Practice Management Strategy

Coronavirus & accountants series, part two: Andersen Tax LLP

The COVID-19 outbreak has occurred at a critical time for accounting firms

Author: Jeff Buckstein

In this week-long series on how coronavirus and COVID-19 is affecting accounting firms and sole practitioners, we are profiling six accounting firms across Canada. Today, Andersen Tax LLP of Vancouver and Calgary.

Steven Flynn
The coronavirus outbreak has come at a time that is critical for the business cycle of accounting firms like Andersen Tax and partner Steven Flynn, CPA, CA.

VANCOUVER, March 31, 2020 – Steven Flynn, a partner with Andersen Tax LLP in Vancouver, has noticed a major difference this tax season. Since the Covid-19 crisis hit, there has been a complete drop-off, down to zero, of in-person client meetings as many opt for conference calls and telephone meetings instead. 

“It’s understandable. As business leaders and as individuals we’re all trying to figure out what to do here,” says Flynn. 

“We look at ‘How do we make sure we get the work done to meet the client deadlines given that we can’t meet face-to-face with clients?’ We can’t sit side by side and look at a screen at client documents. We’ve got to find other ways to work together,” says Flynn. 

This was done to some extent in past years, but now it appears that everybody, under the circumstances, is doing it all at once, he notes. 

A challenge is expected to come later in tax season as traditionally, some elderly clients of the firm who still complete paper returns gather up their relevant tax documents from the mail, and then make an appointment to visit the office in April. “We are going to have to really rethink how we reach out to those individuals because they are not going to feel safe to travel anywhere — and they might not be able to travel anywhere,” says Flynn. 

Moreover, under the circumstances, some clients are figuring they will have a hard time getting all their documents together for a normal April 30 personal tax filing deadline, although Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s announcement of a revised deadline of June 1 provides more time, he notes. 

[In the U.S. the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) extended the April 15 personal tax filing deadline until July 15.] 

Safety is the first priority

But the first priority is to make sure that all 29 of the firm’s employees are safe, and that means ensuring that those who can work from home are set up to do so. Andersen Tax has invested a lot of time to make sure its staff members in Vancouver and Calgary who can work from home have the right monitors and equipment, including phones capable of interconnecting and transferring calls back and forth.

“We don’t have a lot of people work in the office these days. And we think we’ll have less and less as time goes on,” notes Flynn. 

“March and April are our busiest two months. We are able to get a lot done in a short period of time. And we still have that ability even with more people working remotely,” he adds. 

The firm has also locked the doors to both its Vancouver and Calgary offices, with those who are unable to work from home and/or want to come into the office requiring a pass-code to enter. For the benefit of employees who need to work at the office, “to fit our office calendar, we started doing shifts to try and meet some of those social distancing requirements throughout the next few weeks,” says Flynn. 

Another measure that Andersen Tax has instituted from a safety standpoint is to try to encourage staff members that need to come to either downtown Vancouver or Calgary on business to stay off public transit, but rather drive in, with the firm reimbursing their parking costs. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can to make sure our staff are safe and can still work,” Flynn explains.

More timely relief would have been appreciated

“This comes at a time that’s stressful enough for the world, but it’s really at a critical point in our business,” says Flynn. He notes that as a cross-border firm that does a lot of work for clients who are U.S. citizens who live in Canada as well as Canadians who work or invest in the U.S., Andersen Tax is pleased with the tax deadline extensions announced by both Canada and the U.S.

He elaborates that the March 18 announcement by Minister Morneau of extending filing deadlines for individuals to June 1 and calendar year end trusts from March 30 to May 1 will help clients and accountants. However, he wished Canada Revenue Agency had gone further sooner with its relief measures. 

“Many clients still have tax filing deadlines for March 31 that the March 18 announcement didn’t extend. Partnerships with calendar year ends, corporations with September 30 year ends, entities that withhold taxes from payments to non-residents, all still had to file tax and information returns by March 31.  Penalties can be levied for failure to timely file. The federal government finally provided relief for these deadlines, but it was communicated late in the day on March 26. It would have helped taxpayers and accountants to provide more timely relief,” says Flynn. 

“Tax return preparation is taking much longer than usual. Clients have difficulty gathering and sending information while accounting firms and staffs are generally not as efficient and effective when working from home when they normally work from an office. We hope Finance and CRA officials are closely monitoring the situation. If we continue in our current state, further extensions of these June filing deadlines will be required,” he stresses.

Tomorrow: Part three in our series, featuring Ish Jindal CPA Professional Corporation of Toronto and Woodbridge, Ont. 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

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