For years, the trend in firms has been to be “paperless.” In most cases, paperless doesn’t mean paper-free. It simply means less paper. Clients still deliver piles of documents, and desks are still buried in stacks of paperwork, but firms have realized significant benefits from scanning workpapers: they got rid of their storage rooms full of physical files and overflowing file cabinets. Now it’s time to take paperless a step further and go truly digital.
When firms were forced to work remotely in March of this year, the pandemic exposed the places where “paperless” processes were just “less paper.” Many firms were still sending employees into the office to open mail, scan documents, send invoices and deposit checks. Some firms even had their lobbies set up with chutes, allowing clients to come in from one direction and leave via another to drop off and pick up documents during the busy season.
Clearly, paperless doesn’t mean seamless – especially amid a pandemic. And firms are missing out on the advantages of completely digital processes, including:
- Data that is easier to search, retrieve and assemble
- Processes that are more straightforward to implement
- More cost-effective processes
- Increased productivity
- Better security
- Improved client experience
- More effective remote work
Implementing digital processes
Implementing truly digital processes will look different for every firm, and it won’t happen overnight. However, it begins by thinking about ways to digitize your “paper-less” processes – especially on the front and back end. For example, if your clients are printing out bank and brokerage statements, only to have them scanned in at your firm, look for ways to access those digitally in the first place.
Digital processes don’t just apply to compliance services. Your firm can benefit from digitizing billing, collecting payments, and other administrative and operational functions as well.
Getting clients onboard
For your firm to be truly digital, your clients need to become digital as well. This is where many firms give up. Even those that embrace digital processes internally sometimes claim their clients can’t or won’t send and receive documents electronically. However, the pandemic has shown us that they can.
Many clients that previously resisted technology have been willing and able to try electronic options this year. For those clients who are still resistant, it’s time to ask whether they are the right clients for your firm. Clients who are truly unwilling to adopt technology or electronically sign documents are putting your firm in jeopardy. As long as your firm depends on inefficient, paper-based processes, you won’t be able to truly adopt the technology that will carry your firm into the future. Clients that put your firm at risk may not be the right clients for the firm.
Give digital a (second) chance
Another argument we sometimes hear against implementing digital processes is that the firm tried them in the past, and it didn’t work out. Yet a lot has changed in technology in the past few years. You can’t base your feelings about tech on experiences you had three years ago. At that time, the tech may not have been fully developed or you may not have had proper training and execution. Now is a great time to try again.
There is no one perfect solution to digital processes, but don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Start looking for ways your firm can transform for the future while improving the present. What technology do you need? How do your processes need to change? Ultimately, making progress in this area will allow your firm to grow.
As a director for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry-wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.
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