From the April 2021 issue.
Some say the Covid pandemic changed everything. Others say, it just rapidly pushed technology adoption to move faster. In either case, technology has played an important role in the evolution of the accounting and tax profession, and remote technologies were critical over the past year, as virtually all firms moved to remote work environments that centered around digital collaboration with no direct client contact.
While most accounting firms had already at least partially adopted systems that would enable this new work model, many had to design an effective workflow model to ensure productivity and client support. At the same time, accounting firms were often the first line of support for clients who were trying to build their own pandemic business models, implementing technologies, and learning to work with limited contact with their customers. It has been a challenge. But because accounting professionals truly are tech savvy, they were able to meet this challenge and help their clients succeed, and also make their firms stronger and more resilient.
Now in their 17th year, the CPA Practice Advisor Readers’ Choice Awards are a way for our readers to spotlight the technologies they most rely on and trust to manage their firms, provide client services, and help those clients run their businesses. From online tax and accounting systems, practice management, document automation and workflow tools, to apps for collaboration, mobile productivity and research. And, of course, office hardware.
The awards also let professionals see the technologies and workflow systems their peers are using, which can help them stay competitive and build stronger firms. We thank the thousands of professionals that participated in voting this year. And now, the results are in:
Federal/State Income Tax Preparation
Insight: The most voted on category in the awards each year, nearly all respondents report using a professional tax system. Drake Software’s customers always turn out in high numbers to vote, resulting in another win this year, and showing the loyalty these customers have for this company’s tax and tax practice management software.
WINNER: Drake Tax Software (37%)
Tax Planning Systems
Insight: Major tax law changes are now an annual occurrence, with makes tax planning a challenge, and makes having a good tax planning system critical. With the major changes in the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act, both for individuals with for businesses (PPP), planning for 2021 and beyond will take exceptional skill. Tax planning also offers a great chance for an additional engagement with your clients, helping to create hypothetical situations based on current and projected tax law, phase-ins and outs, and life event changes such as variations in income, college and other family matters. The result can be proactive tax savings.
WINNER: Drake Tax Planner (39.7%)
Specialty Systems & Tax Prep Tools
Insight: Sometimes even the most comprehensive tax prep system doesn’t quite have everything you need for uncommon returns or your practice’s workflow process. We call these tools that fill in the gaps or help amp your firm productivty, “specialty systems.”
WINNER: QuickBooks Self-Employed (26.7%)
Tax & Accounting Research Systems
Insight: To reiterate: major tax law changes every year, ugh, making tax research more important than ever. Even if the tax law stayed the same for several years, there would be a need for tax research, since nobody can know everything, and periodically you will have a situation that you hadven’t addressed before, or in years. A comprehensive research system should include primary source material such as the federal tax code and state tax laws, as well as tax court rulings and expert analysis of these materials. Some of the available tax research systems integrate with tax preparation programs, while others are used separately and can be used alongside any system.
WINNER: TheTaxBook – Tax Materials Inc. (60.1%)
Tax Document Automation
Insight: Do more with less, by automating some of the data entry. When the source documents are scanned, the systems identify the data and automatically populate client returns with it. Many of these systems also prepare digital workpapers.
WINNER: Intuit Tax Import for Lacerte & ProSeries (29.3%)
Sales & Use Tax Preparation
Insight: – Sales taxes can be quite simple for very small businesses, with one or two short online forms to fill out per quarter. But for growing business with an online presense, it has always been a challenge to keep up with so many jurisdictions. Wayfair was supposed to make things easier, but in just a few years, it has become the same albatross sales taxes were before it. Fortunately for the businesses with more complex sales tax needs, many systems now automate much of the compliance and reporting processes, including applying the correct sales tax rate, filing and payments. Most voters in this category (20.2%) said they use state tax agency websites or use the sales tax functions built into accounting systems (34.6%). However, among the votes for specific sales tax software, the results were:
WINNER: CFS Tax Software (19.7%)
Sales & Use Tax Exemption Certificate Management
Insight: The number one sales tax audit risk (after non-compliance) is exemption certificates. Businesses who occasionally or routinely make sales to purchasers who are exempted from sales taxes must maintain a record of these exemption certificates. Although most firms in our survey did not express a preference or personal use with these products, those who did voted as follows:
WINNER: Thomson Reuters ONESOURCE (35.7%)
Accounting Write-Up Systems
Insight: The cloud has dramatically changed write-up, but the basics are still the same: ensuring a business’ bookkeeping is accurate. Since small businesses are frequently victims of internal fraud (or bad bookkeeping), their books still need periodic review and reconciliation by a professional.
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Accountant (54.6%)
Audit Engagement Tools
Insight: With the cloud and other remote technologies, including helpful automation tools, audit engagements no longer take weeks or months to conduct.
WINNER: Wolters Kluwer CCH ProSystem fx Systems and ARM (18.5%)
Insight: Business valuations are often necessary during business ownership transfers, divorce litigation and family wealth planning. Although a small niche, about 10% of our voters had a preference in this category.
WINNER: ValuAdder (27.7%)
Fixed Asset Management
Insight: Fixed asset management straddles the line between being an accounting or a tax function. Tracking and maintaining the location and condition of assets is one part, and properly depreciating them using appropriate treatments is the other. As states get more aggressive on tax collections, property tax assessors will likely become more vigilant as well, so strong asset management is a must-have.
