The countdown has started for accountants across the country towards the important 31 January deadline for online filing of personal tax returns. Phill Robinson, CEO of IRIS Software, offers some pointers on how to bring the annual busy season to a successful and profitable conclusion.

Get a head start

In our experience, having a definitive, up-to-date list of clients needing a tax return is the bedrock of a smooth busy season. If your accountancy software ‘captures’ new clients as you take them on, you can be sure all your clients are registered. If your software is truly integrated, it will simplify the task of updating clients’ contact details: make a change once and it will be incorporated wherever the data appears. This is a great time-saver.

Check, too, that your accountancy software is completely up to date. Your software provider should ensure the solution keeps pace with changing statutory requirements, through regular and automatic updates during the year. If this service is not provided, don’t leave it to the last minute to install – and test – updates.

Next, review your resources. Practice management software will help you to analyse staff expertise and availability to allocate resources appropriately. There’s no need to panic if this review reveals skills gaps. It’s not too late to consider delegating some work to a reliable partner as a risk-free way to access additional resources without adding to your headcount or incurring the responsibilities of an employer.

Plan for the worst

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The busy season could hardly occur at a worse time weather-wise. It doesn’t take much to bring the UK’s transport networks to a grinding halt. Do your IT systems allow your staff to work remotely if they are snow-bound and can’t reach the office?

Accountancy software, client data and Microsoft Office applications can be hosted and maintained in a highly secure data centre. This solution dramatically improves business resilience, providing access to data from any location with an internet connection. Furthermore, practice time previously spent on backups, updates and fire-fighting IT issues is freed for client care.

Winter is the prime season for illness, too. Can other members of the team pick up a sick colleague’s workload and confidently answer client queries? An electronic document management system, with centralised storage and updating of all client documents, will make this much easier.

Keep the momentum going

Once you’re in the thick of the busy season, your practice software should act as a centralised hub for storing and sharing all your client data, with easy tracking of all communications and full visibility of workloads and progress on clients’ returns. It should also support you in setting up job profiles to establish the stages that client work needs to proceed through, so that you can allocate responsibility for each stage.

With automated workflow, the completion of one task will trigger the next stage. Meanwhile, being able to spot any bottlenecks at a glance will enable you to react swiftly to emerging problems and quickly reallocate resources.

Train your clients

Don’t let your clients thwart your best efforts to keep the work moving along! Being able to automate correspondence will help you to ‘nudge’ clients, without adding to the administrative burden.

Consider, too, how to improve collaboration with your clients. Our online bookkeeping solution gives accountants and clients shared real-time visibility of the client’s current financial position throughout the year. The solution creates a steady flow of information that lessens the pressure when HMRC deadlines loom.

At IRIS we have started offering our clients a new cloud-based solution that lets them securely exchange documents with clients, without the risks and delays inherent in emailing or posting documents. Clients can electronically approve documents such as tax returns, mandatory accounts or an accountant’s engagement letter in a way that meets legal requirements and the standard sets by HMRC and Companies House.

This solution – IRIS OpenSpace – is available to all accountancy practices in the UK, irrespective of the accountancy software used.

Finally, you can reasonably expect your accountancy software provider to offer increased support during the busy season. At IRIS, despite taking 23,568 calls for support last January, the average speed of answer was just 70 seconds. That’s because we start preparing in summer, planning the additional help lines, trained staff and extended opening hours that will support our customers through this critical period.