What a no-deal Brexit means for your firm
Philip Fisher examines the opportunities and potential threats practices may face if the UK crashes out of the EU without any deal.
Whether readers belong to one of the extreme factions favouring remaining in Europe or leaving without any deal or prefer some middle ground in between, it seems unlikely that anyone will be satisfied with the current state of uncertainty.
Having given ourselves the best part of three years to arrange the country’s affairs, Britain is due to leave Europe in less than two months’ time and still has no idea of the terms on which it will do so.
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As more heated wranglings go on in Parliament -- and news stories contain messages of anticipated woe from parliamentarians -- their European counterparts and captains of industry, the man in the street and the accountant in the office seem to have closed their eyes and hoped that the consequences can be ignored until the moment of truth.
However, at some point, every accountant has a duty to take responsibility and try to make a series of decisions that will protect and potentially promote the prosperity of our practices.
At this point, it seems premature to be considering the long-term consequences of something that may never happen – ie the no deal option.
Instead, it would be better to concentrate on immediate actions that might help to make your business stronger.
We are lucky in that our industry is likely to be far less seriously affected by the immediate consequences of a cliff edge departure from Europe than manufacturers, farmers or those in many other industries.
While it may be inconvenient to discover a lack of variety on supermarket shelves or delays while returning from a long weekend in Paris, these should not have a major impact on any accountant’s business.
In case anybody believes that this accountant's guide to Brexit series is purely intended to be scaremongering, it might be beneficial to start with some positive outcomes that might arise for accountants if Britain does go forward under what has also been christened “a disorderly Brexit”.
At least two strands of immediate opportunity might arise in such a scenario.
First, firms might be able to provide consultancy services to clients who are concerned about the impact on their businesses. They might, for example, require financial projections based on a number of different assumptions or possibly just some handholding if difficult decisions have to be made.
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Secondly, there has to be a strong possibility that as a result of the uncertainties staff with European roots may decide to move on.
This, in turn, could lead to general fluidity in the employment market. If clients lose finance staff then there may be an opportunity for accountants to fill in, charging competitive rates with a guarantee of 100% utilisation.
In terms of our own businesses, some simple steps might be sensible. The starting point might be to appoint a named individual who can act as a focal point for any queries that staff may have about the future.
Rather than allowing concerns that may not be justifiable to fester, these can thereby be nipped in the bud and a positive message delivered. You might also consider a series of staff communications answering common questions and delivering the kind of briefing that can be offered to clients.
If you believe that staffing issues might damage your own practice then clearly it would make sense to try and ascertain the scope of any potential losses and take steps to get temporary or permanent cover.
In addition, if you are in the process of recruiting staff from European countries or plan to do so, it may be necessary to consider immigration clearances if they are not going to be on the staff by 29 March.
Should your practice act for a large number of clients with strong European connections it would be wise to understand their intentions since departures from the UK or drops in their business activity might have a significant impact on your own business.
While it may be completely irrelevant for the majority of practices, those with offices in Ireland could be faced with catastrophic consequences if a hard border is imposed at 11pm on 29 March.
Staff may literally be unable to get to work on 30 March and it may be impossible to visit clients a short drive away.
These are a few initial considerations but individual practices are likely to have their own concerns.
Whatever your own position might be, you are urged to take action now rather than following the politicians’ line and leaving everything until the last minute or even later.