How to Build an Accountant’s Scanning System

Corralling your paper monster and getting control

Are you overwhelmed by stacks of paper? Do you find it difficult to locate information you know you have? Well, here’s a scanning system that will help.

I have the privilege of visiting other CPA firms, and we have about 120 people in my company, so I have the opportunity to see plenty of offices. It is my observation that some CPAs are paperless, but many are not.

Scanning System for CPAs

Picture is from AdobeStock.com

One problem with “paper everywhere” is we can’t find what we need. We have it (somewhere), but we can’t find it. Scanning is the easiest way to capture and organize the paper monster.

To create order, take three steps:

  1. Buy a scanner
  2. Build a scanning structure
  3. Build scanning habits

1. Buy a Scanner

My scanner is a Fujitsu iX500. It sits just to my right in my office (see picture below), so I don’t have to leave my desk to scan. Convenience is key to creating order. Otherwise, you will think, “I’ll scan that later,” which doesn’t happen. Then the paper is littering your desk–and distracting you.

CPA's office

Picture of my office

The iX500 costs less than $425, so it’s not a huge cash outlay. The scanner’s footprint is small (the dimensions are 6.1 x 11.4 x 6.6 inches) and it only weighs six pounds. Also, the scanner comes with  software (ScanSnap) that offers you destinations such as these:

Scansnap Software

ScanSnap File Locations

I often scan to Evernote, my cloud-based library. Another favorite destination: Caseware, our paperless engagement software. These end locations are my digital scan structure.

2. Build a Scanning Structure

So, of course, when you scan, you need final resting places for your documents.

My two primary file locations are:

  • Evernote for non-engagement documents
  • Caseware for engagement documents

Non-Engagement Documents

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a raving Evernote lunatic. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Ease of use (it’s intuitive, making it easy to understand)
  • Notebooks (you use notebooks to organize your documents)
  • Tags (you can tag each note with multiple tags, making it easy to find the material)
  • Feed-ability (I can feed Evernote from my scanner, email, clip-apps, drag and drop, and many other ways)
  • Find-ability (Evernote even recognizes hand-written notes making it possible to search electronically and find a keyword–even if written)
  • Accessibility (I can access Evernote from my iPhone, iPad, and desktop)
  • Cost (about $60 per year; they do offer a free version but with limitations)
  • Allows storage of a variety of documents (including Excel, Word, PDF, Audible files)

There are other cloud-based storage systems such as OneNote and Dropbox. Pick one and learn it well.

Engagement Documents

If your firm is not already paperless, consider making the leap. We have used Caseware for years and, personally, I love it. We use this software for storage of the following engagement files:

  • Tax
  • Audit
  • Reviews
  • Compilations
  • AUPs

My firm has built templates for each of these services, so everyone in our firm knows where documents (including scans) belong.

To scan promptly, you need to build habits, so creating a repeatable, mental system is critical to the process.

3. Build Scanning Habits

Build your scanning habits. My system is as follows:

  • If it takes less than two minutes to scan, scan now
  • If it takes more than two minutes, I place the paper in a file tray where I will later batch process
  • Scan all paper by the end of the day
  • Don’t leave unscanned paper on my desk (it’s a distraction)
  • Keep a shred box just below my scanner (where I place sensitive paper documents)
  • For long documents (e.g., CPE workbook), ask an assistant to break down the paper copy, scan it, and email it to me (I don’t use my Fujitsu scanner for heavy-duty scanning. We have a copy machine that will convert large scans to PDF.)

Like any new habit, new scanning actions will–at first–feel awkward and inconvenient. But push through the pain and the actions will become routine.

Act Now

You may feel like the above will take too much time to implement, especially if you have lots of paper. So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Schedule your scanning plan. Pick two days a week and put one hour a day on your calendar. Then attack. Slay your paper monster. I dare you.

Click the scanner image below to see the Fujitsu scanner on Amazon.

More Evernote Information

For more information about Evernote, check out these posts:

Evernote for CPAs

Seven Ways to Feed Evernote

Tips on Searching Your Evernote Account

 

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4 thoughts on “How to Build an Accountant’s Scanning System

  1. Charles,
    You are absolutely correct. There is no reason we should be buried in paper. I am a sole practitioner with a couple of employees. We use Caseware and Fuijitsu scanners just like your shop does. The first scanner worked so well, I bought two more. I just haven’t been able to get my staff to adopt the two screen mode of work yet.

  2. Good job William. Maybe you’ll be able to get them to use the two screens as well. As you have experienced, it’s much easier.

  3. I had a chance to visit one of local goverment offices, not a CPA firm though in Japan today. I have received an impression that Japanese public services are also going paperless in some way. I think that they probably manage and control important data such as individual information in their data base which as a result, make their works efficient but I am not sure. I understand this issue is different from the subject though.

  4. Yumiko, it would be interesting to survey governments throughout the world to see which are paperless. I think most government are partially paperless, but not completely. Most local governments in the U.S. are not completely paperless. Thanks for your comment.