Have you gone paperless yet? Paperless is probably an exaggeration for most of us; paper-light is probably more realistic. The Chichester branch of Thomas Eggar LLP recently moved office, albeit just around the corner to one that is modern and environmentally friendly. In the 12 years that we were in the old office, we had managed to hoard lots of paper, so this was a good opportunity to look at our usage.
There are several factors to consider when reducing the volume of paper used and stored. It is not an exercise that will happen overnight.
First, we have to re-educate ourselves. The whole office needs to buy into the change and follow the same procedures, otherwise no plan will work. However, you don’t want to be the dinosaur: the only person using a paper file that no-one else can see when they look at the file from their computer. In the long run, this will save time and money, and will prove more environmentally friendly. You will need to have good electronic filing and document management systems that are easy to search because at some point you may need to find a document or correspondence going back years. Your electronic files will need to be backed up, or you may choose to use the cloud. There are many software houses that provide the required systems and support.
We implemented a system to ensure all the necessary documents were scanned and saved to the correct place. We had a production line; a manager would review the file and tag all papers that needed to be scanned, a colleague would then scan the papers with a third colleague performing the final check from the file against the scanned document. This may seem laborious, but we hope this will save us hours looking for missing documents in the future.
This brings us onto the searching facilities within the electronic filing system. You need to ensure you have the correct tools when choosing your software. Are you able to search using dates, keywords, document type, etc? In the future you may need to search for a document or correspondence going back some years so you don’t want to be looking for a needle in a haystack. We have moved to using two screens. At first, there was some resistance, but once you use two it is impossible to go back.
It will seem strange at first to scan your incoming post and then shred it, but you will learn to accept this and trust the systems. In fact, you may need to educate your clients to go paperless and send their documents via email or a portal. But do remember that there will always be a little old lady who will give you a suitcase-full of papers to sort through each tax year.
We have accepted that we will always need to retain permanent files containing compliance papers, so we have an arrangement with an off-site storage company that gives us easy access to our old files within 24 hours. This was the reassurance that we needed when we packed our paper files off to store. Going paper-light also enables you to access files electronically when you are working away from the office; there is no need to lug heavy files around or leave that very important client file on the train.
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By: Tanya Hiscock ATT, FMAAT, TEP, AFA
Tanya specialises in trust accounting and trust tax compliance at Thomas Eggar LLP. Tanya also serves on ATT Council and the ATT Member Steering Group. Tanya is also the ATT representative on the Sussex CIOT Committee.