Date posted: 19/06/2020 5 min read

Lessons for accountants from the pandemic crisis

It is clear that the accounting profession will operate quite differently in the wake of COVID-19.

In Brief

  • COVID-19 has shown that operational efficiency, marketing and agile technology are what matters for accountants.
  • In fast-moving market conditions, quality and timeliness of information is most important.
  • Firms that had online models and accepted telecommuting had few problems transitioning to remote working.

In early April, LinkedIn was a whirlwind of chatter about government subsidies. In Australia, many accounting firms were spending time on social media and the phone explaining the ins and outs of JobKeeper and government-backed loans. The foremost topic – how to hang onto your cash and survive the shutdown.

SBO Financial was one of a few firms watching a bigger, darkening storm on the horizon. CEO Jason Andrew CA began promoting a new webinar, Prepare Your Business For an Economic Recession, based on his “recession planning playbook”.

“It’s a framework we’ve kept in the bottom drawer for times like this,” Andrew wrote in his email to webinar registrants.

The webinar was oversubscribed, and SBO Financial, a small Queensland bookkeeping business, was adding 10 customers a week.

Quality information the key

March and April were critical months for many practices as they moved from their offices into work-from-home arrangements while fielding calls from panicked clients.

From the sidelines, three aspects stood out about how firms responded. After the first call with my accountant, it was clear that business owners with their accounts reconciled and tax returns up to date could make better decisions about cash flow and eligibility for benefits.

Firms that had baked in bookkeeping to their compliance model, especially with weekly reconciliation, could provide quality advice much faster. Firms interacting with clients on a quarterly or annual basis had less information and potentially outstanding tax returns.

Every firm likes to think it runs an efficient operation. But when it comes to fast-moving market conditions, the most important factor is the quality and timeliness of information. If you’re providing bookkeeping at highly regular intervals, you have the data.

The second aspect is marketing. Good marketing is not just jumping on a bandwagon. It’s about saying something that’s new, and that requires devoting time to forming original opinions. It takes the form of high-quality content that makes a difference to your clients.

Companies with long-term investments in quality content responded faster, winning new business and supporting existing clients.

SBO Financial’s recession playbook was based on the assumption that, based on 10-year cycles, the world was due for another downturn. Andrew had sketched an outline for a book on this topic 12 months earlier. It was intended as a follow-up to his first book, an accounting guide for entrepreneurs called Stark Naked Numbers, which sold 2000 copies in a year.

Speed to market matters

A handful of software companies also showed how speed to market mattered for marketing.

Change GPS, which sells tools to speed up compliance, very quickly put together a business continuity package to help accountants advise clients beyond the government subsidies. The webinar in late March attracted more than 1800 registrants.

Richard Francis CA, CEO of Spotlight Reporting software, ran a Recession-Busting Tips webinar in early April showing accountants how to use scenarios to understand, project and protect cash flow.

Spotlight’s advisory hub, an online resource that educates accountants in the art of advisory, was also updated. It was offering free and unlimited certification (CPD qualified) during the COVID crisis and extending trials of its online reporting software from 30 to 60 days.

Technology drives agility

The third aspect was technology. Firms that had embraced online models and a culture that accepted telecommuting had few problems making the transition to work-from-home. But plenty of firms, even some larger ones, were caught short. VPNs [virtual private networks], particularly at the Big Four, were overloaded with traffic.

The cat is out of the bag as far as telecommuting is concerned. A Gartner survey on 30 March found that 74% of CFOs would move previously on-site employees to remote working permanently.

It is clear that the accounting profession will operate quite differently in the wake of this pandemic. The crisis has shown what matters: operational efficiency, marketing, and the agility that comes with technology.

“The crisis has shown what matters. Operational efficiency. Marketing. The agility that comes with technology.”
Sholto Macpherson

Many accountants who have resisted technology-driven change have been forced to move. On many fronts, it will be a change for the better.

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