If your accounting firm had often been slow to adopt cloud-based software and virtual tools, chances are that all changed once 2020 hit. The pandemic forced us all to quickly pivot to remote work and learn to engage differently with our clients overnight.

And yet, despite the frustrations change so often brings, firms quick to adopt virtual tools have, in many ways, seen improvements in efficiency and have created frictionless interactions with clients. Video meetings can now happen back to back, with no traffic delays. Documents can be e-signed in minutes, with no more waiting for the mail to arrive.

While, of course, some elements of meeting one-on-one with clients will always be better in person, virtual tools that save firms time and money or reduce friction between their team and clients, will likely stick. We have compiled nine must-have tools for bookkeepers and accountants working remotely that help make daily tasks easier, more seamless, and more efficient.

1. Guest Access to Your Clients’ Financial Accounts 

Why you need it: A major pain point for bookkeepers doing monthly reconciliations is waiting for — and reminding — our clients to send us their bank statements every month. That’s why the No. 1 step of working remotely is to ask clients to grant you Guest Access or View Only Access to their bank accounts. Once given this limited capability, you can view online bank feeds, see images of checks cashed, and download statements without being able to access money or see sensitive account numbers. 

Once added as a User, you will be able to create your own login, set your own security questions, and enter your cell phone for 2-step authentication. While most banks allow you to add a second user for free, some may charge a monthly maintenance fee, so look up each bank’s protocol on their website.

Bookkeepers, in particular, also need access to merchant services or payroll software to enter journal entries or view payout reports. Most software allow business owners to add you as an Authorized User, which is often under the Team Management tab, so that you can log in and pull reports on your own time. The additional perk is that if you have multiple clients using the same software, you can easily toggle between companies without logging in or out. Gaining full, yet secure access to your clients’ financial information is key to frictionless interactions month to month.

2. A Secure Password Manager 

Why you need it: After tip No. 1, you’re probably thinking: I can barely keep track of my own passwords, let alone one for every client! We hear you. That’s why as accounting professionals, it is crucial to have a secure place to store logins (your desktop does not count)! The best solution we’ve found is 1Password or LastPass, which are encrypted vaults that allow you to store an unlimited amount of passwords. Both software have plug-ins for your browsers, so once you’re on that software’s log-in page, the app will prompt you to auto-fill your login (or toggle to the client’s login). You can also set up separate vaults, such as personal versus shared, and invite team members to the latter only.

3. Electronic Signature (eSign) Tools

Why you need it: If your firm still mails 100% of its documents to clients for signatures, you are guaranteed a 3-day wedge between each document’s preparation and filing. Whether you are sending a client a contract or filing 1099 forms, electronic signature (eSign) software can speed things up. DocuSign allows you to save templates, specify where the client signs, and email the form. Once received, the client can sign, in seconds, from their laptop or mobile phone. For those skeptical of how secure this process is, DocuSign complies with the U.S. ESIGN Act and UETA, as well as the EU eIDAS Regulation — and the software automatically generates and stores an audit trail for every agreement. 

In addition, E-File Magic is a fast and secure way to streamline and file IRS forms, including IRS 1097-BTC forms, 1098 forms, 1099 forms, 5498 forms, and W-2G forms. As an accountant, you can have as many filers or recipients in the system, and as long as your state participates in the combined Federal/State Filing (CF/SF) program, e-filing will allow you to meet state and federal filing requirements. Finally, the information is all stored, making next year’s filing even quicker.

4. Secure Cloud File Storage System

Why you need it. Many clients send sensitive financial information in attachments over email, which is a major security risk if your email is ever hacked. That’s why every virtual accountant and bookkeeper needs a secure and centralized online document storage system to give both your firm and your clients peace of mind. Two great and low-cost options are eFileCabinet and SmartVault which allow you to store and request internal and client documents. Both are encrypted and backed up automatically. With SmartVault, firms can create a branded portal, and clients have their own login which they can upload files to 24/7. What makes eFileCabinet unique is its smart automations that automatically save your documents into folders and name them for you as well as offering full text searching capabilities that scans not only the title, but content of each document as well to identify the one you need.

