By Jennifer Buchanan, CPA, CA
Over the past year, our firm and our clients have learned a lot about conducting virtual engagements. We have prepared electronic files for internal purposes for several years, and even prior to the pandemic had begun transmitting documents electronically in a safe and secure manner with those clients who desired it. However, it was an adjustment to work with all our clients in an entirely virtual environment. Many clients adopted and continue to adopt our secure portal (Login to your GSE Portal) as a method of transporting documents to and from the firm, including the ability to execute documents using DocuSign in a secure manner. We have the full capability to provide final client deliverables electronically but are also happy to continue to provide paper deliverables where desired in a safe manner.
In 2020, we also introduced video conference software to our communications mix allowing us to meet with our clients in a safe manner. It is hard to predict what the future holds, but we are ready and prepared to serve our clients virtually and wanted to share some of the things we have learned.
Two-way, year-round communication has always been important to the client service we provide. During the pandemic, we kept in close contact with our clients as they faced new struggles, opportunities, and interpreted the details of the many new COVID-19 related subsidies and grants. We encourage our clients to reach out throughout the year – we would love to know how things are going for you and if there is any way we can help, we will!
We try our best to provide timely information to our clients – we utilize our blog and social media to share important updates, such as new government funding and changes to CRA deadlines. We also reach out specifically to clients in advance of year-end to identify the who/what/when/how of year-end engagements.
- Virtual Capabilities
Prior to the pandemic, our Firm was already utilizing a secure Portal to allow clients to upload documents, and in 2020 we had many more sign-up to use this resource. The Portal is more secure than unencrypted email document exchange and allows for files to be shared in an organized and timely manner.
When face-to-face meetings are not recommended due to Public Health guidelines, we are ready with video conferencing capabilities. With the video conference facilities in place, we enjoyed being able to see our clients and share documents on-screen, but also look forward to doing so in person.
- Alternatives to Virtual
We understand that not all our clients have the technology or interest to fully embrace virtual interactions. As Public Health measures have allowed, we have been able to offer secure physical drop-boxes at our offices and have been able to welcome clients into our meeting rooms. We will continue to try our best to meet the needs of our clients while following the recommendations from Public Health.
For the safety of both our clients and our firm members, each engagement is carefully planned to ensure we meet client needs and deadlines, while working within Public Health guidelines. This takes careful planning to ensure clients are aware of document requirements and physical documents arrive in time. We aim to reach out in advance of our engagements to determine preferences and make the needed preparations.
For the safety of both our clients and firm members we have implemented many initiatives including:
- Work from home for all firm members where able. Mask and distancing requirements for those who work onsite.
- Lockdown of office facilities during times of Provincial lockdown.
- Screening all firm members attending the offices even when not required by Provincial mandate.
- Reconfigured reception and meeting rooms including physical barriers, screening of visitors, requirements to limit the number of visitors for meetings, mask requirements for all visitors, stringent cleaning systems as well as accommodation for vulnerable individuals.
- Screening and implementation of safety measures for firm members when attending client locations above and beyond minimum Provincial requirements, when allowed by firm policy.
COVID-19 has presented many logistic challenges for all industries. We have worked with clients to design alternative procedures to complete work historically performed in-person. We use new and exciting technology to share our screens, and have clients share their screens to help facilitate discussions. We recognize the importance of understanding client needs and limitations and working together on solutions – the new way of doing things may be better and we are open to that discussion!
If you have questions about how your upcoming year-end engagement will be prepared in our current operating environment, please reach out to your Engagement Partner or Engagement Manager.
We will continue to post operating updates on our blog and social media.
One day we will happily offer a warm handshake and cup of coffee – until then know that we are prepared to help and have many ways of continuing to serve our clients.