Client Collaboration Platforms

Overview

Taxpayers are essential collaborators in the 1040 preparation process. Tax professionals rely on clients' timely delivery of documents, questionnaire responses, clarifying communications, e-signatures, document reviews, and invoice payments. Clients, in turn, expect their part in the process to be easy and convenient, want responsive service, and don't want to juggle multiple channels. Client Collaboration Platforms satisfy the needs of both taxpayers and tax professionals by centralizing all collaborative activities in one digital space.

Client Collaboration Platforms replace the paper organizer and generic online portals, which were limited predecessors that no longer suffice in a modern environment.

Some of the features you might find in a 1040 Client Collaboration Platform include:

Before the digital revolution, firms mailed paper organizers to their clients at the beginning of tax season. These intimidating stacks of paper induced frustration and overwhelm for taxpayers, who frequently procrastinated and returned organizers last minute or incomplete—if at all. Firms wasted money not only on paper, envelopes, and postage, but on the hours of administrative manpower involved in processing the mail and scanning the paper documents. The paper organizer is not sustainable in the digital age, nor sustainable environmentally.

As the internet became more ubiquitous, some firms began to offer "online portals" for document submission. While portals were a notable improvement on the paper organizer back in the early aughts, technology shifts have since made them obsolete. Most online portals required taxpayers to use home equipment to print, sign, and scan documents manually. As society became increasingly paperless, ownership of home scanners and printers declined precipitously. In addition, online portals were generally limited to the exchange of documents and did not provide full-spectrum collaboration tools like messaging, e-signatures, or invoicing. Some online portals persist with slightly expanded functionality, but do not provide the modern experience of a client collaboration platform.

If your firm is still using the paper organizer or an online portal, it's time to evaluate the switch to a client collaboration platform. Here are some key elements to keep in mind:

  • The client experience. How convenient is the platform for your clients? Is it available on any device, including as a native mobile app? Is the user interface simple and easy to navigate? Can document retrieval be automated? Do clients own their own accounts?
     
  • Completeness. Can everything you need from your clients be addressed through the platform? If e-signatures, document gathering, and invoicing happen in three different places, you are creating more inconvenience, not less.
     
  • Security. What encryption and transmission standards does the platform adhere to? Clients will be sending sensitive information through this channel; trust is imperative.
     
  • Integration. Does the platform integrate with your tax software, your scan-and-populate solution, and your document management system? If you need to manually download documents to ferry them from one step to the next, there's a missing link in your 1040 tax automation chain.
     
  • Offline client options. Some clients have never made an email account and never will. Does the platform offer a way to manage these clients so that your process can stay in one place?
     
  • Support. Does the platform vendor have a full-time support department for end users, or do you need to train your own staff to become support agents?
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