Tax Insights

Your Guide to State, Local, Federal, Estate + International Taxation

Be in the tax department, they said

tax department, accountant, CPAFollowing up on the blog that Tatum wrote, I thought I would give some perspective on what has changed working in the tax department since I started what seems like a bajillion years ago.

When I started in public accounting, not only were there no cell phones, there were only the beginning pieces of personal computers. Computers were stored in a climate controlled room and we had to take our shoes off to enter. Yeah, our shoes. I am sure somebody in a position of authority told me the reason why, but I have forgotten it at this point. Never fear – we were not barefoot, because the men all wore socks and the women wore pantyhose.

But, never fear – we did have tax computer software! Kind of. We had input sheets that were filled out. And then they went somewhere via bus or train or automobile and data entry people entered in the information and hit calculate and sometime in the next 48 hours or so we had a printed tax return to look at.

But it was too expensive to buy all the states we might need; so, we only purchased Arizona (our home state) and California. All other state returns were done manually. We had a person, Linda, in our office. We left every single return, all entity types, on her desk if there was a state return needed. And she prepared them. Manually. Handwritten.

Moving forward a few more years, we started to get personal computers in the offices. The year that we got them all on our desks – where each person had their own computer to use and not share, was 1994. But we still did not enter returns into the software. We still filled out paper forms and sent them to another location for “processing.” We also wrote an email and sent it and ran to the person in the office next to us to see if they had received it yet. That was back when email was a novelty.

This was also our first experience with Windows. We were so freaked out by using a mouse, and not just keystrokes, that we were instructed to play Solitaire to get used to how the mouse worked. (We were then instructed in March to stop playing Solitaire. At least at work. On our computers. I believe we were told this via email.)

But for tax season 1999 (1998 returns) – that was the year we started to have it made – we entered the tax information – the accountants! – while sitting at our desks and hit the calculate button ourselves! We were able to instantaneously see the results of what we had entered. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was both mind blowing and life altering.

Probably the next milestone to hit the tax department was “going paperless.” This is somewhat of an odd nomenclature, since there is still nothing but paper with tax returns. But for tax season 2006 (2005 tax returns), we purchased a program to enable us to scan in source documents for 1040s, which was our entry point into not copying every single piece of paper in our office. The following year, we added business returns and we haven’t looked back.

While we have seen huge improvements in software and technology, which all help to increase our efficiency, we still always want it to do more.

Technology has made us all so much better at being in the tax department – the complicated tax calculations, the various scenarios, the ease of looking something up when a client calls with a question – all of this is at our fingertips.

But where do we go from here? I am not even sure I can tell you what a tax department will look like in five years, let alone in 10, 15, 20 or a bajillion years. But it will be a ride. A marvelous and fun ride.

Join the tax department, they said. And I did. And I am glad, because I have always loved roller coasters and this is one ride that does not end.

Donna H. Laubscher, CPA