It’s important to remember that the portal is most likely the first time in which you are providing clients with direct, self-service access to your electronic information, so you should proceed with caution.
BENEFITS OF PORTALS
I’ve discussed how a portal can be used to exchange information with your clients. This is a good point in the article to articulate the benefits to help you appreciate the value of a portal for your organization.
In my opinion, this is the number one benefit of deploying a portal. Since most electronic information is exchanged via email attachments, you are subject to two key vulnerabilities — sending confidential information to the wrong person and having the message intercepted by an unauthorized third party during transmission. The latter is why we have seen increased regulations prohibiting the transmission of personal data via e-mail., i.e. social security number.
From a practical perspective, sending the email to the wrong person is the much more probable breach of the privacy of the email communication. With a portal, you can significantly reduce the amount of email attachments you send.
We are knee deep into the area of self-service access to electronic information. Since accountants are responsible for some of the most critical and confidential information that businesses and individuals rely on, they cannot afford to ignore the growing trend towards using portals to give clients control and options to access information on their own initiative at anytime, from anywhere.
I firmly believe that deploying an effective portal solution for your clients can have a direct and positive impact on the value of your firm. The reason is that as you establish an “electronic link” to your clients via the portal, it becomes an important supplement to the personal relationships you have with your clients. Your firm’s identity with your client will be strengthened by the fact that whenever they interface with the portal, your firm’s brand and the value of the services you provide them will be continually reinforced. The more you can enhance your client relationships via automation, the more you increase the value of your firm to a potential suitor.
Many firms are beginning to realize that using email as the primary method of exchanging electronic documents and files can be very inefficient. Generating an e-mail to transmit a file requires composing a message and navigating through your network storage to find and attach the file. And you have limited ability to track the access.
Deploying a portal that is directly integrated with your tax, accounting and DMS software can eliminate many of the labor-intensive steps required to exchange information with your clients, particularly if you consider sending printed documents through the postal system. Just stop to think about what’s involved in sending a client a paper copy of their tax return in comparison to posting it to your portal.
A more indirect benefit of deploying a client portal is the impact it has on enhancing your firm’s image in the marketplace. Make no mistake about it; the evolution to a more virtual marketplace for the exchange of business information is going to expand rapidly in the near term. A portal demonstrates that your firm understands the importance of this characteristic of the 21st century business model. That will help you attract young entrepreneurs as clients as well as young staffers entering the profession.
A ROADMAP FOR DEVELOPING YOUR PORTAL STRATEGY
Hopefully, I’ve provided you with a meaningful perspective on the value and role of a client portal for your practice. If you think this is an initiative you want to pursue, the following guidelines will help you develop your portal deployment strategy.
DETERMINE YOUR PORTAL CONTENT REQUIREMENTS
Analyze the nature of information you exchange with your clients to determine where the greatest opportunities exist to share that information via portal technology. Also consider the opportunity that a portal provides to share information with clients that may not be practical under traditional methods.