How to deal with last-minute clients: CPAs explain the tactics they use to nudge procrastinating clients to meet deadlines.

Author:Ovaska-Few, Sarah

Ask any public accountant which of their regular clients will be pushing up against an impending busy season deadline, and chances are he or she can name them ahead of time.

That's because people tend to be creatures of habit, and previously tardy clients are likely to remain that way without a little intervention. Here's advice from several CPAs on how to plan for, and even reform, those habitually late clients.

Make it easy with the cloud

Ryan Hagan, CPA, the managing partner of Altruic Advisors, a virtual accounting firm focused on serving not-for-profit organizations around the country, started in public accounting 22 years ago. At that time, many of his clients came in right before a tax deadline, often with complicated situations that increased the chance of delay.

But now cloud-based accounting software allows accountants and their clients to interact year-round. At Hagan's firm, clients can upload documents anytime, and both they and Hagan's accounting staff can get real-time assessments of where audits, tax returns, or other reports stand. Clients also get checklists so they can clearly see what they need to do for Hagan's team to do their work.

"They can go through the checklist item by item," he said. "It's a clear indication of what's remaining and what the expectations are."

His staff can also look internally to assess which accounts are behind. Staff can then determine when they need to jump in and bring attention to clients who may need additional help.

Send plenty of reminders

Letting clients know ahead of time what deadlines are coming up and what documents they need to provide to meet them can prompt clients to stop dragging their feet, said L. Quinn Hart, CPA, a partner at accounting firm Strothman and Company in Louisville, Ky. Her firm had always sent reminders with fists of needed documents to clients but didn't necessarily reach out to their business clients on a set schedule. Then the firm began using a new piece of software last year that was easy to use on the client end and gave earlier reminders about documents needed by the tax professionals in Hart's office. The software, used primarily for business clients but also some individual tax clients, allows clients to drag and drop needed items into the firm software and also gives a clear picture of what documents are still needed, what has already been submitted, and whether firm staff have reviewed the information.

Those little nudges, in emails and communications through...

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