Using client portals (Ode to the Portal)

Are portals the technology we love to hate?

For me, it’s a love/hate relationship.

Let me tell you why.

I know as a responsible firm owner we need portals. We need to transfer documents safely and securely. The portal is the method that works well as part of an overall document exchange strategy. After all, in some states it’s even illegal to email tax documents to customers.

I know none of you do that. Right? Right.

However, portals are not easy to use.

They seem to create more havoc than they are worth for the technology-challenged. But honestly, it’s not all their fault.

They are not simple stupid. And we all know we love technology that is so easy we don’t even realize we’re using it.

But unfortunately, portals haven’t kept up with today’s technology for its iPhone/app-obsessed users.

Remember, the process will not be perfect

When portals were first released years ago, I’ll be the first to admit, our firm did a poor job at promoting them and communicating to customers on how to use them.

Therefore, we didn’t really encourage our customers to adopt them.

Now, as the technology has evolved, there are more and more services to exchange documents with customers that they are more familiar with and use regularly – such as many people’s go-to, Dropbox.

In today’s busy, fast-paced environment, even doctors are requiring portals to communicate with their patients. As a result, it seems like customers at least understand their general purpose.

Yes, the world has changed since we started using portals 10 years ago.

But the technology behind portals is still catching up.

We seem to be in a conundrum.

With more and more ways to collect documents, this creates internal havoc within a firm.

And portals aren’t perfect.

So what’s a CPA to do?

Complain and rant and cry and hide under your desk until tax season is over?

You can do that. But there are other options.

Stop and rethink how your firm is going to engage with, communicate, and increase adoption of portals. Develop an effective process around portals in your firm (not just an attitude of “we need to use portals more”) and manage expectations for all involved. Understand the process will not be perfect. I can’t emphasize this enough.

The biggest barrier to portals or any less than perfect technology in your firm is communication. What are you going to say in response to your customer when they come to you with complaints of the less than perfect portal? Know what you are going to say beforehand. Consider these responses:

Response 1: “Yeah, I don’t know what’s wrong with the portal. Just email or send it via Dropbox. Or do you have another way to get it to us?

Customer responds: “I can fax it (joke). “OK, I’ll use my Dropbox.”

Response 2: “Can I do a screen share and help you figure how to upload to the portal? We can get it to work together.”

Both of the responses get to the same end result, however, I believe response two has a little bit nicer feel.

Now response one is not the worse response in the world, however it doesn’t help create a standardized process and may have a significant effect on efficiency within your firm.  The bigger issue with processes that are not standardized is employee confusion and missing documents. And confused employees are not happy employees.

Every year our biggest process issue is around the digital collection of documents. We are always looking for a better way to standardize that process given the tools we are given. I truly believe our digital admin has one of the hardest jobs in our firm.

So, if you can get around the process, my one improvement for portals is that vendors need to figure out a way to go from portal to scan/auto flow. It seems bizarre to me that it’s not just one click. The process is more cumbersome than just scanning a group of documents. So if the portal gods are reading this post, this tweak might just increase adoption.

Preparing for 2017

As we ramp up for 2017’s filing season, I encourage you to rethink your digital and paper document process. If portals are working for you, think about changing your process. Think about how you can make it even better.

I know hiding under your desk seems like a great solution but maybe with a little extra communication and planning you can increase the adoption rate among your customers. Who knows, those small changes could make you want to stand on your desk and celebrate.

And if you’re among the lucky ones who have already figured out a digital document process that you are proud of, please share it with the rest of us.

Let’s make 2017 the year we all tackle digital document collection with ease.

Find out how an integrated, cloud-based system helps New Vision CPA Group stay future-ready. Download the whitepaper “A Match Made in the Cloud” today!


Jody Padar, CPA, MST

CEO & Principal, New Vision CPA Group

All stories by: Jody Padar, CPA, MST

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