Is the impact of the pandemic even more profound than thought?
Kirsty McGregor reflects on the positive impacts the pandemic has had on the relationship between accountants and clients.
Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of working closely with the team from Capitalise, which has allowed me to access the responses from some of their brilliant accountant surveys. I have found their latest particularly interesting, not least because there was an apparent theme developing which took me by surprise.
The 2021 Guide for accountants, by accountants not only discussed the impact of technology, post-pandemic trading and formalising advisory services, but the detailed responses I read gave me a real sense that the profession had made quite a profound shift in its attitude towards its clients.
When accountants were asked about their biggest challenges for 2021, comments such as these jumped out at me:
- “Keeping clients going when the government funding runs out and they are left trying to rebuild their businesses.”
- “Keeping clients afloat.”
- “Ensuring the clients continue to stay in business.”
These are deeply responsible considerations. The historical relationship between an accountant and their client used to be very professional, often distant even. This was a necessity as independence and objectivity was a pre-requisite of being an auditor. During my training days, approaching 30 years ago now, I don’t ever recall any of my previous partners feeling responsible for whether our clients continued in business. If a business failed, so be it.
So do these responses demonstrate that as a profession we have shifted over the past years into becoming closer to our clients? Are we now recognising that we do have influence over the success of their business?
More than I was expecting, I think it very much reflects that large components of the accounting industry have now completely shifted in culture to become advisers, rather than merely accountants who process transactions and complete regulatory procedures. Accountants who offer insight and want to have an impact, rather than simply provide data.
The onslaught of the pandemic led accountants to communicate with their clients more than ever before, covering not only financial matters, but discussing personal and family situations too. Perhaps the transition was easier to navigate as we all began opening up our homes to our work colleagues and clients over video conferencing services; maybe we have even been feeling more relaxed to be ourselves within the new working environments of our own surroundings.
Whether this change of mindset was caused by the previous few years of increasing automation and technology, audit regulation and opening up of advisory services, or the immediate pressure of handling the Covid-19 fallout, I very much welcome it.
After all the dark days of the last few months, reading these survey answers has lifted me towards a feeling of positivity. If our country’s SME clients really do have advisers supporting them, with all their accounting knowledge, business acumen and wide-ranging experience, there’s hope for our economy yet.
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Kirsty is a chartered accountant and Chairman of The Corporate Finance Network.
She has advised SME clients on corporate finance matters and transactions, including having set up several corporate finance departments for regional firms of accountants.