Every industry has been heavily impacted by the integration of new technology, and the accounting industry is no exception. While the industry as a whole has been a bit slower to start adjusting, accountants are now increasingly required to adapt to new expectations regarding communication, rapid turnaround, and transparency.

To better understand how accountants’ client expectations have evolved, Canopy commissioned an independent survey of U.S. taxpayers. The survey examined individuals who worked with an accountant on their taxes within 12 months of participating. 40 percent of those surveyed were men and 60 percent women, with 32 percent being business owners. 88 percent were between the ages of 20 and 69.

What defines a satisfying experience when working with accountants?

When asked what they preferred about working with their accountant, respondents highlighted that in-person communication was the most important element. This was followed by the ability to send and receive documents online and guidance on tax questions.

Conversely, if they could change things, they would have more in-person meetings, quicker responses, and better technology to streamline communications. The fact that in-person meetings come up as being so important to clients is a really interesting finding, as accountants are currently exploring remote work and leveraging new technologies. In-person interactions still carry significant weight, although it is important to note that these results came out before COVID-19, so that may evolve as we carry forward.

In terms of technology, respondents look for the following when interacting with their accountants:

  • the ability to easily send and receive documents
  • text chat for questions
  • the ability to set and change appointments online

While sending and receiving documents electronically seems to be top of mind for clients, only two percent of accounting firms offer a client portal. This is definitely something to look into. From a generational perspective, Canopy also found that for millennials, being able to send and receive documents online is the top thing they want when working with an accountant.

Currently, the most common way clients are exchanging documents is still via in-person meetings.

Clients are often not aware of all services their accountants offer

According to the findings, a large number of clients are not informed of the services available to them outside of tax preparation. This highlights an interesting opportunity for accountants to amplify their offerings whether via newsletters, better client onboarding, or by directly chatting with the client.

For example, one-third of clients didn’t know if their accountant provides audit services. This trend is surprisingly even more pronounced with business owners: they are two times less likely than non-business owners to know if their accountant offers audit services. Also, more than a third of respondents didn’t know if their accountant provided legal tax services.

All of these insights can help accountants know more about what their clients expect today and how to respond.