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1. Tax prep companies can’t hide their free filing software from Google anymore
IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Internal Revenue Service announced that they will be making changes in an effort to make filing taxes less stressful this upcoming year. It will now be easier for Americans to file their taxes for free, thanks to an addendum to the nearly two-decade old Free File agreement. The addendum forbids Intuit — the maker of TurboTax — and the nine additional companies forming the Free File Alliance from being involved in any interactions that would keep their free software from appearing in a Google search or any additional search engines, for that matter. The most profound change — however — is that the IRS will be permitted to develop software of their own (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Taxpayers who are paying software companies a fee to file their taxes really shouldn’t be. There are plenty of free services available to do this — and even the IRS plans to get in the game.
2. Receipt Bank raises $73M
Receipt Bank
Digital bookkeeping platform Receipt Bank announced last month that they have raised nearly $73 million in equity and debt during a Series C funding round led by Insight Partners. Receipt Bank’s machine learning technology categorizes and digitizes financial data from several sources, processing and storing the information for bookkeepers and accountants. The company plans to use the funding to expand upon its product suite, as well as continue growth in North America, Europe and Australia. (Source: Pymnts)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Receipt Bank is one of a number of back-office processing applications that leverage technology that can extract data from an image (e.g., a vendor’s invoice sent to you as a PDF) and migrate it directly to your accounting system with little human involvement. I’ve recommended products like Receipt Bank to clients who are looking to increase office productivity and lower overhead.
3. AI startups raised a record $18.5 billion in 2019
Data collected by the National Venture Capital Association showed that $18.457 billion was raised by 1,356 AI-focused companies in the U.S. during 2019, despite collective U.S. venture capital funding showing a decline during that time. According to the data, facial recognition, finance, drug research, and autonomous driving appeared to have some of the highest investments, while the amount of AI unicorn startups similarly went up. (Source: Venture Beat)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Follow the money, right? If almost $19 billion was invested in artificial intelligence in the past year, both businesses and consumers can expect to see a lot of this research and development turning into real life technologies in the coming year.
4. Microsoft recommends 400 million users buy new PCs by next month
Microsoft offices
After recently announcing that they will be ending support for the Windows 7 Operating System, Microsoft released a statement suggesting that its nearly 400 million users still on Windows 7 switch entirely to Surface rather than upgrade their devices. The company detailed that — for most users who are using Windows 7 — navigating over to a brand-new PC that has Windows 10 Pro will be the most efficient move since — according to Microsoft — those devices are more secure, powerful, lightweight and operate faster than the previous models. (Source: MS Power User)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: OK, no one’s saying that you have to buy a Surface. There are plenty of other great devices you can get for your business that also run Windows 10. But please … if your company still has computers running Windows 7, you have to do something. Upgrade. Switch to new devices. Turn them off. Computers running older operating systems like Windows 7 are very vulnerable to malware attacks, which means that the cost of not upgrading could very well exceed the cost of replacing those older computers.
5. Google is planning to kill support for third-party cookies
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Google announced that within the next two years it is planning to cease support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. Ad networks and advertisers are typically the ones who add third-party cookies in an effort to track users through various sites in order to help target advertisements and monitor performance. Before Google begins to dial back support for third-party cookies within Chrome, they first plan to navigate meeting the needs of advertisers, publishers and users who will be impacted by the change. (Source: CNBC)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: This is a potentially big deal. Cookies from third parties are at the core of many brands’ efforts to track visitors and drive ads to their attention. If your firm or your clients do online ad campaigns or use retargeting services to drive traffic to your website, then Google’s potential change could impact your marketing plans. Stay tuned.
6. Amazon is reportedly developing hand-scanning technology
Sign at Amazon.com fulfillment center in Hemel Hempstead, U.K.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is developing point-of-sale technology that would allow customers to have their hands scanned in order to make a payment. Using the hand-scanning technology, customers would no longer need to hand over an actual card in order to pay for their merchandise purchased at brick-and-mortar locations. With the developing technology, users would be able to link their handprint to a card prior to use. Amazon is collaborating with Visa and Mastercard regarding the terminals. (Source: SiliconAngle)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Fingerprints, retina scans, embedded chips — now hand scans. Biometrics are coming into the mainstream and the security advantages of these types of access methods are significant. My expectation is that your password will soon be as old-fashioned as the telegram by the end of the decade, so be prepared to consider these new security changes in your business over the next few years.
7. The PC market saw rare growth in 2019
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Research released indicated that the PC market had seen growth for the first time in eight years. According to Gartner and IDC — the firms conducting the research — annual PC shipments over the last year went up. Although the numbers released by both firms differed — with IDC estimating the increase at 2.7 percent year over year and Gartner finding the figure to be only 0.6 percent — any growth is a move in the right direction for the industry, with smartphones having taken precedence over desktop and laptop purchases. (Source: PCMag)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: If Microsoft has their way, those 400 million buyers (see above) may also have an impact in the near future! Two thoughts on this: Because PC sales have dropped so dramatically over the past decade, growth was inevitable because things can only drop so far. But, secondly, it’s good news. As things have shaken out in the hardware market, it’s clear from what I see at most clients that businesses do need PCs and laptops and that tablets and phones can’t do it all. So go ahead: Get that new PC.
8. The Venmo app went down
Mobile phone with Venmo app open
Reports in January confirmed that Venmo — the popular payment app — went down for several hours, and that the software’s desktop version was also impacted during the interruption. Issues with Venmo began on the morning of Dec. 30, 2019, and then progressed throughout the day. Several difficulties during this time were reported by thousands of users, such as frustrations regarding cards being declined and rent and bills going unpaid due to the system issues. By 4:40 p.m. Eastern time, Venmo’s services were fully restored. (Source: Pymnts)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: In this world of cloud-based applications that are vulnerable to power, security and usage issues, it’s important for small-business owners to always have other options. That was a hard lesson learned by those owners and freelancers who only accept Venmo. They were without cash during the service’s outage. They shouldn’t let that happen again.
9. Starbucks offers a meditation app to their employees
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Think working at Starbucks is stressful? So does Starbucks. So much so that the company announced in a press release this past week that they have added Headspace — a meditation app that offers guided meditation — to the benefits that their employees will receive.

The app — which is a subscription service — includes specific programs designed to help individuals with anxiety, stress, as well as many other mental health issues. The addition of Headspace is the most recent move by Starbucks to support mental health. (Source: Fast Casual)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: I’m not going to weigh in on whether it’s stressful to work at Starbucks. (OK, I will — it is.) But that’s not why this story is important for your firm and clients. What’s important is that Starbucks is one of a number companies that are offering apps to their employees for health, wellness, financial planning, productivity and yes, mediation, as a relatively inexpensive perk. Not a bad idea for you, is it?
10. Mevo announces livestreaming video camera
This past month Mevo — a leader in live streaming cameras — announced that pre-orders for their new long-form streaming camera is now open. The new camera — named Mevo Start — amplifies the advanced technology of its existing video products by including 1080p HD video and clear audio that will allow users to easily share vital events in real-time. The Mevo App and Mevo Start are designed specifically for social media influencers and consumers at any level to help easily and efficiently livestream. (Source: GlobeNewswire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: I’m a user and a fan of Mevo because their technology is affordable and provides a quality product. If you’re social media and online activities include making videos, then Mevo is a great technology to consider, and the product’s new features make it even more attractive.

Note: Some of these stories also appeared on Forbes.com.
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