March 17, 2020

Remote Accounting in the Time of Coronavirus

By Adi Rubin, Manager, Nonprofit and Social Sector Services

Related Service Coronavirus Resource Center

Related Industries Nonprofit & Social Sector, Nonprofit Tax Services, Nonprofit Audit Services, Social Capital Advisors

Remote Accounting in the Time of Coronavirus Coronavirus Resource Center

Public health concerns are causing tremendous disruption in all aspects of life today. Business and school closures, event cancellations and financial market unrest are just the beginning. As nonprofit organizations look to assess immediate needs, many seek ways to allow more staff to work remotely to avoid commuting and practice “social distancing.”

Large nonprofits and those that have been functioning in a paperless accounting environment for years will likely find the transition to a fully remote workforce seamless. For nonprofit organizations that have not transitioned to paperless accounting, however, these adjustments will be tremendously challenging for the foreseeable future.

Ideally, every organization has a solid crisis management plan in place that includes the accounting functions. The current fears around coronavirus are not an ideal time to be considering the organization’s preparedness for the first time, but many nonprofits are now in a situation where remote work is essential to protect staff. To that end, this is an opportunity to assess an organization’s existing systems and disaster preparedness. There are steps that can be taken immediately and some that should be considered in long-term preparation for the organization’s financial health. Below are some suggestions to address both short- and long-term needs to allow for continued functioning of the accounting team through a crisis.

  1. Do an overall assessment of what challenges the organization will face if there is an immediate need to shift to remote work. Is the organization still issuing paper checks? Are expense reports submitted in paper? How are checks received from donors or customers? Once a determination has been made about where the challenge areas are, the organization can take steps to mitigate these problem areas.
  2. Start with the simple things. For organizations that have been paperless for some time, these suggestions may not be relevant. But for nonprofits who are struggling in this time to juggle the demands of servicing their stakeholders while making the transition to a remote workforce, these small changes can help maintain operations during this stressful time.
    1. Determine which individual on the team can receive forwarded mail. If the organization receives paper checks from donors or paper invoices from vendors, identify one key individual to receive forwarded mail.
    2. Invest in inexpensive hardware to help the designated individual share the information. Because scanners and printers are relatively inexpensive, these acquisitions can be a low cost solution to enable the chosen individual to share the information received from their home to key employees in the organization electronically. The hardware is easily transported so that it can be incorporated into the organization when the emergency conditions end and work returns to the office.
    3. Establish a work flow and incorporate a service such as UPS or FedEx to enable the individual to send important documents to others within the organization as needed.
    4. Talk to the organization’s bank about options for remotely depositing checks. Some banks have dedicated scanners that can be used for this purpose.
    5. Establish an account with a video conferencing service to allow your teams and stakeholders to maintain contact.
  3. Decide what can be done right away. If the organization has many corporate credit card holders or employees submit many expense reimbursements, for example, an expense report management system is relatively simple to implement and can bring this process to a mobile environment for an organization.
  4. Plan for the medium term (one month). While the tendency is to only think about the immediate needs, little information is available to determine how long the current crisis will last. In thinking longer term, consider if a transition to a paperless accounting process may be needed for the organization. Implementing a web based accounts payable and accounts receivable system can be done within a few weeks and has tremendous benefits to the organization overall. The cost of implementation can vary but is generally affordable.
  5. Determine a permanent crisis strategy for the organization. Though today’s concerns center around coronavirus, every organization should have an emergency plan for the financial health of the organization. Emergencies can happen and the response time for addressing emergencies can be substantially reduced when some advanced planning is done.

Reach out to your trusted advisors at Marcum LLP for guidance and troubleshooting. Our nonprofit experts can help with your immediate and long term crisis management needs.

Coronavirus Resource Center

Have more questions about the impact of the coronavirus on your business? Visit Marcum’s Coronavirus Resource Center for up-to-date information.