Blake Christian
Using data management systems to boost business

The fall is a perfect time to build or improve your firm’s technical database.

October 15, 2013
by Blake Christian, CPA

A former tax-partner-in-charge colleague of mine liked to tell us, “There’s gold in those files,” while he gestured toward the bloated client file room. It was his way of challenging the leadership team to search the files for additional service opportunities, amended return potential, and other leads that would improve the firm’s profitability.

The traditional tax doldrums of October and November are a perfect time to build or improve your firm’s technical database. That database can then be used internally to evaluate client projects that were deferred during busy season—or ones simply overlooked by the client service team. Firm employees also can use the database as a marketing platform for client prospects.

Client projects
These client projects might include:

  • Accounting method changes;
  • Net operating loss or tax credit carrybacks;
  • Depreciation election options;
  • Research & development credit studies;
  • Evaluation of potential hiring and equipment credits;
  • Uniform capitalization (UNICAP)/Sec. 263A analysis;
  • Domestic production activities deduction/Sec. 199 analysis;
  • Evaluation of worthless securities and partially/wholly worthless bad debts;
  • Analysis of entity structure for long-term tax efficiency;
  • Evaluation of debt/equity structure, including basis impact;
  • Evaluation of passive activity grouping; and
  • Assistance with clients’ financial reporting software/reporting formats, including industry benchmarking.

One of the most valuable assets within a CPA firm is the technical and industry expertise of the partners and key management members. Unfortunately, a vast majority of firms do not come close to capitalizing on the past research and planning ideas bouncing around in the heads of the leadership team.

But thanks to off-the-shelf technology options for inventorying planning ideas, every firm should be able to create an internal knowledge-sharing database accessible by employees. Some examples of easy-to-use software include:

The AICPA has assembled a useful report on establishing data management systems. Ideally you will recruit a partner or senior manager who will coordinate the building of the database. He or she will need to recruit others with specific tax, audit, or consulting expertise. They will monitor documents and articles added to the database to ensure the content is technically accurate and relevant. The key to effectively building the database is to index the articles by:

  • Internal Revenue Code section or FASB pronouncements;
  • General and specific topic;
  • Entity types that can apply the idea;
  • Industries that the idea can apply to; and
  • Time sensitivity to implementation.

What to include
The database should include firm-generated memos, articles, research, and client/prospect presentations, as well as third-party content applicable to your client base. You will want to redact names and other key facts contained in any client correspondence posted to the database to avoid inadvertently disclosing confidential information embedded in historical documents.

To boost efficiency, firms should encourage employees to use the database as a starting point on any research. Our firm, for instance, gives awards to employees who are the most prolific “posters” of technical data. Firms also could reward the professionals who create the most often-accessed proprietary content.

Over time, your partners and employees should start seeing the value of having all this information in one central, searchable database. Periodically, you can develop your “Top 10” list of hottest topics for clients and prospects.  

The database has a number of other benefits as well. Properly utilized, it will save employees’ time and improve client satisfaction. And, as my old colleague put it, the database will help turn those client files into gold. 

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Blake Christian, CPA, MBT, is a tax partner in the Long Beach, Calif., office of CPA firm HCVT, LLP.