How can accountants prepare for post-COVID-19?
The world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus outbreak and organisations up and down the country have had to rethink the way they do business. Steve Cox examines the key challenges accountants are facing and explains what they can do to hit the ground running post-COVID-19.
Managing more clients but less chargeable work
Right now, accountants are overwhelmed. They are providing support for their clients as they adjust to the fallout from COVID-19 whilst still needing to manage their usual compliance work.
While accountants need to be there for the customers, the knock-on effect is that, they’re partaking in a significant amount of non-fee-earning work to ensure clients are financially safe and well looked after.
But as the demand for advice has risen drastically it isn’t always feasible to conduct one-on-one meetings with every client.
David Jones, chartered accountant and director of innovation at Lewis Brownlee shared some of the initiatives his practice is implementing: “A good approach is to save one-to-one meetings for top clients and take a one-to-many approach for the others.
“Rather than dealing with each individual request separately, hold group communications on platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or accountancy specific tools such as AccountantGo that enable you to conduct an open Q&A and post advice. This way you can deliver constant communications to all your clients in a fraction of the time.”
Jones also recommended creating regular clinics, designating a few hours each day where clients can digitally drop in and ask questions “Whether it’s on social platforms such as Facebook, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn or via a video call tool such as Zoom,” he said.
“We’ve also spent time preparing guides that answer some of the common questions our clients have. And we are using the guides to answer some of the questions they will have in the near future.”
Juggling compliance and free COVID-19 advice
As things start to resemble normality, we can be pretty sure that small business owners will be incredibly stressed.
It’s an accountant’s role to remain level-headed as clients will be looking to you to offer guidance on key topics such as when to end furloughing, cashflow and continuity planning as well as general advisory work.
This creates a dilemma: should accountants charge for their advisory work during a time of such obvious financial stress?
I think the answer for many of the accountants I speak to is a straightforward ‘no’, in many cases. It’s important to bear in mind that people will remember the help others have provided and will remain loyal as a result of the support.
In fact, the majority of accountancy firms still work on referrals, so those accountants that have been helpful during this period will undoubtedly receive more business once we regain economic stability.
Keep clients informed during the crisis
Message management tools are going to be critical throughout this crisis and beyond. They will enable greater productivity for accountancy teams and allow for multiple communications to simultaneously be sent through a variety of formats, all from one platform
Firms can use this need for immediate information now to build a communication platform that will work when life gets back to normal. For those firms that don’t have access or the funds for a message management tool, set up a group on an existing social media platform.
Jones' practice is always reviewing the best ways to engage with clients “It’s important to choose a platform that your client base already uses to save time. The last thing you want to be doing is instructing clients over the phone on how to use an app.”
He recommends using the tools to move towards online drop-in sessions which can be really helpful for clients: “Designate a time for them to be able to ask questions and then provide an estimated time that you will respond in.”
Stay ahead and prepare for the future by collaborating with fellow professionals
There is a wealth of information being published each day and a huge amount of networking happening during this crisis, which will be invaluable for the future.
If you’re ever unsure, turn to your peers for advice, look at AccountingWEB, check out vendor webinars and ask questions on forums.
By engrossing yourself in all the latest information, you’ll not only be able to provide the best advice to your clients, but you can also enhance your strategic decision making for the future.
During the pandemic, while clients can’t easily speak with their bank or manage their cashflow, the one person they can speak to is their accountant so it’s important you remain open to their concerns.
Jones feels this attitude will create a permanent shift for some clients, “Once we exit the other side of this crisis, I believe there will be a huge mindset shift for clients as they’ll suddenly realise that accountants are the perfect place to turn to for advice and support, but will also see the value in their advisory services.
“This is a unique opportunity for us to highlight the value of our advice and to demonstrate our expertise to ensure we’re the go-to source post COVID-19.”
If you’re looking for the latest updates and advice surrounding COVID-19, check out the IRIS support hub for a constant stream of content and help.
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Steve Cox is a technologist and qualified accountant who looks at how technology can simplify the modern accounting world. Currently the Chief Evangelist for IRIS Group and an established thought leader on the role of technology in Accounting. I work closely with customers, software companies and the government and is championing the digital...