Coronavirus & accountants: 6 accounting firms speak out
First of a 5-part series: Jason Kingston of DSK LLP in Cambridge & Kitchener
Jason Kingston of DSK LLP in Kitchener says the firm’s goal is to get all returns submitted and completed as soon as possible.
KITCHENER, March 30, 2020 – Accounting practitioners in Canada, like every other professional and business, have been greatly affected by the coronavirus social distancing measures now in place around the globe that have resulted in major disruption to both personal and work lives.
In this five-part series on how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected Canadian accounting firms, we look at how social distancing and the temporary loss of free-flowing mobility, that could previously be taken for granted, has impacted Canadian accounting firms. Developments in society are fast-moving, so, as noted, some firms have updated their policies since their initial interview with Canadian Accountant, such as no longer having clients in their physical offices.
DSK LLP prioritizes staff and client safety
Jason Kingston, a principal with Drouillard Sambrook Kingston LLP (DSK) in Kitchener, Ont., says his firm’s clients have not yet relayed any safety concerns regarding in-person office visits over tax season. “As far as I know, we haven’t been directly contacted by anyone saying ‘I’m nervous to come in.’” he says.
Rather, it is the practitioners and staff who are worried.
“Our concerns are related to the volume of traffic that we have coming through the office. We know that people may be carrying without exhibiting symptoms — this goes for the flu as well as for Covid-19,” says Kingston.
DSK’s top priority is to try and keep its 23 staff members in the firm’s Kitchener and Cambridge offices safe. They are doing so by keeping the high traffic areas in those offices disinfected as much as possible to prevent a situation where a carrier comes in, leaves the virus on a surface, and then it gets inadvertently passed on.
“The reception areas and meeting rooms are quite high volume with people, so we’re ensuring that our administrative staff wipe those down with disinfectant wipes, probably three or four times a day. We have asked staff to wash their hands with soap numerous times throughout the day because you never know what could be on the documents that are coming into the office. We also disinfect our personal desks and phones,” says Kingston.
A more subtle way to try and limit potential germ exposure has been to purchase a bunch of cheap pens for one-time client use when signing documents, and then ask the clients to keep the pen.
Staff members willing and able to work from home, to decrease in office density, are doing so, he notes.
Kingston says the volume of work his firm is handling this tax season is comparable to previous years. Initially the firm did not change the way it interacts with clients by having, for example, more online or telephone meetings.
But on March 12 it posted the following message to its website: “Drouillard Sambrook Kingston is committed to ensuring that we keep our clients & staff safe and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus as best we can. In order to do our part in slowing the spread of this virus, we are recommending that our clients avoid coming into our offices if possible. All paperwork can be submitted through our online portal …We thank you for your courtesy in the interest of public health and safety.”
Leveraging the digital advantage
This notice was to remind clients the firm has an online secure file transfer portal so if they feel more comfortable scanning and uploading PDF files, they can receive their information that way, says Kingston.
“Especially if they aren’t feeling well, we would prefer they do that, versus popping in even for a minute and giving us possibly contaminated forms. We can send back the T183s [Information Return for Electronic Filing of an Individual’s Income Tax and Benefit Return] for them to print and sign, and then they can drop those off at the office. So we’ve reminded clients that these options exist,” he adds.
Then on March 16, the firm issued the following notice: “During this time of extra diligence in safeguarding both our clients and staff against any transmission of COVID-19, we ask that the following measures be observed until further notice. We will be postponing any face to face meetings at this time. However, we are more than happy to conduct meetings over the phone or thru Zoom video conferencing.”
DSK has subsequently announced that its offices are closed to the public for the last two weeks in March. “With CRA’s announcement allowing us to accept true electronic signatures on Form T183 we are asking clients to sign electronically for now,” says Kingston.
The Canada Revenue Agency's decision to extend the filing deadline was also appreciated. “I believe it will relieve a lot of taxpayers who rely on a professional and who were nervous to interact in person. This is especially true of our clients who may not be tech comfortable enough to use an online file transfer portal,” says Kingston.
Regardless, the firm’s goal is to get all returns submitted and completed as soon as possible. Especially with the number of layoffs and hour reductions people may be in need of their refunds more than ever this year, he notes.
What is needed right now in society during these trying times “is that fine balance of being cautious without descending into panic,” says Kingston.
Tomorrow: Part two in our series: Andersen Tax LLP of Vancouver and Calgary. We will profile six accounting firms across Canada during this week-long series.
Jeff Buckstein, CPA, CGA is an Ottawa-based freelance business journalist. Read the full series in order:
Coronavirus & accountants: 6 accounting firms speak out
Coronavirus & accountants series, part two: Andersen Tax LLP
Coronavirus & accountants series, part three: Ish Jindal CPA
Coronavirus & accountants series, part four: Sole practitioners
Coronavirus & accountants series, conclusion: Colby McGeachy