6 Steps to Developing an Effective Client Portal Strategy
The Portal Value Proposition
I think it’s fair to say that just about every accounting and tax practice in the country has given consideration to deploying a client portal in recent years. In fact, current estimates are that the number of firms that have a client portal in place is somewhere in the range of 20% to 40%. However, many of those firms are only leveraging the tip of the iceberg of portal technology’s potential, and I’d like to take this opportunity to articulate the depth of portal potential that could be realized.
As you think about the concept of portals, keep two industries in mind: airlines and banks. Think about how your relationship with both of these entities has evolved over the past 15 years. For the overwhelming majority of you, your analysis will remind you of the obvious: The nature of your interaction and exchange of information with these institutions has approached 100% online. I contend that these two industries have achieved three key business objectives with this transformative business model: increased profitability, increased staff productivity and, most importantly, increased quality of customer service. We are on the beginning of a similar evolution in accounting and tax practices, and the benefits will be as significant. The bottom line is that developing and implementing an effective client portal strategy is likely to impact your firm more profoundly over the next 10 years than any other initiative you pursue.
Portal Touch Points
As you develop your long-term portal strategy, think about all the possible opportunities to exchange information with your clients online. Sharing information online is the essence of the portal concept. This allows you to increase the security of client information being exchanged, automate manual tasks involved in exchanging information, provide more innovative client services and ultimately transform the nature of the practitioner/client relationship.
Stages of Portal Development
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your portal be. An effective strategy calls for an evolutionary, not revolutionary, portal deployment. I have outlined a four-stage strategy below.
Stage 1: Document/File Exchange
The initial focus of your portal should be on capturing and disseminating client information online. This helps you transform to a paperless practice model and increases the security of your information exchanges.
Stage 2: Workflow Integration
The second phase of an effective portal evolution is to think about all of your workflows, both client related services and administrative, and think about how the portal can facilitate automating those workflows where they touch your clients. Examples include establishing an online tax organizer, posting client invoices, accepting credit card payments, and publishing engagement status updates for clients. Think about the flight status board at the airport. The potential link between workflow software and your client portal opens up a new frontier in how you relate with your clients.
Stage 3: Aggregation/Single Sign-on
Think about the airline and banking industries again. Consider all of the different online services (portals) that your clients access on a regular basis: bank accounts, brokerage accounts, credit card accounts, insurance policies, tax authorities and more. The opportunity for tax and accounting professionals is to be the “base of operations” for all of your clients’ online activity by allowing your clients to flow to all of these services through your secure portal. The benefit to your clients is the simplification of how they access information online. The benefit to your firm is that the client is walking through your virtual office lobby on a daily basis. That has a lot of potential value. The technology to facilitate this aggregation of online services and access through a single login is readily available today.