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One Tool Your Clients Need (Even If They Don’t Know It)

By Brian O’Connell

If you surveyed your clients on what they want from their accountant, they might answer with broad concepts like “availability,” “affordability,” and “quality.”

Would they say want software that allows for the secure and near-instantaneous exchange of documents with their accounting firm? Probably not.

But whether or not they know it, this software is just what your clients need. In fact, it allows their accountant to provide those broad values of availability, affordability, and even quality.

What is this software? It’s called the Client Portal.

What Is a Client Portal?

A Client Portal – also called a Secure File Exchange – is software set up by accountants (and other financial professionals) often in conjunction with their CPA website. It acts like a safe-deposit box, only this one is nestled safely in the “cloud.”

Here’s how it works: through the accountant’s website, clients log in to their Portal and upload their tax worksheet, QuickBooks files, Excel spreadsheets, or any other financial file. The accountant then logs in and retrieves those documents, and then places completed work for the client to pick up.

As simple as it sounds, the Client Portal can have a dramatic impact on an accountant’s efficiency. Perhaps even more important, it helps the client – that is, it adds value to the client-accountant relationship – in several key ways.

A Much-Needed Alternative to Email

Many accountants share files with their clients by email. The problem is, email is simply not secure. It travels through a variety of servers along the way to its destination, and in any of those spots, it can be compromised.

In fact, using email to exchange financial documents is a violation to state and federal privacy laws, including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999.

Furthermore, email was not designed to handle large files – as anyone who’s tried to download a file bigger than a couple megabytes knows. As a result, it can be extremely frustrating for your client to receive files by email.

Values to the client: keep their data secure; streamline workflow

Fast Turnaround

Other common methods of exchanging files is to use a courier service, client pick-up, or even snail mail. Can you guess why it’s time to phase out these options?

Exactly: They’re just too slow. What can take days by mail takes a mere minutes when using the Client Portal.

And don’t even bother trying to compare client pick-up with the Portal. Which would your client rather do: take time out from their busy day to drive over to your office, during business hours, to pick up some papers – or log on to your website and download those same documents whenever it’s convenient for them, day or night?

The client doesn’t even need to be at home to access the Portal. He or she can log on wherever there’s an Internet connection. So even if your client is on vacation, you can do business together.

Value to the client: serve clients on THEIR schedule

Online Backup

A Client Portal makes it possible to offer online backup to your client. This is a huge benefit from the client’s perspective, because it means they can stop worrying about flood or fire ruining their records. To folks in “tornado alley” or those on the coast during hurricane season, this is a big deal.

Through the Client Portal, your clients can keep backups of all their financial documents. (You can charge a nominal fee for the service, too, giving your bottom line a little boost.)

Value to the client: peace of mind

No Time Like the Present

As this year’s tax season approaches, consider adding a Client Portal to your firm’s offerings. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.

With a Client Portal in place, you can deliver availability (clients can access their files whenever they want), affordability (if you get a reasonably priced Portal, there’s no need to pass on extra fees), and quality (online backup alone is an enormous benefit).

If you’re looking to increase value and deliver what your clients think they want, a Client Portal is an excellent way to do it.

Brian O’Connell is Founder and President of CPA Site Solutions, a niche web design firm providing CPA websites for accountants, SEO, PPC, and other marketing services to small and mid-sized CPA and accounting firms, bookkeepers, and tax preparers.