While the use of client portals is most frequent-
ly associated with the transfer of tax documents,
their potential scope extends far beyond that.
In addition to serving as client extranets, portals can offer better content management and
collaboration tools to accounting firms, in addition to aiding in document retention requirements and securing private data.
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
“Portals are an exciting area for growth,” said
Brian Zeve, managing director of the professional services industry at Microsoft.
Zeve explained that portals serve to bring a
team together in a virtual environment by aiding
in enterprise content management, virtual collaboration and client engagement. “It is something of an evolution,” he said.
Experts say that portals ease the user experience by distilling down the complexity and security of content management via their use, while
allowing delivery and access through multiple
locations. Zeve pointed out that while content
management has traditionally been slow, portals
allow users to communicate in real time.
BY MARK MALYSZKO
cific,” said Shawn Ivey, director of technology
strategy and architecture for Grant Thornton.
The client sites are unique to the client as well
as being secure, Ivey added.
COMPLIANCE AND RISK MANAGEMENT
Managing all sorts of engagements through the
use of client hubs also helps in the critical legal
and compliance arenas, particularly in regulatory mandates that dictate the archiving guidelines for workpapers. Portals offer tightened
security and client data protection.
In addition, technology experts point out that
an increasing number of states are enacting laws
governing the transfer of sensitive customer information, such as tax returns, through unen-crypted e-mail.
to bring a
in a virtual
described as an “electronic-file room.”
A primary difference between using e-mail
as a means for document transport often boils
down to portals providing a central and single
location for documents, whereas e-mail ends up
in various locations because it is sent, received
and copied, Bourke explained.
He said that WS+B implemented a client portal about two years ago because often an e-mail
can get into the wrong hands. “We do not e-mail
confidential, private information to anyone, including our clients,” Bourke stressed.
Microsoft’s Zeve said that portals help accounting firms in the event of litigation, and enable
a firm to produce documents in a quick and
consistent manner. Sorting through documents
through a central portal can even determine
whether a document was contained in an audit
engagement or a client exercise, said Witty. As
an example, New York-based Orrick, Herrington
& Sutcliffe uses Microsoft Office SharePoint to
create an extranet for processing transactional
documents at the 21-office global law firm. With
regard to e-discovery, it becomes really competitive for firms to have a process in place, and a
portal can aid that process, Zeve said.
CUTBACKS SHOULD SLOW
MENLO PARK, CALIF. — The employment outlook in accounting
and finance is expected to stabilize in the first quarter of 2010,
according to a recent survey,
although the hiring environment
Staffing company Robert Half
International found that a net 3
percent of 1,400 chief financial
officers surveyed plan to reduce
their accounting and finance
personnel in the first quarter,
but this represents an improvement from the net 6 percent
in the previous quarter. Most
executives — 84 percent — expect no changes in staffing.
Six percent of executives plan
to increase hiring in the first
quarter, and 9 percent foresee
personnel reductions. Compared
to the fourth-quarter projections,
the number that anticipated adding staff rose, while the number
projecting cutbacks declined.
Craig Witty, chief legal administrative officer at
global CPA and business advisory firm Grant
Thornton, which uses Microsoft’s SharePoint
Portal Server, said that the firm utilizes portals
in the form of what it calls “client hubs” — versions of its client sites through which clients can
access their documents.
Witty described those hubs as “gateways” for
the firm’s clients. Client documents can be cop-
ied, shared and updated through the hub, or por-
tal, which makes it easier to track the hundreds
of documents. “Through that hub, the client can
get access,” he said. “We can manage multina-
tional clients with the same basic system.”
At the end of the client engagement, the inter-
nal engagement team can see all the documents
because the portal provides access to several
levels of oversight.
“The client portal is very engagement-spe-
As a result, more firms are opting for secure
portals, as opposed to implementing more complicated data encryption processes.
Client portals can also cover gaps that may exist with other document retention and tracking
methods that are not centralized.
They provide what Jim Bourke, a partner and
director of firm technology at New Jersey-based
WithumSmith+Brown and chairman of the
Certified Information Technology Professional
Committee of the American Institue of CPAs,
Portals also help firms maintain a competitive
edge by providing their clients with more efficient and targeted services. Clients are always
looking for better fees, Zeve noted.
In November, the Tax & Accounting business
of Thomson Reuters announced that its users
implemented more than 300,000 client portals,
an increase of over 100,000 portals in 16 months.
Thomson Reuters, which offers portal services
through its NetClient CS, attributed the increase
in part to heightened client demand for online
connectivity. Another option through Thomson
Reuters is its GoFileRoom, a document management solution with a portal feature that is used
Zeve noted that client portals offer more client
transparency, while the associated workflow can
prevent redundancies, thereby enhancing both
delivery and productivity. AT
BALTIMORE FIRMS MERGE
BALTIMORE — Gorfine, Schiller &
Gardyn has merged in Bernard
B. Cohen & Co., expanding the
firm’s real estate practice in the
GSG, based in Owings Mills
and Hagerstown, Md., will have
over 85 employees with the
merger of Baltimore-based BBC.
Four BBC employees moved
into GSG’s offices when the
merger took effect December 1.
Two BBC principals were among
those joining the staff: Merton E.
Cohen as an officer, and Neil Z.
Insel as a senior manager.
The combined firms are
expected to have in excess of
$10 million in revenue.
New York exempts all CPAs from tax preparer registration
A bill signed into law by New York State Gov-
ernor David Paterson provides an exemption
from the state’s new tax preparer registration
requirements for CPAs, including those who
hail from outside the state.
Under the registration requirements, tax
preparers were required to register with the
state tax department and pay a $100 fee start-
ing December 31.