• Colin Doyle CFO

How tax pros spend their summer vacations

For tax professionals, there often isn’t any real down time. Each type of business has its own rhythm, since tax businesses include everything from sole proprietorships to large accounting firms, with clientele ranging from low-income to ultra-high-net-worth taxpayers.

Nevertheless, the summer is usually a good time not only to recharge one’s batteries, but to evaluate the past filing season and plan ahead for the next one — in between processing returns on extension, of course.

Many tax professionals don’t have a summer time off at all, according to Boca Raton, Florida-based CPA Harvey Bezozi. “I don’t have a down time,” he said. “I’m busy year-round handling large IRS tax representation cases that are constantly being referred to me by various CPAs and attorneys.”

Beanna Whitlock, a tax professional and educator, and former IRS director of National Public Liaison, agreed. “Many older tax professionals remember the ‘off season,’ but that was before the season got ‘off,’” she said. “Congress used to have one tax act a year that tax professionals had to learn and consequently become proficient in. Now, every piece of legislation has some tax provision in it. Tax legislation gets later and later each year, causing the IRS great delay in issuing regulations and procedures.”

“Tax professionals have no time for vacations,” she said. “They continue to work long hours and weekends after April 15 — they are the hardest-working public servants in America. Yes, they are public servants. It is CP2000 season for the IRS, and the tax professional has to reconcile what information the IRS has on a taxpayer with what was reported on their tax return. Taxpayers who owe money to the IRS want the magic pill to make this sickness go away. And taxpayers whose 2018 return is on extension — many of whom are waiting for Congress to pass the extenders and a technical corrections bill — face the October 15 deadline for timely filing.”

That means summer is often about education and re-examination.

“In our ‘off time’ we are back in class,” Whitlock said. “We’re overwhelmed with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and hopefully such classes will teach us a practical approach and ways to utilize opportunities for our clients. We are examining our own practices and procedures to ensure against breaches of sensitive tax information, including our own. And we review staff performance, including our own during the filing season. We review our client list for taxpayers who we no longer want to serve — after all, it is our name on the door.”

“And, just in case there is a spare moment or two, we realize we need to reconnect with friends and family, take a Friday afternoon off, play a game of golf, watch a movie with a grandchild, and smell the roses!” she concluded.

No time to relax

Stephen Mankowski of Mankowski Associates CPA LLC, and immediate past president of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners, said that many members, himself included, use this time of year to address primary objectives in a number of critical areas:

Continuing education: Catching up on requirements, and learning/improving on areas of weakness. Firm operations: Reviewing the prior tax season and determining an off-season game plan, as well as determining whether the firm had sufficient staff during busy season, and whether it has adequate staff for the balance of the year. Technology: Reviewing software and systems and performing updates; evaluating software and hardware performance during tax season; and examining whether moving to the cloud makes sense. Office space: Is the firm using its space effectively? Is there enough space during busy season without excess during slow season? Extensions: Staying on top of extensions to avoid a time crunch for September/October due dates. Recharge the batteries: Taking much-needed vacations, and spending time with family.

For tax business owners, there’s much to be done, according to Chuck McCabe, president of Peoples income Tax and The Income Tax School. “While people still need taxes prepared, returns amended, and notices answered, for the most part, tax season is over,” he said. “But there’s still much to do.”

“The most important thing to do during the off-season is to keep in touch with your clients,” he said. “Remind them that you are available during the off-season. Communicate with them at this time about the effect of any tax law changes. Changes in state tax law often take place during the summer.”

Now is a good time to remind clients about the need for a “paycheck checkup,” he said. “If you recommended withholding changes to some of your clients this year, follow up to make sure that they made the necessary changes.”

“The happiness of your customers is of prime importance in generating referrals and repeat business,” McCabe said. “If you didn’t send out customer surveys already, now is the time to do it. Review the responses and make a list of the things you did right, and things that could be improved. Summer is a great time to look over processes that may have caused unfavorable responses and improve upon them.”

McCabe suggested that the time be used to plan newsletters for the rest of the year, and begin marketing now for end-of-year tax planning.

“End-of-year tax planning is an opportunity for bringing in business,” he said. “Now is the time to get your ducks in a row so that you are prepared to offer those services to clients and potential clients.”

Business and pleasure

While many accountants view travel as a way to get away from it all, Atlanta-based Top 100 Firm Bennett Thrasher has provided a way for several of its associates to travel while they expand their accounting horizons.

From July to October, Aaron Epp and Rachel Cash, two senior associates, are participating in Bennett Thrasher’s staff exchange program with Daniel Allison & Associates, an affiliate firm located in Melbourne, Australia.

While in the land down under, Epp and Cash are handling small and large audits, working directly with DA & Associates staff and partners, getting to know clients, and working with the different accounting methodology mandated by the Australian Accounting Standards Board — giving them an experience they may not have had in the U.S.

Bennett Thrasher’s program made arrangements for their airfare, accommodations and work visas. To be selected for the program, associates had to apply and go through an interview process with the Australian firm.

And while her colleagues were engaged overseas, Bennett Thrasher partner Kelly Smith got engaged: While traveling through Ireland on a “Game of Thrones” tour, her now-fiancé proposed.

“I had always wanted to go to Ireland since my family is from there,” she said. “And the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ was intriguing to me.”

“We started out in Northern Ireland, where most of the scenes were filmed. We saw the studio in Belfast and saw the costumes,” she said. “The next day we were guided by the person responsible to get HBO to film there. We went to filming locations throughout Northern Ireland, including Castle Ward, where they filmed Winterfell.”

Although not deductible as a business trip, Smith learned much pertaining to her practice as a CPA. “My practice is in real estate, and a lot of what I do is inbound taxation. I have a lot of clients based in Ireland, and it was educational to understand why they would come to the U.S. to invest, rather than investing there.”

Based on conversations with local residents, there seems to be less opportunity for development due to land use restrictions in Northern Ireland, Smith surmised: “There is a desire to keep farmland as farmland, and this plays into the limited development opportunities, along with geographical restrictions.”

Smith finished her tour in the south, traveling first to Galway, and then Dublin. And then she returned home with a ring on her finger.

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