Preparing for the post-pandemic future of the firm
Latest predictions anticipate a shocking 35% reduction in the UK economy by June 2020, which will take a long time to recover. Caroline Harridence examines what the future holds for accountancy.
For the accountant, the post-COVID-19 world will result in many changes as we adapt to service the altered needs of our clients. Firms who had already embraced technology into their business before this pandemic have seen the innumerable benefits.
However, it is now apparent that technology is becoming the key component to accountancy firms going forward in order for them to thrive and compete in the post COVID world.
Technology is vital to the future of accountancy practices. By enabling firms to operate from both remote locations with little notice, and automating otherwise manual processes, technology has shaped all areas of business.
In the future, compliance fees may be squeezed with clients experiencing downturns in trade and needing to cut fees. Accountants losing clients may reduce fees to win new work.
Practice efficiencies created by tech will reduce the cost of completing compliance work, enabling businesses to reduce compliance fees if required. The increased use of analytics will enable accountants to move into a more advisory role.
In providing insightful data and forecasting in real-time, clients are able to scale up and address areas of weakness – creating additional revenue for the practice in return. Firms should invest in this area now to prepare for the world after COVID-19
As we entered the period of lockdown in the UK, we were all forced into the world of remote working. For those already using entirely cloud-based working from home systems, it was an easier shift in working dynamic, being already set up for a remote working structure. Others struggled more, having to buy laptops or send team members home with their office desktop computer.
For some firms, it has been an eye-opener and a huge success. Communication methods such as Zoom and Slack have allowed continued contact with teams and clients. Many teams are more productive at home, completing work faster than in an office environment.
It is unsurprising that some practices have stopped hiring office space, instead adopting remote working businesses structures going forward. This is a huge change and with huge benefits.
Moving from an office to remote working can have huge savings in outgoings as the cost of the office rent is often significant for any firm. In addition, there will be reductions in many other costs such as:
- Utility bills
- Kitchen supplies
- Cleaning costs
- Telephone rental and hardware costs
Wider choice of candidates
Location of candidates is not an issue if they are to be working remotely and this opens up the number of potential candidates for a role in the practice.
Without the commute to work and chatting in the office kitchen, staff are often more productive but happier, as remote working adds the perk of flexible hours, improving the work-life balance.
Task-based working also becomes an option, and has been successfully adopted by many practices and under these circumstances. When the tasks for the day are complete, the employee can finish work, rather than complete an arbitrary 7.5 hours a day.
However, staff must be trusted to complete their work, which can be an issue for managers. Having regular team meetings and one-on-one catch up sessions can help alleviate these concerns.
It can be a challenge to train new staff without one-on-one contact, but there are solutions, e.g. allocating new employees with a buddy, or hiring a meeting room in an office hub for training before remote working is adopted.
It is a good idea to get the team together throughout the year. Quarterly updates and away days with team building activities are popular. Some firms have an annual trip to overseas locations for all staff which provides many business, social and wellbeing opportunities
Lockdown made good practice management procedures and practice management tools crucial. Non-standardised and undocumented workflows across the practice make it difficult for staff to know what to do with unfamiliar clients. With the possibility of staff falling ill, other team members need to know what work to complete.
Cloud-based practice management software like Senta and Karbon allow workflows for clients to be created and allocated to team members, answering any questions.
Moving away from paper to electronic signing is critical. There are a number of these solutions available, electronic signature apps have the added advantage of speed and document tracking – and cannot get lost in the post.
The future is still unknown and there is still a lot of uncertainty. However, now is the time to plan and put systems in place to meet and exceed our client’s expectations in the future.
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Caroline Harridence is the founder of Counting Clouds Cambridgeshire – a digital and technology focussed firm specialising in cloud strategy and app advisory for both businesses and accountancy practices.
Caroline is highly experienced in assisting accountancy firms to migrate clients onto cloud software and implement new technology and...