The CPA firm of the future will likely look much different than how firms have looked for the past several years—and that doesn't have to be a bad thing! If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that a virtual CPA firm is not only possible, but it’s necessary.
And before we dive too deep into the specifics about making the permanent switch to a virtual CPA firm, it’s important to note that preparing to thrive on a virtual level doesn't mean that a firm has to change everything about the way it operates. In fact, lots of firms have successfully taken steps toward innovation using the tools and processes they already have in place.
As a mostly remote automated accounting software provider, we’re discovering that CPAs and other accounting professionals have questions about how to step into the virtual space post-COVID. And we're here to fill you in on the fundamentals of developing a successful virtual firm that can serve clients right now — during periods of uncertainty — and for years to come.
The Benefits of a Virtual Accounting Firm
If you’re an accounting professional who’s been successfully navigating the COVID-19 crisis, you’re already familiar with the benefits of a virtual CPA firm. Simply put, there are myriad reasons why going virtual is the way to set your accounting firm — and your clients — up for success.
Here’s why your clients will love it:
Less paperwork for them (data retention is easier for clients because they can easily access digital copies of their records)
Improved data security
Consistent access to financials
Flexible virtual meetings and other communication methods
Let's face it: today, everyone is busy. People have enough to worry about without needing to pack up for a visit to their accountant (we won’t even go near that rabbit hole of worries!). Going virtual means you’re able to best cater to your clients whenever they need it, especially when in-person interactions are risky.
Why accountants love it:
There are numerous benefits to switching an accounting firm over to a virtual format. Even if only some of your work is performed virtually, you'll still be able to:
Communicate more efficiently: Teams can communicate seamlessly on the web thanks to modern technology; it's easy to work remotely and continue to stay in teams.
Offer your clients more services: You don't have to, but usually when a firm goes virtual, they gain the ability to offer some new services that were constricted by physical limitations before. For example, a CPA who normally has an hour commute to the office now has more time in their day to focus on providing CAS (client advisory services).
Eliminate paper-driven inefficiencies: The virtual way of doing things is simply faster than waiting on paper documents to arrive at your firm’s office. Virtual documents are also harder to misplace — and they’re not prone to getting ruined by coffee spills!
The CPA Firm of the Future: 3 Steps to Developing A Successful Virtual Firm
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are successful accounting firms or businesses. But transitioning to a virtual operation doesn’t take as long as you think — as long as you’re committed, patient, and embrace realistic expectations.
1. Build Your Infrastructure
A virtual firm is built on smart technology, effective communication, and an ability to roll with the changes that come with an evolving firm.
As with any transformative process, there are some key factors to consider, including what technology your firm should adopt for client onboarding, collaboration, secure file review and approval, and more. Here are some specific areas to pay attention to:
Hardware: We’re talking about setting your remote office up with efficiency in mind. Larger monitors have the potential to act as several monitors in one, tablets can help with immersive and mobile work, and many tools and software are accessible via mobile device for on-the-go availability.
Secure connectivity: Your team needs to have home office security, speed, and coverage. You can do your research to find out which exact solution works best for you, but it’s important to make sure everyone has reliable primary and backup internet connections — complete with adequate protection measures.
Operations solutions: This is where tools like automation come into play. Operations solutions help you deliver world-class service...things like automated tax prep and cloud-based bookkeeping services are just a couple examples of these. But you also must consider logistical things like video conferencing software (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.), document organization (SmartVault, TaxCaddy, etc.), and phone forwarding (Grasshopper, RingCentral, etc.). There are plenty of other options to consider, as well, including tools for maintaining world-class security (LastPass, Google Authenticator, etc.).
2. Automate the Back Office
There's a lot of back-office work that goes into running a successful accounting firm.
Transitioning to a virtual environment may take some time, but you don’t have to have every aspect in its ideal state before you begin. And there’s a bonus, too: re-evaluating your processes while transitioning to a virtual CPA firm means you can finally improve outdated, inefficient processes that have been bogging you down for so long.
For example, billing is a traditionally clunky process, but now you can leverage automation to digitize your back office and make billing effortless. Automation also allows you to:
Integrate smart apps and automation-capable systems so they can work together and improve productivity even more.
Streamline the ways these components work together in order to form one cohesive system. Stop wasting time with disparate systems and bring all of your tools and systems together into a single unique view with a cloud-based dashboard.
Automate the work that you already do manually: expenses, payroll, invoicing, etc.
Another bonus that comes with automation: it will nudge your team along in the transition to an AI-driven firm, leading to increased efficiencies and opportunities for further differentiation that you can rely on post-pandemic.
When you take the plunge into automation, it's important to work with your team to make it a reality. Ask them what apps and capabilities they already use and love. Are there any that don't help at all? Are some doing more harm than they're worth? Once you’ve collected such insights, it's easy to draw conclusions and begin making changes from there.
3. Start Leveraging Seamless Communication
Going virtual means your communication goes virtual, too—and that sometimes requires a bit more thought than you’re used to in the office.
For example, you’re going to rely more heavily on messaging applications to keep up with all that’s going on in real-time, and email will become more important, too. Rather than poking your head in at the front desk to check for a signed contract you’ve been waiting on, you’ll go to your email inbox — and then follow up with your colleagues on Slack to see if there’s any reason to expect a delay.
Fortunately, there's an endless list of apps and tools designed to help coworkers come together in virtual spaces (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Trello, etc.), and some of them can even help with maintaining company culture. At Botkeeper, we even have a communication channel devoted to fitness initiatives to help our remote team inspire each other to get moving!
Again, you don’t need to have every single detail figured out in order to begin the transition to a virtual accounting firm. In fact, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, many businesses — accounting firms included — had to scramble to figure out how to make this transition happen overnight. There’s no perfect roadmap for creating your own virtual firm of the future, but fortunately there are plenty of resources to help make your transition easier.
Let Automation Serve as a Catalyst for Your Firm’s Transition & Growth
If you're interested in developing a virtual strategy for your accounting firm, consider automation as a cornerstone of your process.
Don’t know where to start? No problem! Automation specialists like our Botkeeper team of experts are ready to answer your questions and help you navigate this transition like a seasoned pro.
We can’t stress enough how automated bookkeeping can make or break a business. And we’d love to help you see firsthand how human-augmented bookkeeping can benefit your firm and your clients.
Click below to get your custom assessment on the calendar and take the first steps toward creating your virtual firm of the future!