What better way to celebrate the end of the tax season than to heave a bowling ball and knock over as many pins as possible?
That’s how employees of Optima Tax Relief in Santa Ana, on a company-sponsored trip to a bowling alley, shed some of their stress from dealing with the Internal Revenue Service and the California Franchise Tax Board this year.
But the work Optima does on behalf of individuals and businesses that owe significant money to the government — anywhere from $10,000 to more than $1 million — goes on year-round.
Optima specializes in tax debt resolution, a complicated and contentious process that typically involves a three-year commitment to a client. And they are good at it: This year the company exceeded the $1 billion mark in tax debt resolution since its start in 2011.
Optima continued to see growth in demand for its services, thanks in part to the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018.
“What we had found was record numbers of folks who extended and didn’t file on time,” said Optima CEO David King. “At the high level, more and more people are moving to non-compliance and choosing not to participate in the tax administration.”
More demand for services meant more people had to be hired at both the Orange County headquarters and a satellite office in Arizona. King estimated Optima added about 120 employees in Santa Ana since last year and projected another 100 local hires over the next 12 months. Most of staff churn, he said, involves entry-level employees.
Optima nurtures staff with company-wide events — such as festive offsite meetings at a movie theater and annual company picnic and visit to Knott’s Berry Farm — and a budget for department heads to treat their teams to a quarterly outing. Charitable giving is encouraged with paid time off to volunteer and fundraisers for causes each department chooses to support.
“We find it’s therapeutic for them to give relief to others,” King said. “It really translates well when they’re on the phone and somebody is extremely stressed out with their tax case.”
King told The Register more about how Optima goes about doing its business.
Q: This is Optima’s fifth year in a row as an Orange County Register Top Workplace. What’s your secret?
A: We’re in a difficult space. We stay with the client, unlike other financial services, for a period of three years almost because the IRS is extremely slow and somewhat archaic in their processing of files. They’re not very innovative or technology forward.
So we really need to instill a culture of care here. That resonates right through to the clients. It’s really out of necessity. But more importantly, it’s just who we are. The people we hire generally have that backbone of caring and wanting to provide relief to others and really helping out.
Q: How did you get your employees up to speed on the new tax law?
A: We really doubled down on training.
We have two specific training wings. One is on the career development side, to invest in our people and encourage them to grow. It helps with retention, of course, but also we think it really helps create new leadership from within. That’s a must in this job climate.
Also, we have department-level training. We provide certifications and an iterative process to help our team grow and become more efficient on the phone and better prepared to handle any client’s needs.
We need more licensed staff to handle the amount of clients that are coming our way and the growth. So we promoted becoming what’s called an enrolled agent – a licensed tax professional. We’ve been able to create more enrolled agents from within.
The beauty of this is that (someone) can be hired at the $16 an hour mark and quickly ascend through our org chart and be earning over $100,000 in essentially months.
Even better, we pay for all that education.
Q: In a way, the new tax law was fortunate for your company?
A: You could say that. If they’re collecting and enforcing the tax laws, then more and more people are moved to call Optima. We see a quick uptick in business if the IRS sends out a big wave of collection letters.
One thing they did in 2018, for the first time in Optima’s existence, they actually increased in their overall revenue collection through enforcement. It had been on a downward spiral. They set a record of revenue collection.
Q: Do you have any worries right now about the economy slowing or possible recession?
A: You’ve heard the saying about death and taxes. When there is a recession, it doesn’t really impact this business because there are still going to be taxes owed and the IRS is still going to try to collect them.
One thing that will happen is that more and more people will qualify for hardship programs that the IRS offers. It’s actually a good thing for us in a lot of ways because we are able to help more people if they are struggling to pay.
5 Optima Tax Relief
Industry: Tax resolution
U.S. headquarters: Santa Ana
OC locations: 1
OC employees: 598
Years named a Top Workplace: 5
Quote: “One thing we’ve done really well is create that culture of care. We really doubled down on our charitable giving efforts and making our presence felt in the community as well. We’ve found that our staff loves to give back.” David King, CEO of Optima Tax Relief
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