Stuart Carrington FCA, Partner at Thomas Westcott Chartered Accountants, explains how the pandemic has changed the world of accounting forever…
We are now 18 months into the biggest upheaval to our world almost any of us can remember.
This side of World War II, perhaps only the Winter of Discontent and the three-day week have even come close. Yet, dreadful as those shocks were, there was always a feeling that things would eventually return to normal.
This time round there is still much debate about what “normal” means any more. Unlike in the past, this shock has occurred at a time of unparalleled technological advance. Covid has given added oomph to the disruptors of the digital age.
Nothing is as it was before and the changes we have all made in our business, consumer and communication habits mean it is very unlikely to revert back. The only constant is the need to adapt and evolve, and to do it as quickly as possible.
Is my accountant a dinosaur?
Every 10-year-old knows dinosaurs became extinct because they failed to adapt to a world that suddenly changed.
Perhaps thinking of Covid as a giant, planet-destroying asteroid, is a little excessive but, for some industries, the recent changes will certainly be as seismic.
Accountants, like all businesses, are subject to these shocks but the good ones will be quick to recognise approaching change and adapt to the new circumstances.
So, far from the traditional comedy image as the sort of grey men and women who might find it hardest to adapt, the profession has (while embracing the stereotype) shown it couldn’t be further from the truth. It has adapted to weather multiple storms over the last 140 years since the founding of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales).
Why does that even matter? Well, at a time when businesses are turning to their accountant as their most trusted adviser, they want to see us taking a lead and having our own plans in place to evolve. As accountants we need to better support our clients and to continue to help them thrive in the “new normal”.
For the sake of your own business, it is essential that your accountant is not a dinosaur. Give them a call. Ask them how they are adapting. Challenge them to explain how that benefits you.
Many of the initiatives we are rolling out in my own firm, for example, were started before Covid, because we saw change coming, but the recent crisis has certainly accelerated them.
The following are some examples, but there are many, many more:
- Embracing digital bookkeeping solutions
- Remote meetings (even if everyone pretends to hate them)
- Our own suite of apps for key business sectors
- Flexible workplaces
- Flexible working
- Committing to added value in everything we do
The economy is only just starting to take its first steps back to recovery but at Thomas Westcott we have plans already in place to make sure that our clients continue to thrive.
During August all of our partners gave up one morning a week, completely free, so that our clients could do just that. We are happy to expand that offer to businesses that are not yet clients.
Is “my” part of the economy doing well?
The economy is only just starting to take its first steps back to recovery, however, with an upheaval of this magnitude it is going to take time for the dust to settle.
GDP figures would suggest the economy is bouncing back but what the overall picture tells us about the real businesses and real people we act for is still uncertain. What is clear is that some sectors are booming whilst others have genuine problems. Our role is therefore to help our clients understand how their own, personal, part of the economy is progressing.
I’m fortunate that Thomas Westcott is well placed to help in that respect, with well over 12,000 clients, serviced from multiple locations across the South West – and connections across the UK and worldwide.
That gives us a vast dataset we can draw on when, for example, a rural business in Mid Devon, a café in Torquay or a pub in Plymouth asks, “What should I be doing?”.
And the big risk?
It is all too easy to be unthinkingly positive. Covid has depleted government reserves and put millions of businesses on to financial life support with grants and furloughs and loans. This is not a minor hiccup and we all need to be aware that there are financial risks as we move to the “new normal”.
Keep thinking of the business fundamentals – watch the cash flow and be keen to adapt. There will be opportunities for all but it is important to be in a position to seize them when you can.
Having the right accountant who is, as we say at Thomas Westcott ‘by your side, on your side’, is going to be an important part of that.
Find out more here.