The COVID-19 fight back

10 unique ideas to help your practice thrive post lockdown

Nick Levine Chartered Accountant & Freelance Journalist

As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never waste a good crisis.” COVID-19 has been a challenging time for many, including accountants and their business clients.

However, the pandemic has changed the way we work, and this creates many new opportunities which can be leveraged by forward thinking accountants. COVID-19 has accelerated technological changes affecting the internal operations of accounting firms and the wider SME business environment. This creates a necessity to use technology as an enabler, rather than as a box-ticking exercise. Firms will also need to be increasingly proactive by providing advisory services related to cash management, tax planning and access to finance.

Try incorporating a few of our ten ideas below to take your practice forward as we move on to the “new normal” phase of the pandemic.

1. Don’t be scared of technology. Get app stacking.

Cloud accounting software has now been mainstream for around a decade, and many firms have been using their core packages (Xero, Quickbooks etc) alongside a couple of key add ons as standard for most client engagements.

Now is an opportune time to explore incorporating other apps to support the business continuity of clients, a well as benefit from efficiency gains.

Consider introducing Unleashed to manage the inventory of retail-based clients, or testing Transferwise’s new Pay feature on Xero (free until 31 July) to streamline the accounts payable process.

“It’s no longer enough to just use a couple of cloud applications to supplement your cloud accounting solution. At Flinder, our app stack comprises both accounting focused applications but more importantly non accounting apps. We also wrap around some proprietary technology we’ve developed ourselves,”

– Alastair Barlow, Founder & Chief Dreamer, Flinder

2. Use WhatsApp for key client communications

The volume of government announcements associated with the pandemic means that there is now a necessity to get out client communications faster than ever.

WhatsApp desktop can be a handy way to message timely information and documents instantly to client mobile devices. Many businesses will have their mobile devices synced to the cloud, meaning that documents are stored away efficiently.

“We use WhatsApp for quick correspondence as we tend to get overloaded by email. Using the desktop version means we can send PDFs to clients which may need to be reviewed quickly,”

– Darren Jasper, Partner at Statton & Co.

3. Roll out Slack in your firm to empower remote working

Forced office closures have resulted in many firms having to pilot working from home for the first time. It is possible that a number of firms will move away from working in offices as it gives employees flexibility and can significantly reduce overheads.

Utilising Slack can be an effective way for firms to manage communications between remote workers, as well as incorporate elements of practice management through the software’s third-party integrations.

“We’ve always been a remote-first organisation, with the majority of our team spending most of their time at client offices. Slack is one of the tools we use that make this arrangement work seamlessly. We use it to broadcast announcements and make quick calls,”

– Dan Hully, Co-founder & CEO, Quantico.

4. Offer free funding consultations as standard

Many businesses have had the bulk of their revenues wiped out overnight and have still been required to suffer the bulk of their operating expenses.

Running out of cash is one of the most commonly cited reasons for business failure, so the crisis creates an opportune moment to start offering information on funding solutions as part of fixed-term agreements.

Partnering with a comparison platform such as Capitalise can help maximise the range of options available to clients.

“Given the current circumstances, we felt offering funding support to our clients during this time was essential to some clients survival. We have successfully helped secure both CBILS and non CBILS financing during this time,”

– Joe David, Founder and managing Director, Nephos.

5. Outsource finance as a function

Now is a great time to offer a fully outsourced finance function to clients. Many businesses will be under pressure to reduce payroll costs so are likely to be more open to their accountants taking on all of their financial processes.

This is likely to be particularly beneficial for work related to compliance-related tasks which may be viewed as less value-adding in the current economic environment.

“In the post COVID business world business owners will prioritise revenue generating or client facing staff over those providing non-core services. Offering clients a fully outsourced finance function will enable management to focus on what they do best through the provision of a flexible and scalable service,”

– Bobby Lane, SME growth expert.

6. Cashflow forecasting is now a necessity

Similarly to access to finance services, offering cash flow forecasting as a service to all clients can be a powerful measure to support businesses to be able to continue to trade over the short and longer-term.

This can be done at no additional cost to firms by incorporating Fluidly Lite, a free version of the cloud cashflow tool.

“When COVID hit in March we took a strategic decision to offer Fluidly Lite to all new and existing clients. Some are more engaged than others but we are still able to get visibility on red flags related to cash for those who check their cash balances regularly. Over the longer term this will allow us to offer proactive conversations about potential shortfalls,”

– Jonathan Bareham, Director and Co-founder, Raedan.

7. Switch to Zoom for client meetings

The popularity of Zoom has mushroomed since the crisis and is now used by over 300 million people globally for video conferencing.

With face to face client meetings unlikely to return for a while, now is the perfect time to incorporate Zoom into your practice for consultative based meetings.

An additional benefit of not having to meet clients for face to face meetings means that you can also increase the geographical reach of your practice.

“Zoom empowers our teams to arrange virtual meetings with clients and stay connected to them. There are occasionally a few challenges (mics on music, frozen screen etc) but overall Zoom has enabled us to deliver an excellent service to our clients,”

–Jasmin Bailey, Head of Marketing, Deloitte Propel.

8. Advise on controls and governance

The pandemic creates an opportunity to get clients into good financial habits.

Offering training and advice on financial controls and governance will be as much in your firm’s interest. Accurate record-keeping will allow you to give better advice and solve client problems more speedily.

“To get the full benefit of automation, companies need to have robust controls and systems in place to ensure data is recorded accurately and in a timely fashion. Our bookkeeping zen approach is part of our onboarding and is offered to all clients to instil strong financial discipline and record-keeping habits, “

– Tasmin Mustafa, Director, Barnes & Scott.

9. Rethink hiring strategies

A move to a culture of work taking place away from physical offices creates a case for refreshing hiring strategies to incorporate fully remote workers. This can allow firms access to a greater talent pool, geographically spread across the UK as well as the potential to look even further afield. “The shortage of good quality accountancy and tax professionals in the UK has meant that finding high-quality talent for a firm has been a challenge for a number of years, particularly in remote areas. If firms are prepared to recruit remote staff this could be a game changer for them. There are some outstanding people out there who want to work remotely who could add significant value to your practice and client services"

– James Howell, Managing Director and Founder, Tax Recruitment Company.

10. Become a mental health champion

Working outside of an office creates a need to show greater consideration to the mental health of staff.

Cutting down on physical interactions means that it is harder to keep an eye on the well-being of employees. The productivity of staff can be adversely affected if their mental health needs are not taken care of.

In a remote work environment this can be managed by taking out a corporate subscription to meditation and wellness apps such as Headspace or Calm.

Additionally, ICAEW practice firms can take advantage of services provided by CABA, a charitable organisation which supports the well-being of the chartered accountant community. Services provided include emotional support and online self-help tools.

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