If you’ve spent any time around the Tax Master community, you know that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about various threats to your business.
Usually, these threats come from technology. Artificial intelligence and machine learning and other technological advances aren’t just helping you do your job more efficiently, they’re threatening to do your job for you. By doing your work for you, they take business away from you. That’s a big reason why we’re such evangelists for building a planning-based business, rather than compliance-based business. There’s no artificial intelligence out there yet that can do proactive tax planning. (It’s coming, for sure — it’s just not here yet.)
But technology does more than just take business away from you. Technology actually devalues the work you do, so that prospects and clients see it as less valuable. After all, if a machine can do something, how valuable can it be when you do it?
And technology isn’t the only threat to your business. Sometimes, like in the old-school horror movies, the call is coming from inside the house and it’s an unseen visitor — and possibly even an invited guest — who creates the threat to your business.
That’s exactly what’s happening now with TurboTax’s latest commercials advertising their new service: TurboTax Live with live CPAs (and EAs and attorneys) helping customers file their returns.
TurboTax’s parent company Intuit has never been shy about helping clients bypass you. Millions of business owners across America use QuickBooks and TurboTax to do some of the same work you do for them. And in some cases, where clients can actually use those tools, that’s fine! Of course, in many cases — especially with business owners — TurboTax is like an orthopedic bone saw, and just because you can buy the tool doesn’t mean you should actually use it. (I’ll save my rant on our do-it-yourself society for another time. I’ll just finish here by noting I have a cautionary cartoon framed and hanging over my kitchen sink that features a wife asking her clueless husband, “do you really know, or do you Google search know?”)
So where do you fit into TurboTax’s new environment? Well, you start by applying on their website. There’s a phone screen and an online assessment. If you make the grade, you’ll get a laptop from Intuit to use with your own landline phone and internet connection. You’ll complete a training program that takes about 40 hours. You’ll sign up for four-hour shifts, at an hourly rate in the $23-30+ range. And when you click on your laptop to indicate you’re available, you’ll be connected within seconds to a real live taxpayer looking for help.
Of course, your role will be limited . . . very limited. TMN members who have joined the program tell me there’s no tax planning going on at all. You can’t suggest a customer file an S election for their single-member LLC. You won’t be able to help them with IRS correspondence or audits. And once your call with them is over, so is your relationship. They can’t call back later and ask for you — they have to settle for whoever’s next in the queue.
We can see plenty of legitimate reasons for Tax Master members to sign up for the program. You’re in business and looking to maximize your time! If you’re new in practice, or winding down a mature practice, or just looking to fill some unspoken-for hours, why not get paid to
sharpen your tax knowledge and customer relations skills? It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea . . . but if it’s yours that’s great. I’m not here to mock you or demean your choice.
But here’s the problem. With TurboTax Live, Intuit has thrown you under the bus. They’ve taken the most-respected designation in financial services, and turned you into a bonus add-on to a do-it-yourself software program. You may have all the tax knowledge in the world . . . but as far as the customer is concerned, you’re just like Jake from State Farm, rocking a pair of khakis in a call center somewhere at 3am.
TurboTax has turned you into the prize in a Cracker Jack box! And as the postmodern American balladeer Meat Loaf so articulately reminded us, “there ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”
Now, TurboTax would tell you, “hey, we love CPAs, we wouldn’t use the initials C.P.A. to advertise the program if we didn’t know that our customers recognize it as the gold standard of tax.” But they’ve disregarded that gold standard and boxed you into a role that really demeans your value.
The answer, of course, is to not be “just” a CPA. (What’s a “CPA,” anyway? Ask 10 different people to give you their impression of a CPA, and odds are good that you’ll get at least six or eight different answers.) There are over 665,000 CPAs in America right now. If you line them up head to toe, they’d stretch from New York City all the way to Atlanta. (True fact.) How special can you be if you’re one of 665,000?
Business owners want two things from their CPAs: 1) lower personal taxes, and 2) numbers that help them run their business. Ironically, most of them don’t get either of those things from their current accountant. Nobody calling in to TurboTax Live will be getting either of those things, either.
That’s where Tax Master Network comes in. TMN gives you a better model for building your business. A proactive, forward-looking approach that escapes the “recording history” trap that most CPAs fall into. A client-focused relationship where you don’t tell them how much they owe, you tell them how to pay less. A blue-ocean opportunity to trade struggling to sell them something they need for the much more attractive chance to sell them something they want.
If you’re a traditional history-minded CPA, your business and your financial security are already under assault from advancing technology. TurboTax’s new service is just another nail in the old-school CPA business model’s coffin. The solution is to join TMN here on “the light side” and transform your business for 2019 and beyond!