The session on Client Portals was led by Jim Bourke this year.

Jim Bourke is a partner and director of Information Technology at WithumSmith+Brown. He is responsible for overseeing all technology issues for the firm’s 13 offices and 450 employees.

Jim is also a Chair of AICPA’s Certified Technology Professional (CITO) credential committee, and was also named by the Accounting Today as one of the Top 100 Influential People in the Accounting Profession.

Jim is a CPA, CITP, and CFF!

The session on Client Portals was interesting and probably the one session that I personally was curious about.

Some of the key features of the Client Portal, according to Jim, are:

  • The Portal creates a secure pipeline between the CPA firm and the client. No matter how secure you think your server room is (small – medium size firms), it is not going to be as secure as the data center where the Portal vendor is hosting it from, and the chanes are that “security engineers” working for software vendors would know better how to secure client information that CPAs.
  • The Portal allows the CPA firm to store documents and files easily. The best Portals use only one (1) copy of the file, which eliminates confusion and data redundancy.
  • The good Portals allow the client to access documents and files easily. EASY here is a keyword. If it is not easy, the clients will NOT use the product. It has to be easy for the client, and secure at the same time.
  • The Portal allows the clients to upload documents and files for access by the CPA firm. Today it is very important that clients are able to easily interact with the CPA.

Some of us still ask the question: “Why the Portal?

Here is Jim’s short but to the point explanation:

“With the influx of more and more documents in digital format (tax returns, financial statements, bank statements, brokerage statements, loan agreements, proposals, etc.), it only makes sense to create a conduit to move these documents easily between all parties involved. Many CPA firms have decided that conduit should be the Portal”

The next generation firms are using electronic files. The next generation clients want PDFs, not paper copies. The Client Pportal provides you with the capability to easily and securely distribute electronic files to your clients.

Another good reason to go with a hosted Pportal is to help your CPA firm stay compliant with different state regulations.

What makes for a “good” Portal?

A “good” Portal must be more secure than sending files as an email attachment, have the ability to control file access, the ability to control file versions, be easier to manage than encrypted emails, and create an environment in which only file will exist (as opposed to emails, where a copy will end up in a sent box, another copy in an Inbox, and countless other copies on local and network storage devices). Portals give you the ability to control “losing and misplacing” files, by providing you with the ability to track edits or deletions.

From a client’s perspective the key benefits of a Portal are:

  • Having a secure access to information
  • Easy (Remember – Keyword) access to information
  • Anywhere / Anytime access and availability
  • Another location to safeguard documents

From the CPA firm perspective, the benefits are:

  • “Hands off” information available to clients
  • Value added service. Have your firm be ahead of the competition
  • Another “hook” to lock new clients in
  • A service with more than perceived value

Some of the big players that offer Client portals to CPA firms today are:

– CCH (fx Portal): Licensed over 100,000 Portals

– Thompson (NetClient CS Portal): Hosting over 300,000 Portals

Of course there are other players in the game, and they are: iCentera, PCIS, VaultStreet, PortalsXpress, CPASiteSolutions

If you or your firm is not ready to implement a Client Portal, you should seriously look into implementing AT LEAST a secure file transfer or secure email solution.

LeapFile is a good candidate for easy secure file transfers, and Secured-Accountant is a very good solution that goes a little further and adds email audit trail, encryption, recall and other functions.