‘We’re going to be here to help you’
A snapshot of how accountants and CPAs are adapting to telework during COVID-19 crisis
Virginia Business virtually sat down with Gary Thomson, managing partner of Richmond-based Thomson Consulting LLC and chairman of the board of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants, to get a feel for how the accounting industry has adapted to doing business during the coronavirus crisis. This is the first of a series of conversations with Virginians about how their work lives and businesses have changed during the pandemic.
Virginia Business: How has the accounting industry coped thus far?
Thomson: In our industry over the last five years, we’ve been generally downsizing our workspace in favor of having staff who are either working remotely or working at client sites. We’ve been gearing up with the technologies that were allowed us. So preparation for remote work has put us in a better position than many. Now, having said that, this is not an ordinary event — there was certainly no playbook or anticipation of anything quite like this. So it has certainly stressed our systems. And the remote use of technology has certainly made us aware of areas that weren’t quite ready.
VB: How have accounting professionals been preparing for this and what challenges have you encountered?
Thomson: The move to cloud-based technology … and having remote-type apps that could be accessible from anywhere has prepared us well. We still are largely an industry that’s based on billing by the hour. So the ability to capture time, the ability to remotely access work, but also to be able to have workflows, you know, from step to step to step that’s cloud-based has allowed us to be somewhat agnostic now in terms of where people are located.
VB: Have the extended tax-filing deadlines presented any challenges?
Thomson: We have the filing deadlines extended at the federal level, and now we’re working really hard to try to get those extended at the state level. [If] we don’t get the state one extended, it’s really going to be tough on some clients. Many taxpayers will still want to file on time and CPAs will be focused on filing on time, but at least to allow the option and to remove what we think are potential conflicts is a pretty big deal for us still.
VB: What cybersecurity challenges has the industry faced moving to telework?
Thomson: Most firms use some type of cryptographic software in both sending and receiving [financial information]. We work with our clients as well in anticipation that they would have some ability to encrypt or otherwise provide the information in a secure way. Some firms that I’ve talked to have experienced issues with the size of information being transmitted. It’s one thing if you or I were to send our tax return information in, [but] it’s another thing for a large corporation to be doing that. And so working through capacity issues has been something that a lot of firms have had to focus on. The big thing for us right now is we’re trying to get the governor’s office to make sure [accounting firms are] continued to be designated as an essential service if this thing continues. And the last thing we want [our customers] to be nervous about is whether or not their tax practitioner or CPA is going to be available to help them out. We’re trying to give our clients the comfort level that, “Hey, don’t worry, we’re going to be around. We’re going to be here to help you.”