6 Tips to Better Peer Reviews
Tax & AccountingMarch 15, 2023

Onscreen review is the next critical stage for tax workflow improvement

The review process is a critical stage of the digital tax workflow that should not be overlooked. As firms digitize more of their work to achieve efficiency gains, the review process is an area many firms would do well to modernize. Onscreen review tools enable preparers and reviewers to reduce the back-and-forth of review cycles and ensure the highest quality work. Here are a few tools for tax return review that many firms overlook.

Collaborative notes improve communication

Whether you’re scrawling in the margin of a paper return or typing into a review sheet, notes are the backbone of any review. But not all notes are created equal. That’s why CCH Axcess Tax includes four types of notes, each with a specific purpose and behavior.

  • Preparer notes – When you want to leave a note for future preparers and reviewers, Preparer Notes roll forward with the return year over year, indefinitely, until they are deleted.
  • Notes to next year – If you want to post a more short-term reminder, the Note to Next Year will roll over for one year only.
  • Reviewer notes – For review comments that apply to this year’s return only, Reviewer notes do not roll forward with the return. These notes can be assigned to staff members for future action and marked as required or not.
  • Missing Item notes – Use a Missing Item note to indicate a piece of information that still needs to be collected. Similar to Reviewer notes, these notes can be assigned to staff for resolution. Using Missing Item notes keeps these notes organized separately from other Reviewer notes for easy follow-up with clients.

All notes capture who wrote the note, whether it requires resolution, and who cleared the note. Preparers and reviewers can leave notes in the worksheet view or on the government form view, associated with a field or with the return as a whole. Specific fields that have notes associated with them show a blue square icon, and all notes are available in one place by opening the notes pane. 

Return Dashboard creates accountability

Friction between preparers and reviewers is inevitable but improving visibility into the tax workflow can go a long way to alleviating problems. The CCH Axcess Tax Return Dashboard provides preparers and reviewers with valuable insights into the complexity, quality, and completeness of a 1040 return.

Preparers can use the dashboard to identify and resolve problems before submitting the return for review. The diagnostic summary and time spent in the return indicator help give preparers an idea of how much work remains on a particular return. By being proactive about return quality, preparers can independently improve their skills as well as reducing the amount of time reviewers will spend per return.

Reviewers can use the complexity score and two-year comparison to identify areas that may need additional expertise or attention during the review. And the Return Status pane shows the status of each return, including near real-time e-file status, so reviewers can stay in the loop and keep clients apprised of where their returns are in the process.

Tickmarks and reversed tickmarks provide visual indicators of review status

Tickmarks are a reviewer’s go-to tool for a quick and easy indication that a field has been reviewed. While pencil-and-paper is the traditional medium for this tax season mainstay, electronic tools have been quickly gained favor. One way to achieve onscreen tickmarks is by using a PDF plug-in, like CCH PDFlyer, which includes connectors, tickmarks and stamps.

Alternatively, reviewers can use onscreen review tools built into the tax return. CCH Axcess Tax includes three different colors of tickmarks, for different reviewers or levels of review. One benefit of doing the review in the tax software is that if any of the numbers ticked by the reviewer changes, that tickmark will show as reversed, providing a visual indication that something in the review has changed. The reviewer can view the Reversed Tickmarks report to see a list of all ticked fields that need to be re-reviewed.

Overrides and estimates offer added flexibility

While preparing a return, a preparer may need to override an automatic calculation or insert an estimate instead of an actual amount. In CCH Axcess Tax, estimates and government form overrides are easily indicated by right-clicking a field and selecting the appropriate option. Overrides appear in pink text, and estimates appear in orange text.

While overrides and estimates are convenient for some scenarios, a reviewer would rarely want to leave them in place for the final return. CCH Axcess Tax provides preparer reports for input overrides, field overrides, and estimates, among other helpful reports. These reports enable reviewers to see a complete list of overrides and estimates, as well as easily navigate to each one. Overrides and Estimates can be cleared individually or in bulk.

Diagnostics identify problems and ensure quality

Diagnostics are an important way to identify problems and ensure the highest quality returns. In CCH Axcess Tax, diagnostics fall into four categories:

  • Electronic Filing errors must be cleared in order to e-file the return.
  • Warnings indicate an input issue that should be addressed but will not affect the electronic filing.
  • Caution diagnostics should be reviewed but may not require any input changes.
  • Informational alerts should be reviewed, but in most cases they cannot be cleared because they provide information regarding return preparation.

CCH Axcess Tax diagnostics are actionable, which means that a reviewer can sign-off on non-severe diagnostics to approve the return even if the diagnostic has not been cleared. In addition to the Diagnostic report, these diagnostics appear in the Diagnostic Summary area of the 1040 Return Dashboard.

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A more streamlined review process is achievable, and onscreen review tools can help. When selecting tax software, firms should understand that onscreen review features provide a valuable return on investment in terms of efficiency, accountability and accuracy. What may seem like extra “good to have” features can easily turn into indispensable features with the right process in place.
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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