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Finding positives in this brave new world

The Imprudent Accountant tries to find some positives to cheer us up and make life easier as the world is turned upside down.

24th Mar 2020
Partner An unnamed firm
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Two Heads With Brain Looking Opposite Side

I can’t believe everything that has happened in the last three weeks. It is amazing to think that at the beginning of the month, you could buy toilet rolls at any supermarket and hand washing was a cursory leisure activity largely ignored by the masses.

It is very easy to get despondent with offices closed, friends and colleagues in lockdown and clients unable to comprehend the devastation to their businesses and quite possibly unable to carry on.

Our own practices are also going through unusual and uncertain times. Although, the accountancy profession will probably be less hard-hit than many other businesses and industries.

Rather than indulge in even more moaning about the terrible state of the world, the country and my life, I thought it might make a refreshing change to try and find something good and positive to say this week.

The fact that we are in a profession in which it is easy to work from home is a good starting point. If you were an airline pilot or in the hospitality industry, then the prospect of unemployment would be looming. Even worse, many self-employed workers in other industries could well find themselves penniless and homeless, despite recent government provisions to keep the country afloat.

Those of us who represent the self-employed and those in threatened industries will also find life hard. We need to begin creating new practices with different specialisms. That could be challenging but also refreshing and invigorating.

Many accountants are workaholics and the chance to sit at home and relax may be good for our health. In addition, it will provide a genuine opportunity to review your career, your practice and your life afresh.

In the short term, there may well be vast amounts of work to do, particularly if colleagues are unwell. On the plus side, assuming that your computer does not pack up and the home Internet connection remains steady, output could be prolific.

Many of us spend at least a couple of hours a day travelling to and from work and that has disappeared overnight. And almost all of those tedious office interruptions will have vanished without trace.

As a result, it should be much easier to concentrate on the task in hand, although this does require the correct mental outlook.

For many, it is all too easy to lounge around watching bad TV programmes or listening to the latest doomsday news on Radio 4 but this is where we can share our strength of character.

Anyone who completes tax returns might be slightly resentful about the timing of the epidemic. This would have been the best “reasonable excuse” that any accountant could have conjured up or any tax inspector accepted with alacrity.

Even if the Prime Minister is correct in his assessment that this terrifying virus will be largely behind us within 12 weeks (I would be willing to wager a hefty sum that he is wrong by multiple of at least 100%) that takes us way past 5 April. This provides an opportunity to begin completing tax returns at the start of the ten-month window rather than its end.

Some other areas of work will be close to impossible and this could require ingenuity. Most auditing takes place on-site, which is going to be unacceptable and therefore auditors need to think about changing operating practices.

More generally, this might be an opportunity to help clients altruistically. Those who have private client practices with many clients in the at-risk categories could do worse than take some time out to telephone and chat with those who for years have been little more than names on the tops of letter headings and tax returns.

I hate to say it but another service that many practices will be able to provide to clients is in connection with recovery and insolvency. Enough said.

The final area that could get interesting is tax. The government is still formulating its plans for rescuing the nation but these might well involve new tax reliefs which, in turn, will leave many clients and prospects desperately needing support from the profession.

It would be encouraging to hear from others about the ways in which they have managed to grasp the nettle and find good news in what otherwise seems like the worst disaster imaginable.

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