I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since I last blogged. Tax season hit, various things happened in my life, I didn’t have time to write articles, and now here we are.

This is a practice-management topic: things I am noticing in dealing with clients, and other trends I am noticing in this business now that we’re about to head into the decade of the 20s, and “tax reform” begins to really take hold.

The “Puzzle” Isn’t Fascinating Anymore, It’s Just Scary:

The thing that drew me to the tax field initially was the puzzle-like nature of taxes. Working with taxes is like wandering in a maze, and at first this fascinated me. I LOVED learning new things about taxes and encountering new situations. I would read tax law for fun. I gobbled up court cases and resource books.

And then something changed, starting about 4 years ago.

Now the tax puzzle just scares me.

Even just 5 years ago, it didn’t seem like all returns were hard. But now, every return I work with has some sort of complication. And that’s not an exaggeration. It literally is EVERY return.

Even “simple” 1040s have something on them that make it so I can NEVER just sit down and finish a return. There is ALWAYS something I have to research.

A few years ago, this fascinated me. But that was when the complications only arose on returns here and there.

And consider:

  • Tax laws are actually written by underlings and lobbyists who have political agendas.
  • The laws are then passed by Congresspeople who don’t even read what they’re voting on (but who get to spike the football for a “victory”).
  • Congress slashes the IRS budget to the bone but relies on the IRS/Treasury to come up with regulations and procedures on the laws Congress has passed.
  • Meanwhile tax preparers are left trying to interpret these things too, often with confusing or contradictory (and sometimes non-existent) guidance. All while dealing with clients who have rising expectations without being able to articulate what those expectations even are.
  • All of this leads to me no longer liking the “puzzle-like” aspect of taxes.
  • Because every return has a complication, I end up asking a lot of questions, thinking about a lot of different problems that could arise, taking a long time to get returns done, and having to try to explain this to clients who don’t understand and who are harder than ever to get ahold of.
  • Even as a small-time operator, I carry $1 million of liability insurance. That is INSANE. The “puzzle” doesn’t fascinate me anymore … instead it just SCARES me.

Clients are VERY finicky now, and it’s making it hard for me to be enthused about helping them:

Another reason I got into this field is because I liked helping people.

But a growing number of clients (not all, but a noticeably growing segment of clients) are making it hard for me to be enthused about doing anything nice for anyone.

  • Clients are insanely hard to get ahold of, with many only available by text — or worse yet, apps such as Facebook Messenger.
  • There is a backlash against technology.
  • There is a backlash against distance, with the client not wanting to drive to meet me.
  • Clients have higher expectations than ever, yet they can’t articulate what it is that they are looking for, and they are taking less and less ownership of their situation while trying to push more and more decisions onto me.

Distance:

My office is in Indianola, but most of my clients are in Des Moines … about 10 miles away. If you’re in the suburbs of Des Moines (i.e. the “Des Moines Metro Area”), the distance to Indianola can vary from 10-25 miles. In 2019, I have lost multiple clients who have said they “need someone closer” and “more convenient” to get to.

What’s funny is, the distance and travel time from most locations in the Des Moines Metro Area to Indianola is not much different from driving from one location in the Metro to another, except there’s about 8 miles of countryside to drive through.

About 5 years ago or so, tax preparers were being told “distance doesn’t matter anymore” and that we need to be prepared to use technology to work with anyone, anywhere. I am seeing a BIG rejection of this notion. Which leads to:

Clients are rejecting technology. Especially — can you believe it — the younger clients:

I have a secure website (as do most tax preparers and accounting firms these days) that people can use to upload files to me. This was one of the things we were told would “reduce distance” and make us able to work with anyone, anywhere. Yet, I find clients in general and especially people under age 35 are flat-out rejecting technology in favor of face-to-face meetings … but as mentioned above, distance is an issue for them too.

Client Expectations are Sky-High, But Yet Actually Serving Them is Getting Harder and Harder Because Clients Can’t Articulate What Those Expectations Are:

This needs its own blog post, and that is what my next post will be about. But the short version is, I hear things such as wanting me to be “proactive,” or in another case it was “I want personal financial advice.” Yet when I ask questions to find out what exactly they are looking for, they can’t articulate it. But then they get mad when I don’t meet their expectations.

Clients Are Hard to Get Ahold Of, And Texting is Often the Only Way to Communicate

A growing number of clients don’t answer the phone and don’t return voicemails. If they read e-mail at all, they skim the first sentence and nothing else. This makes it hard to get things in writing or to properly convey ideas.

With a growing number of clients, texting (or sometimes Facebook Messenger) is the only way to get them to respond at all. And this is true not just of the “young ones” but of clients of ALL AGES. It’s societal, not generational — I have clients in their 80s (yes, 80s) who are only available by text.

And yet texting is a HORRIBLE way to convey ideas or to document anything.

And so in conclusion, or tax system is a mess, everything I do now is full of uncertainty and possible danger, the clients I work with don’t understand this and have rising expectations but yet they can’t articulate what those expectations are.

More in my next post.