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CPA firms use technology to work around the country

With online communication technology that allows almost instant sharing of financial information, Mississippi CPA firms are no longer limited by distance for serving clients. Most of the larger firms in the state now do work all around the country.

For example, Horne CPA Group has clients in 47 states including Hawaii and Alaska. Most of the company’s clients are located in the Southeast region.

“The Internet is a large part of our ability to compete nationally,” said Shawn McGregor, director of marketing and business development for Horne CPA Group, Jackson. “We are able to deliver financial information to our clients quickly by utilizing the Internet to transfer information. Our affiliate company, Horne Technology Group, is also able to provide clients access to accounting software that is hosted on our secure servers. This allows clients to keep up with the latest software updates without having to purchase and install the software on their computer systems. Clients can enter their financial information on-line, and we immediately have access to it, and vice versa.”

McGregor said Horne CPA group is also moving to a paperless environment that allows them to store documents electronically rather than resorting to bulky paper files. Accounting firms are required to keep information for long periods of time, and this helps the company access information electronically that would have been stored in a warehouse.

How does a firm like Horne CPA Group expand its reach to have clients spread across the country? McGregor said they find new clients by advertising in the communities where their offices are located and in national industry publications.

“A majority of our clients come via word of mouth, as well as those we attract from speaking at national industry conferences and seminars,” he said.

Jerry Favre, CPA, a partner with Alexander, Van Loon, Sloan, Levens & Favre, PLLC, in Gulfport, said that the geographical lines are no longer there for CPA firms.

“We can access client data, and they can access data from us, through the Internet,” Favre said. “So, no longer do we have anyone physically delivering information back and forth. We can get most of our information through the Web. It saves time. It is a faster turn around on the accounting end. We can get bank statements online. We don’t have to wait for the mail.

“We do electronic fund transfers for direct deposit on payroll. That saves our clients time and money, and there is no check expense. They also don’t have employees leaving work to go cash their checks. It automatically goes into an employee’s checking account. We can process payroll now for just about anyone. It saves time and energy, so employees are more productive at work.”

Favre said many of their clients from out of state are people who originally lived in the area and moved away.
Another benefit of electronic communication is technology that allows employees to work from home.

“If employees have a sick child, they can link and work at home,” Favre said. “It makes it so easy to be able to log on to get e-mails and phone messages. It allows more family-friendly working arrangements for employees.”

Because the nature of the material being exchanged on the Internet is sensitive financial and business information, computer security is a vital issue. Ken Papizan, network administrator at GranthamPoole in Jackson, said strong precautions are taken against viruses and spyware.

“There is a lot that goes on as far as keeping it all secure,” Papizan said. “As far as viruses, we scan for viruses before it comes in rather than letting an ISP do it. We have 100% control over our Internet communications, which includes our Web site, e-mail, firewalls and remote access for our employees.”

Multiple layers of protection are in place to stop viruses from disrupting the flow of business. Papizan said they have protection on the e-mail server, file servers and on the desktop.

But these days most people seem to have more problems with spyware than viruses.

“It used to be viruses were the only thing you had to worry about,” he said. “Now you also have to protect yourself from spyware. You can do that in a number of different ways. One way is using a different Web browser other than Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer has many security holes that allow spyware to be installed without you even knowing about it.”

One alternative Papizan recommends is Mozilla Firefox, which is a free Web browser. It has the advantage of having popup blockers, as well. You can configure settings to disallow all types of pop ups. It will also warn you if something is trying to install on your machine. Another browser alternative is Opera. And Papizan said Netscape will be coming out soon with a new browser based on Mozilla Firefox.

He added that spyware is not generally as destructive as viruses that can, for example, wipe a hard drive. “But as far as taking time to fix spyware problems, it is extremely time-consuming and many wasted hours are spent cleaning up the mess spyware leaves behind,” Papizan said.

Another important security measure is good passwords for users, making sure that you have at least a six- or eight- character password for each user on the network that includes upper case and lower case letters and at least one symbol or number, he said. It is much harder for a password to be cracked when it includes upper and lower case letters, and a symbol, as well.

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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