Q&A: Subarna Banerjee

How has UHY Hacker Young been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

We had been putting in place contingency plans for home working as the coronavirus outbreak worsened. That meant that when the switch to home working began it was a fairly smooth transition. We’ve made substantial investments in cloud accounting systems over recent years and all our systems are electronic.

I am an audit partner and we already have an electronic audit system, which means we have very little hindrance to working remotely. We’ve also accelerated the usage of Microsoft Teams both internally and also externally with clients both for conference calls and to ensure more efficient collaboration over individual documents and broader projects. Overall, we’ve transitioned to Covid-19 working arrangements quite well. 

What are some of the biggest issues in the accountancy sector at present?

I think that regulation is going to remain a really major agenda item. Those firms that audit listed companies are under an increasing spotlight from the Financial Reporting Council (FRC). The very largest firms are also coming under pressure to hive off their audit practices and, at the very least, further unravel those units from the rest of the firm.

The increase in regulatory scrutiny and the need to improve audit quality all means more work, which will inevitably drive up fees for clients. However, we are in a recession, so the appetite for clients to pay the increased fees is going to be very low. I think there will be an increased tension over the next couple of years about audit fees. We have a regulatory environment that is pushing up fees at a time when many companies’ appetite to pay bigger audit fees just isn’t there.

How has UHY Hacker Young adapted their services to support customers during lockdown?

We have been staying very close to our clients during the pandemic – it is at this kind of time when accountancy support can really make a difference. 

We have issued frequent guidance to clients relating to the support that is available to companies through business loans, furloughing staff as well as deferral of tax payments. We have been discussing all the options with our clients to ensure they are fully aware of what is available to them and helping them get that help as quickly as possible.We have received very positive feedback from our clients saying they really value all the support from us.

Individual teams in the firm have played very specific roles in helping clients, for example the payroll team have been processing a huge number of furlough claims on behalf of clients.

At UHY we also have a very established turnaround and recovery department and they have been having conversations with companies helping them work through what they need to do to keep their businesses out of trouble. For many clients in retail, hospitality and manufacturing, business fell away very rapidly so they’ve had to do some rapid surgery to help ensure they can survive the lockdown.

Do you think the accountancy industry will come out of the ongoing pandemic successfully?

Definitely, I think that accountancy firms have adapted well to the pandemic and lockdown. Some are much more resilient than others but on the whole, I think the accountancy profession does relatively well when the economy is tough.

Accountancy firms are always coming up with new solutions to ensure they remain relevant and valuable to their clients.

Staying close to your clients, understanding what they want and being flexible with your business model are basic requirements of accountancy firms in the good times and the bad. Some accountancy firms will come out of the recession stronger and some weaker but overall, the accountancy profession will emerge pretty intact.

What sort of trends do you think will come out of the pandemic?

An extremely useful by-product of this crisis is that everyone has had to embrace technology.

Some people have been more reluctant to use technology than others but now we are all having to work remotely, suddenly everyone has no choice but to embrace it. That has really accelerated people’s adoption of it. 

The use of technology has leapt forward two, three years in just a matter of months because everyone has been forced to embrace it. When people see how useful and essential technology has been in the current pandemic there will be an appetite to do more with it, the use of collaborative technology won’t end when the lockdown ends.

Another trend I expect to come out of the pandemic is more businesses being on top of managing their cash flow. Cash flow is always really important but especially now, businesses realise that cash flow is critical to their business. That’s a lesson that also won’t be forgotten.

Where do you see the accountancy industry in a year’s time from now?

I think the profession will be as busy as it has ever been. It will continue to play a strong role in helping clients achieve their organisation’s goals, there is no doubt about that. Many accountancy professionals have a lot of experience in giving their clients advice on how to deal with unusual situations like this, so I think that will be appreciated as the year goes on.

I think the profession will be in reasonably good shape in a year’s time, it might be a little different, it might be that some departments do better than others. For example, most firms expect their turnaround and recovery department to increase activity sharply in the next year.

Where do you see the accountancy industry post lockdown?

I think there will only be a very gradual move back to the office for the whole accountancy profession. It may be that office attendance, especially in London and the South East will not return completely to normal until a vaccine is found and administered.

From my perspective, there is no huge rush to go back to the office. We are all capable of working remotely, we’ve proved that, so we are okay with keeping things as they are for the next few months.

What are some of the practices put in place for your staff to help deal with the pandemic?

Whilst we have already put in place a large number of measures, it is something we are still looking at very closely.

We introduced a staff survey a few weeks ago for staff to voice some of the concerns they were having. Based on that feedback we decided to be much more focused on sending any items that our people wanted to them. If someone wanted a second monitor, a different chair or anything else that would help them work more effectively, these were sent out to them. 

There are other basics like covering all the forgotten costs of working from home, so any expenses such as printer cartridges, paper, postage etc will be reimbursed.

We also have a microsite available with various sections of it covering health and wellbeing and offering tips on how our teams can look after themselves, whilst being locked at home.

Also, we have developed a UHY Wellbeing support system within the office.  We have a number of volunteers within the firm who are there to speak to people about any concerns or issues they may have, particularly around their own wellbeing.

All our departments also have a get-together within their own departments, for example, the audit team has a quiz every two weeks via Zoom. Keeping up that interaction is really important.

Our survey indicated staff members thought we were doing well to support them. But we are all in a challenging position. As a profession we are still learning how to deal with this crisis. What we’ve learnt means we will be far better prepared, far more flexible and far better skilled to deal with the next crisis that comes along.

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