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Accountants See ‘Going Virtual’ Is Here to Stay

December 2nd, 2020

What CPA Lawrence Pon misses most are the hugs he got from clients at face-to-face meetings.

“I never realized I got that many hugs until I didn’t get them,” Pon told Accounting Today.

Because of the COVID safety restrictions, he doesn’t expect to get any for the rest of this year and probably not until after tax season, if even then.

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“We might be planning next tax season like we did when the governor locked us down: no face-to-face meetings, send us your information ahead of time and we’ll schedule a telephone appointment,” said Pon, whose firm is in California’s Redwood Season.

Going entirely or almost completely virtual has become the norm at accounting firms nationwide. To what extent that continues into the future, even if just through April, is a question accounting professionals are puzzling about.

“I fear that many tax professionals with separate offices, employees and person-to-person client contact have more difficult decisions to make,” enrolled agent Phyllis Jo Kubey said.

In interviews with Accounting Today firm owners and partners that have conducted at least some of their business virtually before the pandemic said more clients than ever have chosen to forego face-to-face meetings. “We’ve had no problems,” said Terri Ryman of Southwest Tax & Accounting, whose clients have long been able to choose to do business remotely.

Bruce Primeau, CPA and president of Summit Wealth Advocates, said all but one of his eight member staff have operated from home for a decade. Much of their direct client contact has been done remotely, though they did conduct in-person meetings. Now, he said, the firm is looking to limiting clients to one virtual meeting and one face-to-face meeting a year.

“The virtual meetings save a lot of travel time and entertainment costs for us,” he said.

If there’s any silver lining for accountants it's that, as the Accounting Today article observes, “long-resistant clients may have to finally adapt to paperless practices such as e-signatures, screen-sharing and portals.”

Summarizing the challenge, Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor, observed, “Technology is there, but it’s also an attitude adjustment on the part of everyone.”

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