5. Automatic & Recurring Bill Pay

Why you need it: Writing and mailing a check to a vendor — and then waiting for the check to clear — is both time consuming and anxiety inducing (Did it arrive yet? Was it cashed yet?). Melio, a free bill pay solution, allows you to schedule bills to be sent now or at a later date, and the vendor receives an email asking how they’d prefer to be paid (whether a check in the mail or bank deposit, both of which are free). What’s more, if cash flow is tight right now, but the vendor only takes cash or check, Melio offers a unique fix: You can use your credit card to defer payment and get rewards (2.9% fee) — while the vendor receives the payment the way they preferred, via a bank deposit or mailed check.

If your job involves scheduling bills for clients, Melio’s free Solution for Accountants allows you to manage multiple clients from a single dashboard, and their approval workflow lets clients approve bills right from their email, without having to log in. Since Melio syncs with QuickBooks Online software, the bill will hit the register the second it is scheduled (not cashed), allowing for more accurate reporting and cash flow predictions. Finally, for monthly expenses, such as rent, you can set up recurring bills to be sent automatically so you can permanently cross that task off of your list!

6. A Public Phone Number That Routes Calls to Your Cell.

Why you need it: If your office is based out of your home, the last thing you want to do is post your personal cell phone or home line on your website for scammers to phish for. Virtual phone systems allow you to set up one “public” number that forwards all calls to your personal cell phone or email. Prospective clients can call the public number listed online, and you simply pick up on your cell phone without them ever knowing. If clients leave a voicemail, you’ll get a transcribed message delivered right to your email. 

Google Voice is free for solo-run businesses, while Grasshopper and MightyCall offer greater functionality such as call routing, virtual receptionists, mass text messaging, recorded calls, and more.

7. A PDF to Excel Converter. 

Why you need it: Onboarding new clients to online accounting software often requires uploading 2 to 3 years of historical data from the bank. The problem, however, is that bank feeds often go back only 90 days to 1 year, leaving us stuck with PDF statements that are impossible to copy and paste into a CSV file. The trick is to use a converter, such as PDFTables or Docparser. Using either tool, you can simply upload a PDF, and it extracts the data into a CSV or Excel file in seconds, which you can then prepare to upload to the accounting software. It is impossible to estimate the countless number of hours it would take to manually enter every bank item, making this tool essential.

8. A Calendar Scheduling Tool. 

Why you need it: Does this email conversation sound familiar? You: Let’s set up a meeting. How is Tuesday at 9 am? Client: Can’t make it; how about 10 am? You: I’m booked. How about 3 pm? Stop. This. Now. Calendar scheduling tools allow clients to book a meeting on your calendar without ever talking to you about it. With apps such as Calendly or Acuity, you simply link the software to your calendar, set the times you’re available (or not), and select the video meeting software you use. You can also set up different calendars based on the type of client; for instance, Month Review appointments can be shorter than Quarterly Check-Ins). 

Once a client books a time, the confirmation email automatically sends the client everything: the invite on their calendar and a link to the video meeting. To streamline this process further, in your email signature, add a link to your scheduling tool that says “Schedule a Meeting With Me.” That way, in your email exchange with a client, you can encourage them to use the link provided to find a time that works best to meet.

9. Digital Receipt Capture

Why you need it: Every accountant has at least one story of a client plopping a shoebox full of crumpled-up receipts on their desk. (Always the day before the tax deadline!) Receipts now fly into our clients’ lives in the form of paper, text, and email, leaving multiple places for them to live (or risk getting lost). As bookkeepers, we need to know not only what our client purchased, but why so we can accurately categorize the item.

Receipt capture tools, such as HubDoc provide the client with a single email to forward receipts to and allow them to tell us what a receipt is through the app. Clients either upload receipts and categorize purchases right from their mobile phone or forward receipts with a message that we can see in the app (ex: “client lunch”). These tools integrate with most online accounting software, providing clients with their own Chart of Accounts when categorizing, and attaching copies of receipts to audit-proof their books. Both software offer special rates for accountants and bookkeepers: check out HubDoc’s free partner program.