By Kevin Westrick
for the Daily News

Imagine doing your income tax return without paper. It IS possible. Aaron and Jennifer Dawson have turned Opsahl, Dawson & Co. P.S. into a “new-age” accounting firm by transforming the 33-year-old firm into a paperless office.

“Paperless works fantastic,” Aaron said. “When a client calls, you can answer the question right there. You don’t have to call back in 15 minutes because you have to go find a file.”

In 2009, the Dawsons became second- generation owners of Opsahl, Dawson & Co. after buying out founder George Opsahl Jr., who remains part of the company.

The company is changing its name to Opsahl Dawson. Aaron Dawson said he will keep Opsahl in the name for brand recognition out of respect for Opsahl, a family friend who started the Longview firm, now at 959 11th Ave.

Going paperless has enabled the firm to save clients’ money and hassles, the owners said.

“Once you finish a file, you don’t have to touch it again. You don’t have put the file back. It’s already where it should be,” Aaron Dawson said.

The system works through the company’s website. Clients sign in with a secure password into a protected portal system. Clients’ tax returns are posted in a PDF format inside the portal system, where they can be viewed confidentially.

A return will remain on the portal system for a year. Upon request, clients may also receive printed copies of their return. All tax returns are electronically filed, a requirement by the IRS.

“It requires zero ‘admin’ time. They don’t have to process it, print it, staple it or send it with postage in the mail,” Dawson said. “We don’t want to email it because email is not secure. The secure portal is password-protected.”

The main reason the office has gone paperless, Aaron Dawson said, is to give staff greater flexibility to work from home, especially during the intense, 10-week tax return season every spring when accountants work long hours.

“The biggest driver is, today’s work force does not want to be away from their families that much. They can be at work at home while their kids are sleeping,” he said. “Today’s work force wants to be flexible, and that has required us to go paperless so they can work at home.”

The office has cut its paper use in half — from 100 boxes to 50 — for a $2,000 annual savings, Dawson said. However, he’s had to invest in extra equipment, so he’s not sure going paperless has saved any money. But it has several other advantages: It reduces need for storage, making it easier for the firm eventually to expand. And it’s more secure: There’s no hard copy to steal in the event of a break-in, Dawson said.

“You have to go through several passwords” to retrieve computer files. “It’s just much more secure.”

Most clients still bring their tax paperwork in as hard copy, but it is turned, kept only in computer files. And because all accountants are working off the same software, there is more consistency in how returns are prepared, Dawson added.

“Everybody does the work the same way.”

The paperless system makes coordination between Opsahl Dawson’s offices in Longview and Vancouver much smoother, the owners say. After employees in Longview finish a tax return and close the file, employees in Vancouver can immediately open it for review. Data is backed up at both locations.

“When I first came to the firm I was driving my pickup with boxes full of files, carrying them back and forth because we were using different resources in different offices,” Dawson said. “They couldn’t get started on (a file) for two days because I wouldn’t be driving to Vancouver until Wednesday. This way, the two offices work together.”