: Filing an extension allows the accountant to focus on the return after the tax season crunch, when he’s rested and able to devote his full attention. Again, I see the future pointing toward more extensions simply to ease the burden on tax professionals.
Q: What organizational tricks do you use during tax season to keep track of all your clients’ needs?
A: In addition to keeping the tracking system updated, I try to stay organized and up to date on all the email I receive. These days, clients send everything via email — I get dozens of email messages every day, and it’s easy to get behind. At the end of the day, I make sure to look at each email, download the appropriate files, address the ones requiring a response and update the client’s profile in our tracking system with any key information I received.
Q: How do you keep accounting employees motivated during tax season?
A: Our firm offers a lot of small incentives — bringing in lunches on Saturdays and breakfast or extra treats during the week — and a committee sets up monthly gatherings to keep the social aspect of our company alive. We also do office NCAA brackets, Super Bowl contests and other fun activities so employees can keep track of something other than tax returns.
Q: How does your firm recognize employees’ outstanding performance during tax season?
A: We typically give out gift cards to outstanding players based on hours worked and numbers produced. We also have a bonus system in place to recognize employees who go above and beyond.
Q: What do you do to relax after tax season?
A: [Laughs] I sleep a lot! But once I’ve caught up on rest, I’m like a bear coming out of hibernation and try to spend as much time as I can with my kids. I’ll also start playing the guitar again.
Every tax season is different, and tax executives and firms who spend time after the season to reflect will better position themselves for the next year. As you and your firm celebrate the end of another tax season, don’t forget to plan ahead.
What do you do to prepare for a successful tax season? Let us know in the comments.