Magazine article The CPA Journal

1997 Tax Tune-Up: Let the Race Begin

Magazine article The CPA Journal

1997 Tax Tune-Up: Let the Race Begin

Article excerpt

There is still time for last minute preparations that can make a world of difference. Diaster planning is one of them.

It's early January and all that can be done to help clients on a transactional basis has been done. The state and local taxes have been paid in December, the decisions abput declaring and paying a year-end bonus have been

Personnel Issues

Before leaving the starting gate, your firm should make sure there is a balance between engagement requirements and overall staff utilization. to accomplish this, the total number of hours needed and the total number of staff available to process all returns within the time constraints of the busy season should be projected. Some factors the firm needs to review to achieve this level of balance are

* engagement size and complexity,

* availability and experience of personnel,

* specialized expertise required, and

* timing of work to be performed.

If current staffing levels are not adequate, the firm must decide quickly how additional full-time personnel or seasonal personnel will be employed. Either way, additional time and training will be needed to bring the new personnel up to speed. Care must be exercised, however, not to staff up for the peak period that may last for only a short time span.

During tax season, communications with and among the staff can have enormous benefit. For example, if workload problems develop (they always do), they can be identified and handled immediately. Also, any technical or software update needs or glitches can be addressed. But most important, it is a way to observe how well the staff is holding up under the increased pressure. Therefore, staff meeting should be held at least weekly and attendance should be mandatory.

Your firm should strongly consider a mid-tax-season sanity break, for all partners and staff, even if it means closing down the office for a day. An impromptu pizza party some Friday or Saturday works wonders on morale and staying power. Such a break will refresh the people in your firm and help them better cope with the remainder of tax season.

Disaster Planning

One area that CPAs tend to overlook is disaster planning. Last winter was particularly snowy in the Northeast, and firms had to cope with personnel unable to get to clients or the office. The fur on the animals says it could happen again this year. Is your firm ready with notification procedures and perhaps alternate work sites? Has your firm set a policy to allow individuals to work at home? If so, and a disaster strikes, at least you will have some computers to do the work. Likewise, if the weather looks bad, you may want to encourage people to work at home. If your firm allows work to be done at home, how does that information get transmitted back to your main system? While recovery from disasters is never easy, a work-at-home or telecommuting policy could pay huge dividends should a disaster happen during the filing season.

The procedures relating to and the capacity of your firm's backup computer system should also be considered. When was the last time someone tried to restore data from the backup system? The time to attempt a restoration is when you don't need it, rather than waiting until the storm shuts down the power for a period of time. A backup photocopying capability should also be in your disaster planning.

Engagement Letters

Engagement letters should be used in all tax work, not just tax preparation. By using engagement letters, the firm formally defines the services to be provided and how the fees for these services will be charged. …

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