As accountants, our role within the financial services industry and the wider economy has always been very clear and no one has ever pressed too hard to change or pivot that business model. The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has seen greater and more widespread change within our entire economy and further, our industry than ever before.
The first, and perhaps the most important change to our role that we have seen this year is that our clients are looking for much more than accountancy services from us. As an industry, we all offer much more than statutory, annual services but we have seen a record number of clients take us up on our full offerings this year to look at cash flow planning, furlough claims and loan applications. As accountants, this has given us real opportunities to add value and gain trust during times of need.
HR has been an interesting department to throw into the mix that we’ve seen huge demand for. People have been looking to us as accountants to not only process their furlough claims but also deal with the HR aspect of furloughs, contract changes and potential redundancies and this is something that for many accountants is far beyond their reach and comfort zone.
With lots of clients submitting their own furlough claims and loan applications we have also seen a rise in the number of clients’ looking to us for HMRC investigation insurance so to be able to proactively supply that service to our clients has been of tremendous help!
For some clients, we have seen them use this period of down time to take stock of their business, reflect and decide how they will pivot in the new, post COVID world. As part of this, lots of clients are looking to their accountants and business advisors for guidance and support whilst making these decisions and further using their resources to put together wider business plans, cash flow forecasting and practical implementations.
An interesting element that has shone through this year is how much business owners need a support system surrounding them. As accountants we can be many things to many people but fundamentally a lot of our calling during the COVID-19 pandemic has sometimes been as simple as being someone on the end of the phone to listen, support and guide.
Having looked at the way the accountants role has changed, it’s also important to look at this and consider how it will change things moving forwards and the skills required by accountants in order to meet these new needs. We are already seeing professional qualifications take into account the new qualities required by accountants as they too are looking to broaden their horizons to capture this new market.
As employers, we would firstly look for people skills as a priority to ensure we are employing staff who fit our “person centred finance” business model, where the client and their experience come first. We have also been looking forward to see how best we can meet these new needs. We are currently putting senior members of our team through Executive MBA’s in order to be able to bring wider business knowledge and strategy to our client offerings. Another aspect that is important to consider is how we can use apprenticeships to ensure that the staff we employ, really live and breathe our business whilst gaining the qualifications and knowledge they need to develop and grow.
Something that we have learnt during the pandemic is just how important your network is. When your clients are looking for a vast range of services and have very complex needs, this is where having a strong network really comes into play. We really been calling upon the professional consultants within our network in order to add value to our clients when they really need it in areas that we are not specialists ourselves.
For accountants in 2020, these are our top trusted contacts to have within your network:
Having a network of likeminded individuals who we know and trust, for us has been a great way to expand our service offering to our clients whilst being able to support other independent businesses like ours. We check in regularly with our contacts and see how they’re getting on with our clients so that we are covering all bases when speaking with our clients. As business owners ourselves, it’s also been a great way to make sure we are keeping social and in touch during lockdown.
Overall, 2020 has turned out to be the most progressive year in history for the accounting and financial services industries for many reasons. We’ve seen location drop in our customers’ priorities which means that service, quality and value are now at the top. We are able to compete for much broader work in terms of location and if value and quality are at the top of your accountancy practices’ qualities then you’ll be like us – busier than ever! COVID also provided clients with time to reflect on the service they have received by their accountants during this time, we have been accepted a lot of new work from people who haven’t seen or heard from their accountant all year. The final change we’ve seen is that clients and accountants alike no longer have a choice but to accept cloud accounting as the only way forward. if making tax digital did not push us forward, COVID-19 certainly did!