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Tax & AccountingFebruary 13, 2023

Frequently asked questions about tax preparation APIs

While APIs might be outside the expertise of a typical accountant, understanding the basics of APIs is within reach. After all, accountants often thrive on complexity. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way, and the following frequently asked questions about APIs in tax preparation provide a starting point for creating efficient automations in your firm.

What are APIs?

APIs, in the context of tax preparation, are all about connectivity. APIs enable connectivity by providing a way for programs to work with each other. If you think of your tax workflow as a restaurant and yourself as the customer, APIs act as a waiter, taking your order to the kitchen and returning with the data you requested.

How can APIs help accounting firms?

Some accounting firms report having forty or more different applications involved in their work. All of these disparate systems introduce a lot of duplication and inaccuracies. Data must be entered in more than one location and manually moved from one system to the next. APIs can help automate the movement of data, driving better employee experiences and monetary savings from efficiencies.

How are APIs different from bots?

Some firms can use Robotic Process Automation (also called RPA, or “bots”) to automate processes by interacting with a software’s user interface. These pre-programmed actions can accomplish repetitive tasks with ease. However, if the interface changes, the bot needs to be reprogrammed. This process can take weeks, especially if you rely on a third party IT consultant. Additionally, any unexpected dialog box or pop-up notification can interrupt the entire process.

On the other hand, APIs communicate, take actions, and move data behind the scenes, so simple interface changes or dialog boxes don’t interfere with the automation. They create actual integrations between systems rather than surface interactions, so they are more stable and predictable.

How does Wolters Kluwer implement APIs in CCH Axcess software?

Wolters Kluwer has offered APIs for CCH Axcess for more than 10 years. By adopting an API-first strategy, we ensure that APIs are front and center as we design our programs. We also rely on APIs internally to build additional utilities and integrations that make our products better. For example:

  • The Batch Print Set Utility is designed to customize the organization and delivery of tax returns for clients.
  • The E-file Extension Utility is designed to electronically file extensions in batch, as long as there is no balance due.
  • The K1 Import Utility allows the import of K-1 data from a Microsoft Excel template into one or more returns.
  • The 1040 Passthrough Import Utility imports 1041, 1065 and 1120S passthrough information into a 1040 return.
  • The CCH Data Axcess Utility extracts the firm’s client, project and billing data from CCH Axcess into a local or cloud SQL database.

What can I do with APIs?

APIs can be used throughout your tax preparation process, from gathering and inputting data to reviewing returns and e-filing. Often, firms will start with one simple task and then build additional automations. For example, one firm was able to streamline their data collection and input process, eventually saving weeks of time each year, by incrementally adding the following automations:

  • Automatically batch print electronic client organizers for selected clients when returns are rolled-forward to the current year.
  • Check e-file status so that only the version of a return that was e-filed is rolled forward.
  • Check the practice management system to make sure only returns for active clients are rolled forward.
  • Pre-populate client organizers with data from last year.
  • Batch print electronic engagement letters with e-signature functionality.

Can I use APIs to integrate with my own Excel templates?

Accountants are often most comfortable and efficient working in Microsoft Excel. Unfortunately, copying and pasting data between systems isn’t the most efficient use of an accountant’s time. Using APIs, firms can bring data into and out of Excel automatically. For example, one firm set up an automation to extract QuickBooks data into an Excel file with the click of a button, saving 30 minutes per return. They review the data in Excel and then import it into CCH Axcess Tax, saving an additional hour per return. The remaining work requires the accountant’s true expertise, without the error-prone distraction of copying and pasting.

Thanks to the CCH Axcess “API First” strategy, firms can benefit from some Excel automation even without programming their own APIs. CCH Axcess Tax offers a K1 Import Utility and a 1040 Passthrough Import Utility that allow firms to work with data in Excel and then import the data back into the return. Firms can export rolled over data into a template, modify the data and then import the data back into the return.

Do I need a developer?

First, know the problem you want to solve. Identify opportunities and choose one to get started. Start by understanding the data involved in the process, using the Wolters Kluwer Developer Portal as a resource. If your firm has internal IT resources, you may be able to start small without bringing in third-party help. But even if you do contract out to an IT consultant, you’ll need a business expert in your firm to be closely involved in the project.

You may also be able to benefit from API functionality even without creating a custom automation. Several pre-programmed productivity utilities are available with CCH Axcess (some require additional licensing), and the CCH Axcess Marketplace includes a variety of vendors offering off-the-shelf integrations.

CCH Axcess Marketplace
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Product Marketing Manager, Tax

Aimee Hall is a product marketing manager for Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting US, focusing on the professional market. In this role, she is responsible for leading the marketing strategy for tax software products including CCH Axcess Tax, CCH ProSystem fx Tax and ATX Tax. She joined Wolters Kluwer in 2006 and lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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