Innovation Refunds is a fintech-based escrow company that helps its clients to obtain tax refunds under a federal program that is due to expire in April 2024. To prepare for the upcoming deadline-driven surge in activity, the company is adding additional locations and moving its headquarters in 2023, while tripling its staff of accountants, tax attorneys, and other professionals. During this growth phase and beyond, Innovation Refunds relies on Bigleaf to support business continuity with stable, consistent network performance across all locations.
Customer profile: Innovation Refunds
Innovation Refunds employs a staff of 1,063, including over 700 who were hired in the past year. About a third of employees currently work in their West Des Moines, Iowa office.
For the past two years, Innovation Refunds has focused on obtaining tax refunds for company clients who qualify for an employee retention credit (ERC) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The ERC expires in April 2024, and Innovation Refunds expects activity to increase dramatically as the deadline approaches.
Challenge: Maintain service levels amid rapid expansion
To prepare for the additional activity, the company is continuing to execute its staffing plan with additional locations and capacity in Arizona, Iowa, and Florida, including new headquarters in downtown Miami. The move will improve the company’s proximity to key financial partners and markets.
Innovation Refunds manages its business entirely online, including exchanging private, confidential information with clients, tax attorneys, tax preparers, and the Federal Government. “Downtime and poor connectivity pose huge risks to the business,” said Nathan Phinney, CIO of Innovation Refunds. “We’ve effectively mitigated those risks with Bigleaf’s SD-WAN technology,” he added.
Solution: Bigleaf delivers reliable, consistent network performance
Nathan introduced Innovation Refunds to Bigleaf Networks when he served the company as a managed service provider. Prior to that, the company had set up internet connectivity with redundant fiber lines from two separate carriers. Both carriers used the same provider for the last mile, however. While each line was reliable, the combination was not fault-tolerant, according to Nathan. He brought in multiple carriers and partnered with Bigleaf to deliver last-mile diversity that optimized network performance and resilience.
Bigleaf has been instrumental in the company’s expansion plans, as well. Each of the new Innovation Refunds offices is serviced by a different set of ISPs who don’t offer a uniform choice of circuit types or service packages. Bigleaf works with any ISP and connection type, so Nathan can ensure a consistent, stable internet connection for all of the company’s disparate locations.
Since adding Bigleaf, Innovation Refunds has weathered several outages – including planned maintenance – without any downtime or disruption. When potential issues arise, Nathan’s IT team receives email or Slack alerts from Bigleaf. The team can address those problems proactively, without any degradation in the user experience for employees or clients. If one of the circuits experiences problems or even fails entirely, Bigleaf Same-IP Failover moves network traffic to a working circuit, automatically and seamlessly.
“Even when there’s an outage, our users don’t know there’s anything wrong,” Nathan asserted.
Because Bigleaf operates outside the firewall, Innovation Refunds was able to maintain its established networking and security policies. Those specific, mission-critical technologies enable the company to remain in compliance with regulations that govern financial institutions and accounting firms. Recently, the company earned AICPA SOC2 attestation, allowing Innovation Refunds to work directly with banks and other financial service providers.
Relocating with cellular service — and Bigleaf
As Innovation Refunds began transitioning its headquarters from Iowa to Florida, employees were eager to begin work in the Miami office. Unfortunately, the fiber circuits had not been set up yet. In the interim, Nathan’s team provided internet access by connecting multiple cellular providers to the Bigleaf service, via a pair of Cradlepoint wireless routers, so employees could begin work immediately at the new headquarters.
Bigleaf supported internet-based applications, including business-critical voice and video calls, over the relatively low-bandwidth cellular connections. Bigleaf’s Dynamic QoS and intelligent load balancing work together to automatically identify and prioritize VoIP and video session traffic, which is particularly sensitive to internet performance issues. Bigleaf routes those sessions to the best available path, so employees can communicate without disruptions or distractions.
“Bigleaf’s automated QoS does a remarkable job,” Nathan said. “The default settings have worked 100% of the time, so we don’t need to worry about programming any of it.”
Once the new fiber circuits were installed, Innovation Refunds retained the cellular services for redundancy. Nathan expects the company to be increasingly busy as the ERC claims deadline approaches, and the expanding workload will make further disruptions intolerable. It’s a significant amount of work to collect the required documentation for a single refund, and time is growing short for the potential claimants who have yet to begin the process.
“The cost of downtime will also rise as the deadline approaches,” Nathan explained. “The last two months are more valuable than the previous ten months,” he said. “Especially during this busy period, our success depends on reliable and resilient internet connectivity.”
“And there’s no way I’d want to do this without Bigleaf,” he concluded.
About the Employee Retention Credit
Businesses may qualify for a refundable tax credit if they retained salaried employees – and paid employment taxes – despite sustaining losses during the COVID-related shutdowns of 2020 and 2021.
Qualifying businesses may receive Employee Retention Credit (ERC) tax refunds of up to $26,000 per employee. Innovation Refunds offers free payroll tax refund estimates at getrefunds.com.
Watch our webinar with Nathan Phinney, CIO of Innovation Refunds
Don’t miss our upcoming webinar: “Does your network…not-work? Eliminating internet unpredictability in 2023.” Nathan Phinney, CIO of Innovation Refunds and Lori Stout, CMO of Bigleaf Networks will discuss proven technologies and strategies for preserving business-critical network operations with Michael Krieger of Network Computing.