It is one thing to eliminate paper from your accounting firm by using more efficient cloud software, but keeping the model working requires commitment. Not all clients are prepared or able to make changes to their business process to accommodate the paperless accountant.
Some will be able to transition with the accountant’s help. Others will absorb the costs of producing digital documents while running their current paper-based processes, yet others will attempt to push these costs back to the accountant while expecting the fees to remain the same.
From an accounant’s point of view they can either maintain their paperless commitment or develop a complementary paper management system to accommodate clients who require it.
Yes, very few Australian accounting firms are truly paperless. In fact, many have extensive experience is managing hard copy documents but struggle to adopt paperless processes.
How Can You Keep Your Firm Paperless?
Electronic documents have some advantage over hard-copy counterparts. They are simpler to transmit, copy and share, they are easier to search and store, but most importantly digital records can be processed automatically and in bulk.
They do have some disadvantages as digital security is different from physical security and in some cases hard-copy originals may still be required. Paradoxically, time spent scanning and filing documents are often major drawbacks to keeping electronic records.
But how can a paperless practice ensure that it stays paper free? After all, even if the importance of paper is decreasing, a lot of clients still use it and expect their accountant to do the same.
By far the most effective method in keeping a practice paper free is selecting the right clients who are able and willing to work with you electronically. Positioning and marketing yourself as a paperless practice will result in clients who already keep some soft-copy records.
Some of those clients will be exceptionally tech savvy, but others will need help in refining their internal processes. As such the second pillar of a paperless practice is a strong training program or service that will at a minimum teach clients how to automate their back-office processes with applications such as Receipt Bank, Shoeboxed, Invitbox etc.
It is also a good idea to give preference to electronic channels over paper ones, both internally and externally, as it reinforces paperless culture.
How to Convince Your Client to Go Paperless?
As an employee in a paperless practice, I would go an extra step in convincing clients to send us electronic records instead of the paper ones. On the one hand the information we would collect from them electronically would be of better quality as we invested in developing comprehensive online forms to help clients identify what information we need for a particular job.
Their job will also be done quicker, as our internal review procedures do not support paper-based documents. In addition it would be up to me to spend the time to scan the documents and once I was finished I would not have a place to store the paper copies and would have to send the document back to the client. While I am not advocating removing client file rooms, similar principles may be disadvantaging electronic documents in a paper based practice.
In the shorter term, keeping paper records makes absolute sense. If historically client’s records have been maintained on paper, switching costs or ongoing costs for maintaining two separate document management systems (offline and online) can be substantial.
As processing efficiencies of electronic documents increase, switching costs are lowered and the Australian Tax Office continue adapting to the modern way businesses are managed, there will be less and less reasons to stick with paper.