Client portals have been around for more than a decade. But that doesn’t mean they are the same old technology they were when they first came on the scene. Over time, portals have changed, and so has the way accountants use them. While some might make the mistake of calling portals outdated, those in the know have been following their evolution.
2006-2009: What is a portal?
Back in 2006, some firms had already started to adopt portals. However, most firms were still learning what they were.
- In a 2006 article called Portals – a Technology Whose Time has Come, L. Gary Boomer wrote: “Now is the time for firms to educate themselves on how portals will benefit their clients and the firm. The big risk is that other professionals are already getting into the act (i.e. financial planners). And if firms don’t become aggressive, clients will be storing all of their data on a portal provided by a financial planner, bank or insurance company. The security and improvement in client service are enough to justify the time spent in researching this technology.”
- At the beginning of 2009 an article about emerging technologies in CPA Practice Advisor discussed portals as collaboration tools. “Portals can enhance collaboration among individuals and work teams among the client and the accounting firm. After data has been entered, the stored results can be accessed through the use of any computing platform from desktops to laptops to mobile handhelds. Access to data where you are and when it is needed is one of the growing benefits of portal functionality.”
- Later, John Higgins, CPA.CITP encouraged firms to look at portals in Client Portals: The Time is Now. “The supply of vendor portal solutions is expanding with the market demand. I am a proponent of the accountant-centric portal solutions that are offered by vendors who provide accounting, tax, practice management and document management solutions designed for the unique needs of accounting and tax professionals…” “If you have deployed a DMS, your provider should be at the top of your list of potential portal solutions.”
2010-2011: Do I need a portal?
By 2010, most accountants had heard of portals, but firms had not adopted them in great numbers. As the demand grew, word started to get out about the real benefits portals could bring to CPA firms..
- In 2010, Accounting Today looked at the expanding scope of portals in Portals: Not Just for Tax Anymore. “In addition to serving as client extranets, portals can offer better content management and collaboration tools to accounting firms…” “Experts say that by utilizing client portals, a CPA firm not only gains a secure electronic storage space, but also bi-directional file exchange capabilities that ease delivery and reception of client documents.”
- CPA Practice Advisor continued the dialog by introducing the idea of automation in 6 Steps to Developing an Effective Client Portal Strategy. “As you develop your long-term portal strategy, think about all the possible opportunities to exchange information with your clients online. Sharing information online is the essence of the portal concept. This allows you to increase the security of client information being exchanged, automate manual tasks involved in exchanging information, provide more innovative client services and ultimately transform the nature of the practitioner/client relationship.”
- Accounting Today reassured firms that the cloud is secure as well as convenient. “Whether it be the desire to provide easy access to clients’ information, that overdue goal of getting the firm paperless, or the need to rest assured that sensitive information is safe, secure, and backed up in the Cloud, client portals provide the means to make it happen. Most of all, the technology enables accountants to be more productive, which in turn helps them better serve their clients.”
2012-2014: How do I use portals more efficiently?
By 2012, the question wasn’t whether or not to use portals. Instead, firms wanted to know how to use portals more effectively.
- Randy Johnston, writing for CPA Practice Advisor, discussed how portals fit into client communications in Portals, Email or Something Else. “Think about your preferred work style, your image, and the tools that you use. Get your website, collaborative tools, portal, and email encryption tools right. Train your staff and your clients on how to do business with you. All of these things will make it easier to do business with you. Further, there is high probability that this will reduce your work load and enable the firm to provide better client service.”
- At the beginning of 2014, Accounting Today gave some ideas for how to get clients to use portals. “Getting tax prep clients to use your tax practice’s portals can be a serious challenge, but communicating the familiar benefits of portals is an excellent first step…” “Portals can serve as an excellent way for practices to securely deliver and exchange tax source documents, returns, financial statements and other necessary tax prep material with clients.”
- The Journal of Accountancy stressed the importance of integration in a 2014 article about Smart Tech Tips. “Develop an integration strategy for all your software and applications. Accountants work with a multitude of technology systems, including everything from customer relationship management and tax rebalancing applications to portals that allow clients to see their financial data online. Ensuring that information can flow from one system to another requires plenty of due diligence. Ask vendors for demos that showcase how their technology works with other systems. And get the salesperson to provide references of customers who can talk about their integration experiences.”
2015 & beyond: What else can I do with my portal?
As they have evolved, Portals have become more than a way to exchange documents. Firms are now looking at portals as efficiency enhancers, client service tools, and even profit generators.
- In late 2015, CPA Practice Advisor outlined some lesser-known benefits of portals. “While portals have been around for a while, their features have evolved over time. No longer just a place to exchange documents, portals offers a variety of related tools including the ability to be notified when a client accesses a document in the portal. Accounting firms can also set up notifications that will send an email to a client when a document has become available in the portal. Integration with popular tax software products has also increased efficiencies, with firms able complete a tax return and simply upload the file to the integrated portal.”
- Recently, Accounting Today looked at how firms are using portals with data analytics in their audit practices. “By combining analytics with other advanced technology, we can enhance how we communicate across our teams globally and with our clients, including monitoring the status of the audit real-time, capturing and sharing global audit findings with our clients as they arise and using our secure online portal to share information with our clients. This makes for a much smoother and transparent audit experience for our clients, as well as providing them with added insights.”
Are portals outdated? Absolutely not! Technology only becomes outdated when it doesn’t adapt to the needs of its users. Portals have changed to meet client and firm needs. Whether or not you need a portal is no longer in question. The smarter question is how to use portals to maximize their benefits to your firm.
To learn more about successfully implementing portals in your firm, download our whitepaper, 7 Secrets to Portal Success.