Industry Trends

IRS Problems Will Sound Familiar to Accounting Firms

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
toxic workplaces

April 7, 2022

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Programming note

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And now, the newsletter.

Old technology

With just over a week until the April tax filing deadline, you’ll likely hear several stories about how the Internal Revenue Service, the mother of all federal government scapegoats, is struggling with a backlog of tax returns. And it’s true, the IRS is a bit behind, but it’s far more maddening than that. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post by the National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin Collins:

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has fallen nearly a year behind in processing paper tax returns. As of March 18, 2022, the paper return backlog stood at nearly 15 million.

[…]

When I released my annual report in January, I said that paper is the IRS’s Kryptonite and the IRS is buried in it. The reason paper returns are so challenging is that the IRS still has not implemented technology to machine read them, so each digit on every paper return must be manually keystroked into IRS systems by an employee.

It doesn’t have to be that way. During the past two decades, state tax agencies have been using scanning technology to automate the processing of paper tax returns. During that time, the IRS has considered, rejected, proposed, reconsidered, partially implemented, and deferred the question of whether to implement scanning technology.

Somebody Please Get the IRS a Damn Scanner,” the Going Concern headline reads, and, honestly

Over the last decade or so, technology companies have sold accountants on the idea that their platforms can: 1) get rid of a lot of paper by putting software in the cloud (aka the internet) and 2) do the manual work that accountants have been doing for decades. (Full disclosure: I work at one of these companies.) 

That frees accountants up, the thinking goes, to do more high-value work for their clients. It’s a good sell! Technology has helped countless firms do less rote work and reduce the reliance on paper because accountants wanted that. I don’t know any accountants who went into the field so they could rifle through overstuffed filing cabinets and suffer from carpal tunnel due to manual entry; they went into the field to advise clients and make a meaningful impact on those businesses. 

Now, I’m not expecting any volunteers for this next idea, but it would be nice if some accountants convinced the IRS to ditch paper and manual data entry. Who better to make the case? It would be very inspiring! “Look, IRS people. If our firm can do it, anyone can do it.”

New technology

Last week, on April 1, I read this headline on Accounting Today:

Prager Metis appoints chief metaverse officer

Naturally, I thought maybe this was a joke, but then you see that the firm made the announcement on March 28, and alright, so there’s an accounting firm with a chief metaverse officer now. No judgment, no judgment. OK, maybe a little judgment

Anyway, what does this job entail?

[R]esponsibilities will include managing the organization of strategic partnerships for companies and individuals looking to scale a brand while also establishing the partnership ecosystem and management. 

[…] 

[S]erve as the liaison between individuals and businesses connected to Metaverse-related projects, collaborations, and more. 

[…] 

[L]ead projects while managing the teams throughout the various phases of each Metaverse project. These could include taxation and advisory components for virtual goods, avatars, NFTs, gaming, real estate, events, and more.

I think my favorite thing about the advent of any new technology—as it relates to the accounting profession anyway—is the urgency of a few firms to show some initiative around this largely unknown and unproven idea. This usually involves appointing a high-level executive type to lead the charge, and giving them a broad and vague mandate to do basically whatever the clients that come knocking want. 

Metaverse client: Hello, we understand that you advise businesses on metaverse.

Chief Metaverse Officer: That’s correct. We manage the organization of strategic partnerships for companies and individuals looking to scale a brand while also establishing the partnership ecosystem and management.

Metaverse client: Uh huh.

Chief Metaverse Officer: We also serve as the liaison between individuals and businesses connected to Metaverse-related projects, collaborations, and more. 

Metaverse client: OK.

Chief Metaverse Officer: Should we be having this meeting in the metaverse?

Metaverse client: Sure! Great idea. We’re excited to work with you.

Chief Metaverse Officer: Wonderful. Mind if I bring my timesheet?

In these early days, it’s best to avoid specifics and focus on enthusiasm. The technology will work itself out eventually.

Fresh from Gusto (and friends)

  • My colleague Jaclyn Anku tells the story of Francis Perkins and how she upended American work culture.
  • Shopify is building a Referral Program for Accountants. Please schedule time to connect with Gusto as we help them shape this Accountant program. Shopify wants to work with you to help your business grow!
  • Relay has teamed up with some of their favorite folks from the accounting and bookkeeping space to bring you their biggest Tax Season Prize Pack yet! Each prize includes tools and educational resources to give your firm that extra edge.

Webucation

Last week, Carla Caldwell and I presented “The Guidance Gap: Clients Want People Advice.” If you missed it, you can watch the playback anytime on our blog.

Upcoming webinars on CPA Academy:

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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