How We Began, Where We’re Going. Looking back on 20 years in the tax resolution business.
Two decades ago, the tax resolution business was a burgeoning industry. Consumers facing IRS action and beleaguered by complicated tax issues were clamoring for answers and assistance. Taxpayer expectations were high, and were sometimes accentuated by the dramatic results promoted by many of the new resolution firms.
“At the time there weren’t very many companies in the industry,” said Brian Biffle, who along with Tim Shea and Hansen Rada founded 20/20 Tax Resolution in 1998. “There was a tendency for companies to focus their promotional efforts on these spectacular resolutions that were sometimes secured. But the value and peace of mind consumers gained just by having an expert on their side sometimes became lost or ignored.”
Biffle, Shea and Rada knew there was a better way. They felt that clients in need deserved a straightforward approach, an honest assessment of their options and more important, the relief of knowing they were in capable hands. And they knew that increasing competition in the industry would be one way to encourage more accountability for all consumers.
Together, they thought, why not “show ‘em how it’s done.”
Thus, on August 3, 1998, 20/20 Tax Resolution was born. The name signified the “perfect vision” the new company could provide to clearly see through complicated tax liabilities and options. The company’s promise: “Visualize a financially secure future.”
“We were really focused on being honest with our customers about what they could and could not accomplish with resolutions,” Biffle said. “We wanted to be realistic about what they could expect from their resolution.”
What’s more, 20/20 wanted to offer clients value without over promising results, resorting to pushy sales tactics or using fear-based hooks to lure nervous taxpayers. The newly formed company wanted to give customers a clear choice in an industry where competition was low and consumer vulnerability was high.
“We knew we could provide plenty of value without claiming that every client was going to save $100,000,” he said. “We could provide a clear assessment of their chances of success and what they could save. And we could demonstrate why it makes sense to hire an expert representative.”
20/20 understood right from the start that the peace of mind generated from having a knowledgeable expert in your corner cannot be underestimated. The company treated clients with respect and as partners on the road to a positive resolution.
“When you start a case you can’t promise things you don’t know,” Biffle said. “Clients respect that you might not have all the answers right away. They respect that honesty. That’s really the foundation of the whole company. Being honest with our clients. Being honest with our employees.”
A lot of disparate issues come together to create a great outcome, Biffle said. Sometimes issues are the client’s responsibility and sometimes they are our responsibility. The key at 20/20 has always been (and will always be) to develop the trust between our agent and the client to create the best possible resolution.
“If you’re negotiating on someone’s behalf for a year and you’re only giving them good news, something’s not right,” Biffle said. “Life’s not always about good news, and when you tell the client both the good and the bad they respect you more.”
With a solid business plan and approach in place, the stage was set for 20/20’s success. Of course, there were pitfalls along the way. Legal and legislative issues arose at times. And of course, there have been the ever-present challenges that come with running any business. There were times projections for company growth exceeded reality – and times when initial hopes for new hires fell short.
“Hiring and then having to lay people off is really tough,” Biffle said. “We care about all of our employees and anyone who has ever worked here.”
Over the years, 20/20 endured the ups and downs to become one of the industry’s most successful and respected firms of its type. Through three different offices and from one employee to more than 100, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. In just its second year (1999), the firm experienced significant growth eventually leading to $10 million in revenue by 2008. To date, 20/20 has served more than 27,000 clients in all 50 states.
Along the way, the company has evolved to meet the needs of clients, as well as to adapt to changing tax regulations and policies. After years of experience, the company recognized the challenges clients can face after their resolution is finalized. Sometimes, life circumstances interfere with a client’s ability to meet payment plan obligations. Other times, a mistake from a taxing authority can negatively impact an agreement. To combat these issues (and others), 20/20 created POA+ in 2008. This subscription-based service provides clients with ongoing monitoring of taxing authorities to ensure that no action on your status is taken without your knowledge. It maintains 20/20’s Power of Attorney on your behalf to ensure quick action should any issues arise and provides continued access to your 20/20 team for any questions you might have.
As for the future, Biffle said the company will continue to develop better and more cost-effective ways to assist taxpayers in an environment that is constantly changing. In the current political environment, decreasing funding for IRS operations makes the type of services 20/20 offers even more essential to taxpayers in need of assistance.
“We hear from clients everyday about how difficult it is to contact the IRS and get answers from them,” Biffle said. “Our worry is that this will only get worse the more the IRS becomes defunded. A person running for office saying ‘I want to give the IRS more money’ is not a real popular campaign slogan. We’re going to continue seeing taxpayers facing these problems.”
On the horizon, Biffle said the company is working to help alleviate some of that complexity by adding services for payroll issues and better financing options for clients. In addition, 20/20 is working on a product that will help clients quickly identify where they stand with the IRS for a low fee, allowing them to obtain the type of information they need to make important decisions.
“We have a lot of great things queued up for the future,” Biffle said. “I want us to continue to do what we’ve always done, which is to provide outstanding, ethical service to our clients. We’ve faced our challenges but looking back over 20 years I don’t see any challenge we can’t handle.”