3 min read

Balancing act: mastering the delicate dance between security and usability in document exchange

May 07, 2024

By Mike Fouts, Chief Business Officer


In today's fast-paced, digital world, accounting firms face a critical challenge: ensuring the security of sensitive client data while maintaining the usability of document exchange solutions. As technology evolves, finding the right balance between these two crucial aspects has become a top priority for accounting professionals.





The risk of neglecting security or usability


When it comes to document exchange, neglecting either security or usability can lead to significant consequences. On the one hand, failing to prioritize security measures can result in data breaches, compromising sensitive client information and eroding trust in the firm's ability to handle confidential data responsibly. 



"I had a pretty in-depth conversation with an accountant right before tax season,” said Adrienne Lester, a ShareFile senior sales director, on a recent ShareFile webinar. “She was going back and forth on bringing in new technology right before tax season. She ultimately decided not to do it, and unfortunately, during that tax season, she did suffer a breach by way of an email, leading to email communication being intercepted by a bad actor.”



But on the other hand, overemphasizing security at the expense of usability can lead to inefficient workflows, frustrated staff, and dissatisfied clients. When document exchange solutions are too complex or cumbersome to use, employees may resort to unsecure workarounds, such as sending sensitive information via unencrypted email attachments, ultimately defeating the purpose of the security measures.



Best practices for balancing security and usability


Accounting firms must implement best practices that address both aspects to achieve a successful balance between security and usability. 


"Some accountants have started to build their entire client onboarding process inside of ShareFile,” said Stacy Shrader, lead product marketing manager at ShareFile. “They'll send an engagement letter right from ShareFile. And then, after the client signs, it automatically kicks off a welcome email. And inside of that welcome email, they have all their protocols and security procedures on how the client is going to work with them or their staff members. And then it'll also give them their information for their client portal setup, as well."


By automating processes and providing user-friendly tools, firms can streamline secure document exchange while ensuring that staff and clients are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to maintain security.


Other best practices for balancing security and usability include:


  • Requiring login for client portals
  • Using secure document collection methods
  • Setting granular document management controls
  • Encrypting emails and attachments
  • Unifying communication in a single secure repository



Choosing the right document exchange solution


Selecting the right document exchange solution is crucial for balancing security and usability. 


"There's this interesting continuum that you have to consider when bringing in a new vendor or evaluating a solution in general,” Adrienne said. “There is one side of the house that is super locked down, super secure, definitely not putting yourself in any kind of compromised situation. And then the other is a very commercial, easy-to-use platform that may not have all the bells and whistles, but you're getting some level of security. And then there's someplace probably in between."


When evaluating potential solutions, firms should look for key features such as collaborative cloud solutions for internal and external sharing, document-centric workflows with no-code automations, seamless security features, and vendor enablement and support.


One important security feature to consider is single sign-on (SSO). "The beauty of SSO is that it's going to reduce password fatigue,” Adrienne said. “You have one password, and it gets you access to lots of different things within your firm. And frankly, there's just a lot of additional protocols that SSO providers will give you. So you're going to see a decreased risk of phishing, the password management itself, and it typically comes with its own level of multi-factor authentication."




Trust your gut


Ultimately, you must trust your instincts when it comes to balancing security and usability in document exchange solutions. "I wouldn't feel comfortable sending my Social Security number over email to anyone, even if it was a bank,” Stacy said. “So I would take precautions, still with your gut's thinking."


By prioritizing security best practices and selecting solutions that offer robust protection and user-friendly features, accounting firms can successfully navigate the challenges of secure document exchange in today's digital age.



The path forward


As technology advances, the need to continually assess and adapt document exchange solutions to maintain the balance between security and usability will remain a critical challenge for accounting firms. By staying informed about best practices, investing in the right tools, and fostering a culture of security awareness, firms can protect sensitive client data while ensuring efficient, effective internal and external collaboration.


To learn more about the insights, strategies, and best practices for balancing security and usability in document exchange solutions, watch the full ShareFile webinar featuring Stacy Shrader and Adrienne Lester. Their expertise and real-world examples offer valuable guidance for accounting professionals navigating this complex landscape.