Date posted: 14/05/2020 5 min read

Our most useful work changes during the COVID-19 lockdown

Working remotely has taught Meg Heffron and Lyn Formica CA valuable lessons that other accountants could find useful.

In Brief

  • One lost benefit of working in the office is listening to peers help solve each other’s problems.
  • Heffron now runs weekly online SMSF Clinics for its accounting clients, where Heffron’s experts workshop problems.
  • The firm has switched to video calls and fewer emails to communicate with its team and its clients during COVID-19.

By Meg Heffron and Lyn Formica CA

Heffron SMSF Solutions is committed to raising standards within the SMSF industry. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, we underestimated how much all of us at Heffron learn by listening to more experienced colleagues: debating issues, proposing solutions, discussing alternatives, making decisions, explaining those decisions to clients.

That realisation has had a tremendous influence on the new services we’ve developed during COVID-19.

Informal problem solving at online clinics

When we ask our staff what they miss about working in the (physical) office, they make the obvious points about social contact, friends and being near a good coffee shop. But one lost benefit surprised us all and transformed how we do things: listening to peers help solve each other’s problems.

We now run weekly SMSF Clinics, where our technical experts workshop online the problems posed by our accounting clients. By opening these up, staff and clients can digitally replicate the office’s informal learning process as much as possible.

Workshopping issues related to COVID-19 relief

The SMSF Clinics swiftly reveal the most common, front-of-mind questions for our accounting clients, including:

  • Whether their client will be eligible to access their super under the Australian government’s new early access relief scheme
  • What documentation Heffron is preparing for its own SMSFs that are taking advantage of the early access relief
  • How SMSF landlords should deal with providing rent relief to related party tenants
  • Non COVID-19-driven issues, such as handling death in an SMSF where retirement phase pensions are involved.

These sessions have filled in knowledge gaps and have helped us troubleshoot the practical implementation of so many new developments.

The same approach could potentially work for – and rejuvenate – an accounting firm struggling to get information about important developments out to all their clients during COVID-19.

The JobKeeper scheme, rent relief requirements for landlords, early access to superannuation and reductions in minimum pension payments have plenty of devil in the detail – and that’s something an informal clinic style could handily address.

Meg HeffronPicture: Meg Heffron, managing director of Heffron SMSF Solutions.

Your lack of slide skills doesn’t matter

Don’t think that online knowledge delivery is not for you just because nice slides and a slick presentation are not your strengths.

We’re getting a huge response to a group webinar where the ‘visuals’ are simply very good questions, and the ‘production values’ are your clients and staff listening to you and a colleague discuss the answers.

Update online resources and make them searchable

COVID-19 has also put a blowtorch on just how ‘online’ a firm’s resources truly are. Many resources wanted by firms are rooted to a company’s intranet, often painfully slow to update, or only available as emails which have been buried in the archives or the bowels of an inbox.

By contrast, our principal ‘bible’ for both SMSF clients and our own staff is the Heffron Super Companion. We spent valuable time and resources months ago to ensure it could be dynamically updated and searched for. It now looks like a bargain and one that has enabled our clients to keep up.

We have been able to update our reference material in the chapter on COVID-19 daily or even more frequently, alerting staff and clients as we do so. It’s a far cry from making them track down another newsletter or blog, always wondering if the information is still current.

Maintaining a dynamic online resource has also enabled us to keep strategic opportunities front of mind. There is nothing like including a standard heading that says ‘opportunities’ in a page template for forcing the author to think more broadly about every change.

Lyn Formica CAPicture: Lyn Formica CA, head of SMSF Technical and Education Services with Heffron SMSF Solutions.

Fewer emails, more video calls and easier collaboration

Online technology has also transformed the way we work. More video calls (rather than voice only calls) and fewer emails have been positive developments in how we interact with each other and clients. Our Brisbane team, which has always been separate from our head office in Sydney, say they are finding it far easier to collaborate now that the entire company is working from home.

COVID-19’s health and economic concerns are real and severe, yet we are also incredibly fortunate to be experiencing its turmoil at a time when the online tools we have at our disposal are so capable – compared to when Heffron first started in the 1990s.

Few of us would have chosen COVID-19 as a catalyst for change for the better. Yet when things slowly return to normal – or the new normal – we’d like to think we will keep some of our new, better habits and offerings and they will help us, and others rebuild.

Meg Heffron is an actuary and the managing director of Heffron SMSF Solutions.

Lyn Formica CA is the head of SMSF Technical and Education Services with Heffron SMSF Solutions. She is an accredited SMSF specialist adviser of the SMSF Association.

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