WINNER: Thomson Reuters Fixed Assets CS (26.9%)
Insight: Payroll is a huge category, and we don’t even include every possible option on the market. These systems have gotten so “smart” over the past decade, making payroll services a respected revenue channel for many firms, who are able to process dozens or hundreds of payrolls each month with systems that automate most of the tasks.
WINNER: QuickBooks Payroll – by Intuit* (29.3%)
* QuickBooks Payroll – by Intuit includes QuickBooks Online Self Service Payroll, QuickBooks Online Full Service Payroll, QuickBooks Desktop Enhanced Payroll, and QuickBooks Desktop Assisted Payroll.
Insight: Most systems designed to prepare forms W-2 and 1099 for multiple clients also automatically file them, and help eliminate much of the work required to process hundreds or thousands of forms.
WINNER: Drake Accounting (15.4%)
Time & Billing
Insight: Time and billing management systems do so much more than the name implies, also offering advanced project tracking and reporting that can help determine productivity, profitability of segments of the firm, and identifying roadblocks.
WINNER: TSheets by QuickBooks (26.2%)
Insight: We define practice management as those with more extensive functions for managing firm productivity and workflow management, automation of tasks, and record maintenance.This year’s winner, Financial Cents, is a relative new-comer, but has wowed the firms using its system enough that they voted it into first place.
WINNER: Financial Cents (40%)
Online Invoicing/Bill Payment Solutions
Insight: Stand-alone invoicing tools can help firms with AR, while bill payment systems can help streamline AP.
WINNER: Intuit Payments (37.5%)
Insight: Sending client invoices by email is a big no-no. It is not secure and can lead to fines for the firm for breaching privacy and data protection laws. But client portals are a safe and efficient way to give clients access to not only their invoices, but also virtually any of the files you want to share with them, including returns, financials and other documents. They also make it easier for clients to submit documents to the firm.
WINNER: Drake Software SecureFilePro.com (25.9%)
Document Management & Document Storage
Insight: There is a wide range of systems in this category, ranging from basic file folders, to advanced programs that include client collaboration tools, automatic archiving, retention functions and multi-worker productivity features.
WINNER: Drake Document Manager (32%)
Other Document Management Tools
Insight: Document management also requires special tools that sometimes work with the scanner or work with the document management system directly for functions including OCR.
WINNER: Fujitsu (39.7%)
Comprehensive Firm Workflow Systems
Insight: This category is divided into two groups: Comprehensive Workflow, and Other Workflow Tools, which are designed for aiding in specific tasks and engagements and for smaller firms. Financial Cents also took first in this category, providing firm workflow management tools that optimize firm profitabitilty.
WINNER: Financial Cents (54%)
Other Workflow Tools:
WINNER: GruntWorx (16.6%)
Website Builders & Services for Accounting Firms
Insight: Yes, you still need a website. No, a Facebook page is not adequate. These systems make it easy and affordable to create a firm website and keep it up-to-date.
WINNER: GetNetSet (16%)
Favorite CPE Provider
Insight: Whether keeping up on the latest change in tax, A&A, firm management or technology, earning CPE credit is mandatory for CPAs.
WINNER: CPAAcademy (15.9%)
How Do You Prefer to Earn CPE?
Insight: While live online classes are clearly the ongoing trend, some professionals miss interaction with their peers and want in-person CPE events. Fortunately, there are many ways to earn CPE.
WINNER: Live Online Classes/Webcasts (40.1%)
Which Conferences Do You Attend?
Insight: Remember conferences? While most were canceled or went digital in 2020, it looks like technology companies are tentatively scheduling their events to take place in person again starting later in 2021. Professionals frequently attend conferences to learn of new tax and accounting laws and trends, firm management issues and technologies. A lot of state society shows were listed in the “other” category. Many respondents chose more than one event.
WINNER: QuickBooks Connect (16.5%)
SMALL BUSINESS ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS
Insight: There are several sub-categories in this group: Below are the top vote-getters in each category.
Small Business Accounting – Installed Programs
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Desktop (73.5%)
Online Small Business Accounting
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Online/Online Accountant (69.6%)
Expense and Travel Management Solution
Insight: Even though travel was way down in 2020, other operating expenses didn’t change much, and they still need tracking for accounting and tax purposes.
WINNER: Expensify (22.4%)
Retail Accounting/Point-of-Sale Systems
WINNER: Square (31.8%)
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Premier Nonprofit (51.9%)
WINNER: Right Networks (28.1%)
Outsourced Technology Services
Insight: These companies offer a variety of hosting and outsourced business process services. Of the votes for the solutions listed, the results were:
WINNER: Right Networks (29.6%)
Insight: Printers are needed even in the “paperless” office.
Favorite Form of Physical Exercise During Tax Season
WINNER: “Who has time to exercise?” (32.1%)
How Remote Are You?
How “remote” are you? How many hours per week do you work on client engagements or firm business while away from the office (at a client, at home or anywhere else)?
How “social” are you? Which social media tools do you use in conjunction with your work?
About half of our voters said they don’t use any social media tools for business purposes. Of those who do, the breakdown is as follows (multiple responses were allowed), so totals equal more than 100%:
Thank you to the more than 4,700 tax and accounting professionals who participated in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
This content was originally published here.