Consumer technologies such as the iPad and iPhone are driving the use of electronic signatures using tools like DocuSign and Adobe EchoSign. This has been happening for quite some time in other industries such as real estate but is just now starting to gain traction in the accounting profession.
Today, firms are using electronic signatures in the engagement letter process with clients and internal workflow documents. Other firms have used them to get their partner agreements signed in multi-office situations where they were previously mailing paper documents around. In doing so they are recognizing significant efficiency gains. However, the real opportunity for CPA firms lies with IRS Form 8879.
Significant time and resources are spent every tax season managing the process of gathering client signatures on Form 8879. It seems counter-productive to me that in order for a taxpayer to electronic file, the IRS requires them to physically sign the form and won’t accept electronic signatures.
Isn’t the goal to become paperless? What has been created is a document and workflow management challenge with which a lot of firms are struggling. Throw in the IRS stopping by for an occasional audit to make sure they are retaining the forms for the required 3 year period and firms are starting to grumble.
I imagine there will be significant pressure on the IRS to accept electronic signatures on 8879 over the next year and if they agree, life will become much easier for firms around April 15th.