Working against the clock...
Originally published in Accountancy Age
AHH, IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR. The time that small and medium firms dread (or do some perversely look forward to?): risks of snow and weather disruption; illnesses spreading through the office; and stacks of tax returns to do.
It's also the time that people with opinions (including me) like to share them. I've seen this whole process happen year after year, and have the following observations. Some might seem tongue-in-cheek, but you never know, some might touch a nerve...
Accountants love the January 'crunch'
For someone trying to manage the workflow of a practice, the simple truth is that there are some strange individuals who live for the January pressure. Despite the fact that it lets down clients due to late notification of tax, it puts pressure on all staff members (from administrators through to the very top), it can cause cashflow issues... it's the one month of the year where they feel truly needed. Like ice cream men in August.
It will never change from our own efforts, anyway. HMRC might have a different plan though...
Every year, the same mantra is repeated - ‘we won't let it happen again next year'. You will, and it will. You can try threatening deadlines, penalties, service levels, competitions, even free hugs for information coming in on time. The underlying problem is that the client knows that in the end, it will all get done.
There. I said it. I've never known an accountant to not complete their pile of tax returns by the end of January.
The biggest problem is, because both the client (as alluded to above) and the accountant know this, there's insufficient motivation to change, on either side. Together with some of the team loving the pressure, any solution won't be strong enough or radical enough to do the job.
Some might have expected me to come up with yet another magical solution to this workflow issue. Instead, I've just reinforced what we already know deep down. And if our ‘we won't let it happen again next year' actually works next year, I promise to let you all know!