How savvy are your accountants about bar codes?

“Somewhat.” “Not very.” “Not a lot.” If your answer includes more than a few “nots,” you could be ignoring a key piece of technology that could help make some accounting decisions easier, speed up the time to receive payments, and help your company attract more business.

That piece of technology is a Quick Response (QR) code. Dating back to the mid-1990s, when they were invented by a division of Toyota, QRs are those matrixes inside tiny black boxes that appear on billboards, magazines, and toys, for example, that can help shoppers get the products they need even if an item is sold out. The codes are increasingly being applied to business services, including accounting, experts say.

All that’s needed is a smartphone or other mobile-payment device with scanning to supply the ability to use the codes. “I was getting enough calls from our tax clients [asking] ‘What are QR codes? And am I supposed to be using this?’” says Lee Reams, president of online tax and accounting advisory ClientWhys.

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That’s why he prepared his own how-to on how accountants can use QR codes back in March. Although selling a product or finding a retail store location are probably the most common uses of QR codes, Reams says interest is out there from accountants and CFOs in exploring how to present their firm’s tax or other accounting services through the codes.

CFOs use the codes to measure hard-to-quantify elements of their marketing budgets, adds James Alexander, CEO of Vizibility, an online identity-management company that offers QR code services. He tells clients, several of which are accounting firms, that when they have employees at professional speaking events, it’s wise to send QR codes of the speakers to the organizers along with bios and headshots. In that way, the audience can scan the speaker’s code while he or she is taking part in a panel discussion. “It’s like putting a couple of hundred business cards in the audience,” says Alexander. Otherwise, he notes, “it’s hard to measure [the success of] that trade show you just spent a half a million dollars sponsoring.”

Embedding videos, including video bios, on the QR codes is another way accountants have begun to differentiate themselves, though the practice is hardly widespread. “Video is very powerful,” says Alexander. In order to get a competitive edge, he says, “accounting firms are starting to do videos of their professionals, and they are posting them on their websites” as well.

Alexander says the videos are used to build trust and confidence in the individual or in the firm. “To hear an accountant talking about when his child was born” may have little to do with accounting, he acknowledges. Still, it can have huge marketing value for a potential client to think that “this guy is really genuine and personable,” he adds.

CFOs and other senior executives are using videos along with QR codes to decide on whether to hire an outside accounting firm or strategic advisers, adds Alexander. The codes are one way to lessen some of the search steps involved, particularly if two accounting firms are similar and look good on paper. If one firm is technically savvy enough to present its service offerings to possible clients via the use of QR codes and its competitor can’t, that could be a differentiator, according to Alexander.

Just how do QR codes work? They can get information out on tax-saving tips, for example, to a target audience more directly than other advertising means, according to ClientWhys’s Reams. “It makes that connection much quicker versus a traditional direct-response ad or an ad in a trade magazine, which might have a homepage listed. But that doesn’t take them straight to talking to a medical professional or a tax professional on how to better organize for the cloud,” he adds.

Scanning the code is also easier than logging on to a computer and finding a firm’s link or website, which can have many URLs. Further, while URLs can be as many as 50 characters long, QR codes incorporate “a lot of information that does not have to be rekeyed,” says Reams.

Corporations are also using the codes to speed up payment functions. Douglas G. Bergeron, chief executive officer at VeriFone Systems, a San Jose, California-based mobile-payments solution company, said last month on its Q3 2012 earnings call that it plans to use QR codes more actively next year.

The firm works in conjunction with such companies as Google, Isis, and PayPal so customers at retail shops can more easily use QR codes for payment solutions at various outlets. “We continue to augment our platform with new forms of payments every day, including things like QR codes,” says Bergeron. “We are working with both McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts mobile initiatives, making use of the VeriFone platform.”

He maintains that if “QR codes, for example, become a bona fide way to redeem prepaid balances from a prepaid card in a coffee shop, then the retailer is going to want a QR-code capability managed with its existing infrastructures.”

Use of QR codes is indeed growing. According to a study last October by research Website comScore, more than 20 million U.S. mobile-phone owners used a mobile device to scan a QR code.

Similarly, corporations beyond the retail sector are realizing the benefits of receiving quicker payments from the use of QR codes and other mobile-payment systems. In August, VeriFone, along with Google, Isis, and PayPal, teamed up with a number of banks, credit-card companies, and U.S. network operators to form the Mobile Payments Committee, a subgroup of the Electronic Transactions Assn. The group plans to educate merchants and the public about the growing use of all mobile payments. Your accounting firms could be next.

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