We all know how much of a challenging period it has been for the accounting profession and its clients. Accountants and bookkeepers have been on the financial frontline throughout all this, working tirelessly to help businesses cope. They’ve spearheaded efforts to keep the economy afloat, applying for government initiatives on behalf of their clients, providing crucial cash flow planning and liquidity forecasting, and more generally advising companies on how to overcome this once-in-a-lifetime situation.
COVID-19 has impacted firms across every industry and at the financial frontline of this were accountants and bookkeepers. They are working tirelessly to help businesses cope in the midst of uncertainty whilst adapting to new, remote ways of working.
Here at Silverfin, we had the privilege to catch up with over 150 accountants in more than 20 events last year and hear how they’ve approached one of the most challenging periods in memory.
Our main takeaways from these conversations are captured in this report and address:
- Helping customers manage the pressures of COVID-19.
- Maintaining and managing long-term change within their firm despite this.
- Integrating technology to achieve success.
Not only do our breakfast attendees’ observations summarise the profound impact 2020 has had on the profession, but they also provide a blueprint for how firms should approach the future.
2020 may be over but the lessons that we have all learnt will impact the accounting profession for years to come.
Managing long-term change within the firm
The pressures of COVID-19 have obviously taken centre stage throughout last year’s breakfast briefings but it’s definitely not been the sole topic of conversation. Many accountants we spoke to also discussed how they’ve maintained progress on long-term change within the firm. This has ranged from redefining their role and client services to working out how to win the war for talent. The most successful firms have maintained a healthy focus on managing the short-term and maintaining their long-term plan for change.
Manage rising client expectations
Client expectations have gone through the roof. We live in a 24/7 world where everything is instant. Nobody likes waiting for anything any more. Deliveries. Service. Their accountant to get back to them with an answer to a question. Mistakes are even less acceptable than they used to be. Human error is one thing but in an age of automation and artificial intelligence, the expectation is that you’ll be right all the time and be fast with the answer.
The cloud has a major part to play in helping accountants successfully make this transition. It allows clients and accountants in separate locations, even continents, to access data in real-time wherever they are. It’s worth remembering that these rising expectations are a good thing. The profession is much more valuable to clients than ever before, and the demands for time and insight from clients reflect this. It’s crucial to rise to the challenge.
An acceleration in shift to advisory services
We have seen a growing discussion about a shift in client demand from compliance and reporting to the delivery of advisory services. In 2020 this shift has been more evident than ever. So the quality of advice given by accountants has been thrust into the limelight. We heard accountants have been helping clients with:
- Deciding whether they should retain, furlough, or lay off staff.
- Identifying areas for cost-savings.
- Determining compensation for owners and shareholders.
- Assessing whether they should close certain locations.
- Planning for the future.
This list is far from exhaustive too. This shift in focus (from compliance to advisory) has been a long time coming and 2020 has accelerated this transition. Now, more than ever, clients need help identifying if their business is profitable in the short, medium and long-term.
Getting critical support from complex government-backed initiatives
The Government has introduced a number of initiatives to help companies, ranging from the Furlough/ Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, to the Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan. That said, keeping up-to-date, and then applying for these, is harder than it might seem. There are lengthy and detailed conditions on who can and can’t apply. The application process itself means paperwork and form filling. Many of the accountants that we spoke to have spent countless days applying for new government initiatives for their clients.
Read more about the conversations we had with these leading accountants in 2020. The expert insights we got from them into the profession and their views on understanding the challenges and opportunities that accountants will face in 2021.
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