It’s interesting times. Hopefully next week - we will have confirmation of a move to COVID-19 Level 2, and with it, we will see a renewed (and much needed) focus on the economy. While all this has been happening, there has been a lot of activity in the accounting firms environment  and we’ve heard some good news and opportunities as a result of lockdown.

Here are my key observations from speaking with hundreds of Partners, Principals, business owners and employees of accounting firms across various verticals in the past 6 weeks:

 

Wage subsidy, business loans and tax rollback requests have created accounting work for firms:

BAS practices have been busy assisting clients to implement any government packages and support through the COVID-19 support schemes. What started initially as support around (successful) wage subsidy applications has now evolved to a more forensic focus; given the recent news articles of wage subsidy audits being rolled out on employers. While the wage subsidy has been of help to organisations, it has created an extra stress on businesses to make sure they account for it correctly. The additional measures of business loans and tax changes have required additional firms assistance for many organisations. 

 

Business advisory funding available creates revenue for firms:

The government announcement of funding through the regional business partner network has created additional opportunities for accounting firms focused around BCP, cash-forecasting and budgeting for their clients through this time.

 

Change management:

It’s during moments of adversity that opportunities arise. We are seeing many firms think outside of the box - whether it’s the introduction of a new service line and offering in anticipation of changes in the market, embracing new technology or to revisit the eternal debate of outsourcing vs in-house solutions.  We are seeing change – some slowly and others practically overnight. Partners need to consider what may be the potential risks attached with the introduction of a new service line, but for many - this will create downwind success.

 

Changes in workforce demographics:

With Covid-19 being a global issue, this will impact on firm workforce mobility and demographics. In the past 6 years, firms have struggled to retain flying Kiwis (newly qualified going on their OE) - but if the last recession was anything to go on, these Kiwis are grounded and hoping to not leave their firms in the short term.

The other good news for firms is that we’ve had interest from a number of Kiwis on their OE’s who want to come back to the firm's environment, rather than the commercial sector. This will be an excellent time for many firms to hire experience in the senior ranks that has been very difficult to source previously.

 

Continuing to embrace new technologies:

The government’s decision to move into lockdown came very swiftly, which exposed one common theme: that quite a few firms were under-prepared in having their entire operations work remotely. Now that most teething issues (software, licensing, adequate laptops etc) have been resolved, partners & employees are continuing to embrace the benefits of technology; including the various chat and video systems in staying connected with their colleagues and clients. It is during these times that it’s crucial to ensure that all employees are onboard and connected, including some who may have never worked remotely in the past. Some firms are flying, others getting up to speed, but one thing is certain - a firm's ability to successfully mobilise and motivate their team during this time is crucial for their success.

 

Remote working - do we continue, even post lockdown?:

Some teams have set up such successful remote operations, they are considering if this should be the new normal even once lockdown has been lifted. Partners of firms need to ensure a fine balance between remote working and yet to continue to maintain a positive work culture and sense of collegiality. We hear examples of weekly quizzes, Friday drinks, theme and dress-up events, which encourage a sense of team spirit and camaraderie. At the same time, partners also need to ensure these fun activities are not at the expense of productivity and quality of work. We’ve also noticed that the novelty of remote working is rapidly wearing off for many, so we are hoping with Level 2, firms might be able to return to a little more normality and decide what is best for them in the future!

 

Despite the anxiety and uncertainty, it has been a wonderful time to speak with a huge number of people in the accounting firms environment. As always, there is still a lot of demand for excellent candidates and I am still working on a number of projects for clients. 

 

If you’re keen to discuss any of these points above or would like to have a good old-fashioned confidential yarn, please get in touch with me at harry@consult.co.nz 

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