BY JILL NAGY
Green eyeshades and sharpened pencils are
things of the past for today’s accountants. They
are more likely to deal with QuickBooks in the
cloud. And they rarely see their clients face to
face, although they may be in daily communication
with their business data.
They also have to guide clients through an
increasing thicket of government regulations.
Kelly Reinhart of Reinhart & Associates LLC
in Saratoga Springs, recently restructured his
business operation completely so that clients pay
a fixed monthly fee for needed services, instead
of paying by the hour or task. Each client’s workload
varies from month to month, he found, but
they balance each other out.
Clients “enjoy having one fee,” he said. If they
have a question, they can ask it without worrying
about the time clock ticking away. He feels that
his business is “growing by leaps and bounds,
really skyrocketing” because of the change.
For the past five years, he has largely communicated
with clients through their accounting
software. QuickBooks, which began as a way for
non-professionals to do their own bookkeeping,
has morphed into shared software that both clients
and accountant can access. Reinhart’s said
his clients each have a version of the software sitting
“in the cloud.” They enter data and Reinhart
accesses it to prepare reports and documents
Laurie Stillwell of Laurie A. Stillwell CPA LLC
in Saratoga Springs uses a similar system, encouraging
her clients to use QuickBooks Online.
“I can pop in on whatever I need,” she said. “As
long as they are current, we are on the same page.”
For example, clients report sales tax collections;
Stillwell collects the data to prepare their
reports and returns. They record income and expenses
and Stillwell can pull out what she needs
to prepare income tax returns and W-2 forms.
“We’re a long way from the old green bar
paper,” Stillwell said. “I’ve tried to basically do as
much as I can electronically,” she added, noting
that she uses encrypted email, PDF files and the
like. She also can work from anywhere.
Jonathan Rutnick, president and founder of
Rutnick & Co. PC in Clifton Park, seeks to have a
continuing relationship with his clients; no more
popping in during February or March with a
pile of papers for an income tax return and then
disappearing for a year.
However, he is more concerned with guiding
his clients through various compliance tasks, like
new tax regulations, requirements created by the
Affordable Care Act, requirements for reporting
payments to subcontractors, tangible property
issues, and more.
Stillwell agrees, pointing particularly to the
Affordable Care Act.
“There is a lot to wrap your mind around,” she
said, “and it is a struggle for people busy running
a business” to keep up with all of it. She helps
with fairly regular emails and other information
Generally, she sees more of a compliance burden
on small businesses, “more so than in the 26
years I have been in the business. You don’t have
to be General Electric to be dealing with these
issues,” she said.
Rutnick sees an increasing role for technology,
particularly income tax software.
“We couldn’t do our job without it,” he said.
However, he cautioned, it is critical to have a
good estimate of what a tax return should look
like before entrusting the job to the software.
“You need someone to look at it and understand
it before feeding the data,” he said.
All three accountants see themselves as problem
solvers and, even more important, problem
“The big thing is getting them to talk to you
before they engage in a major financial transaction,”
Rutnick said, “Without good advice, they
will shoot themselves in the foot.”
He has the sense that the IRS is “leveraging
professionals” to do some of its enforcement
work. He sees more responsibility–and liability–
placed on accountants and other professionals,
to the extent that “it’s beginning to look
like they work for the IRS.”
He attributed the development, in part, to the
fact that the IRS has less funding available for
All three accountants work with clients year
round, not just at tax time. Reinhart said his new
business model encourages that continuing relationship.
It allows him to consult with clients and
provide them with information “in real time” and
has led to an expansion of his consulting services.
In fact, he no longer has any tax-only clients.
“We act as the company’s accounting department,”
He said nonprofit organizations are “starting
to flock to us.” With their financial records in the
cloud, he has the financial information he needs
without having to rely upon board members to
“Technology has done it all,” Reinhart said,
“It’s a different world than it was even five
Among the changes: few telephone calls;
more email and text messages.
“I am the busiest I’ve ever been and the earliest,” said
For all three, it’s a volume of business they
could not have handled with just pencil and