Lessons from a pandemic

The current pandemic has provided our Redlands CPA firm with its biggest challenges and biggest opportunities in our 31-year history. Let me give you a brief glimpse inside.

Keeping our team safe

Our priority was and continues to be how to keep our team members safe. We are fortunate our workspace was conducive to allow our team members to continue to work safely at our office initially wearing masks and loosening and tightening that requirement as the pandemic went through waves of intensity. When needed our staff worked remotely from home. Truth is we like being together and find it is easier to walk down to hall to discuss work than to do the same thing remotely.

The challenge was keeping our valuable team members healthy while keeping the flow of work moving as best as we could. The opportunity comes in finding new ways to work including now having hired an accounting manager who works remotely for us.

Tax law changes on the fly

Ever started a card game and board game and find out the rules have changed while you are playing? Welcome to our world! Tax and employment laws that provided COVID relief for individuals, businesses and employers were introduced while we were in tax season 2020. Those changes required gaining an immediate education at our busiest time of year. We created COVID financial toolkits to send to our clients and provided updates when the rules changed again.

The American Institute of CPAs and other groups lobbied for a delay in the April 15 filing deadline. The deadline for filing 2019 tax returns was extended to July 15 and then the following year the deadline for filing 2020 tax returns was extended to May 17. Truth is that we were not happy with the change in deadlines. Think of sprinters in a 100-yard dash giving their all and then the finish line gets moved 50 yards out during the race.

The challenge was managing the time needed to meet and exceed client expectations by completing their tax returns while gaining an understanding of how new tax laws might impact those tax returns. The opportunity comes in successfully providing the best information you can to appreciative clients and strengthening your bond with them both personally and professionally.

Working with our clients

We cancelled in-person appointments after the California stay at home order was issued in March. We like many people and businesses learned new tools and made use of Zoom and more via phone to continue working and meeting client needs and deadlines. When it was safe to do so we opened allowing in-person meetings. What we found is that most clients preferred to come in rather than meet on Zoom or talk on the phone. There are some clients who like the technology when they can save a commute for a meeting. Several clients avoided having to find a babysitter using Zoom. As we look at our 2022 tax season schedule, we see some clients now prefer using the new technology and we have learned how to use the new technology effectively for them.

The needs for clients certainly changed during the pandemic. Along with tax planning with the new tax law changes, several of our business clients required help with Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan and forgiveness applications, EIDL SBA grant and loans and new payroll tax credits. Individual clients had many questions on unemployment claims. In 2020 the tax return work often took a back seat to these more pressing and important needs for our clients.

What we learned

When we moved to our new office in 2015, we changed our business name tagline from “Financial Services” to “Financial Solutions”. This subtle change clarified that our mission is to find solutions and not just offer services. Our mission came to the forefront at the beginning of the pandemic when our clients reached out to us for more immediate needs to help them navigate the new programs to help them secure their business and personal finances. Our success with helping our clients with those needs have strengthened our working relationships and friendships with our clients.

As challenging as it was (and continues to be) managing a CPA firm during the pandemic, the last several months have allowed us an opportunity to take a step back and review how to improve our business. New uses of technology have been on the forefront of that review. We now give options to our clients to book appointments online directly on our calendars. Individual clients can now complete their tax preparation information for us online. More clients are using online accounting systems and our accounting reporting process is transitioning to a more seamless online process.

Even with these new technologies personal service we have provided since our start in 1990 does not go away. Clients can and always will be able to call our office and get a live person answer the phone. Clients can still meet with us in person and get their tax return or financial statements in a paper package. Technology has provided options and not requirements for clients. We continue to strive as always to make clients Life Less Taxing…especially during a pandemic.