At Farpointe, we live at the crossroads of tax and wealth planning. Marrying tax and wealth planning is not easy but is a great way to grow a practice and provides a superior experience for clients every step of the way from identifying goals to delivering and implementing the plan. When working with advisors in this space we help them work better, serve more clients, enhance their client experience and have more fun.
More advisors are trying to offer integrated financial and tax planning but as we noted in an article last year few do both well. The main reason is that tax planning and financial planning each require significant skill and years of practice to develop expertise. Another reason is that tax season consumes the lion’s share of the advisor’s capacity for several busy and stressful months, with lesser but meaningful ripple effects throughout the year. Most advisors who offer both disciplines have not developed scalable and repeatable processes for either their tax or wealth practice standing alone, much less for the seamless integration of the two.
To ensure that your firm is prepared for the peak workload of tax season, you need to have a disciplined process that changes over time as your practice evolves. Here are five steps to take to ensure that your firm runs efficiently and effectively during this busy time of year.
Tip 1: Develop a plan
The first step in preparing for tax season is to develop a plan. This sounds obvious but many experienced advisors skip this step rationalizing that they survived a lot of tax seasons in the past so their processes must be adequate. They convince themselves that they don’t need to make major changes even though every tax season leaves them saying, “That was the worst one I can remember.”
Planning should start in May with a post-mortem review of processes, identifying gaps and pain points and implementing changes. This includes reviewing the procedures for data entry, data validation, and client communications. It is important to ensure that these processes are up-to-date and efficient, as they will be critical during the busy season. As tax season approaches, the advisor should have a written plan outlining the key tasks that need to be completed, the resources required, and the timelines for each task. The plan should also include contingencies for unexpected events, such as staff shortages or equipment failures.
Some broker-dealers give financial professionals basic tools to gauge resources needed for their wealth management business. This misses the key point that advisors who offer tax planning have massive resource needs outside of their wealth practice. For this reason, Farpointe developed a proprietary Capacity Planning Tool that specifically accounts for the advisor’s tax business, and gives our advisors an accurate picture of their needs during tax season and throughout the year. This helps them scale by providing information that allows them to anticipate future needs and add resources in a predictable manner as they grow.
Tip 2: Train staff
Running an integrated financial and tax planning practice during tax season requires a dedicated team of professionals. One of the most important things you can do to ensure that your firm runs smoothly under peak load is to invest heavily in training your staff. Staff properly trained on processes and procedures – especially those that have changed since the prior year – are better equipped to handle the increased workload and make fewer mistakes. Additionally, when staff are trained on new technology and software they can work more efficiently which means clients receive great service in a timely manner.
Tip 3: Invest in technology
Technology plays a critical role in the success of a firm during tax season. Tax preparation software already automates many of the manual tasks involved in preparing tax returns and has become table stakes. Investing in new software and technology is necessary to streamline processes and improve efficiency. Newer technologies automate repetitive tasks such as data entry and validation and improve accuracy, which saves time and reduces the risk of errors. Tax preparation technology becomes even more powerful when paired with a robust client management system to keep track of client information, deadlines, and the progress of each client's tax return and financial plan.
Secure online portals are useful to communicate with clients, share documents, and receive payments. This improves communication and transparency between clients and the firm and reduces the need for in-person meetings. Beyond that, however, integrating the client portal with tax software and optical character recognition (OCR) technology can eliminate the need for duplicative data entry and streamline workflows. Housing your workflows on cloud-based solutions can help with remote access and collaboration, allowing staff to work seamlessly from different locations.
Tip 4: Monitor performance
Most advisors who prepare taxes do not have robust metrics for measuring the health of their business over time which makes it difficult to determine which areas are working well and which areas need improvement. Firms should be tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) such as turnaround time and error rates. These metrics will identify bottlenecks in the process and areas where errors are most likely to occur, allowing the firm to make data-driven decisions to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
A critical metric that does not receive enough attention is client satisfaction. Many advisors who offer integrated tax and wealth planning do not lose a lot of clients and take this as affirmation that clients are highly satisfied. While client attrition undoubtedly is an indicator of dissatisfaction it is not enough and the feedback you get comes too late. Are clients sticking around because of inertia and the difficulty of moving rather than because they are raving fans? Are they continuing as clients even though they complain about you to their friends and family? Your goal should be to make sure clients are happy. Accordingly, it is important to formally survey your clients to ask, “How am I doing?” Without giving clients the opportunity to tell you how they feel it is impossible to stay competitive and continuously improve the client experience.
Tip 5: Look for new innovations
Finally, it is important to keep an eye out for new innovations and technologies that can improve the firm's performance during tax season. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are becoming increasingly popular in tax preparation. AI can analyze large amounts of data and automatically identify financial planning opportunities from the tax return. By analyzing data from past tax seasons, ML algorithms can identify patterns and trends that can be used to improve the efficiency of tax preparation processes. For example, an algorithm can be trained to identify common tax deductions or credits that clients may be eligible for, which can help to speed up the tax planning process. These innovations, which are improving every year, identify potential risks and opportunities clients may not be aware of and enhance the scope and quality of services provided by the firm.
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Tax season by its nature is always going to be a challenging time. However, by planning, training, using technology, monitoring performance and continuously innovating you will be well-prepared to handle the peak workload of tax season, resulting in satisfied clients and a happier, less stressed version of you.
To learn more about Farpointe Wealth Partners or to schedule a 30-minute no-obligation consultation please visit our website (www.farpointewealth.com) or email us at email@example.com.