AAT President: 8 takeaways from the coronavirus crisis

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The coronavirus crisis is rapidly accelerating digital adoption and will change the world of work.

AAT President John Thornton has been talking to members up and down the country and monitoring developments.

Here are 7 takeaways based on his observations on the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

1. Calm analysis needed – fast

Struggling businesses need answers from accountants, and they need them quickly. Members in businesses, as well as in practice, are responding to those needs.

“Never before have accountants been in a situation where it is quite so important that they give calm objective advice and move at high pace.

“Employers and clients are looking for people who can calmly and objectively respond at speed with analysis and understanding of what is going on.

“The people that can respond to those pressures are now coming to the fore.”

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2. Technology is a life-saver

Technology is now an essential survival tool – both for individuals and businesses – as we come to terms with the national lockdown.

Clients who only a short while ago barely had email are now wide-open to digital collaboration.

“Suddenly people want very quick responses looking at cash flow, risk, detailed analysis of where they could make cost savings.

“People tend to adapt through necessity. We are seeing a rapid acceleration in people discovering new technologies are useful to them.

3. Work could change forever

Businesses of all types and sizes are quickly becoming hooked on the ability to do things rapidly and remotely using digital tools. Thornton believes this could lead to permanent changes in the employment market.

“What is happening now has forced everyone to realise the benefits of information-sharing technology. Imagine how much worse the economy would be around the world without them.

“This will also change approaches to recruitment and staff retention. If you are in central London and resources are really expensive, you will be more willing to recruit good people that live in rural Wales, Cornwall or some other area.”

4. Digital skills even more critical

Many employers will want to continue using technology to streamline their operations after the coronavirus crisis is over. They will be looking for accountants who have digital and advisory skills to help them do that.

Thornton believes finance professionals need to take CPD seriously to sharpen these abilities and maximise their employability in the future.

“The job situation may be very different after this crisis. People who have developed better technology skills and have invested in themselves will be more marketable.

“Use any window of opportunity to invest in yourself.”

5. DIY cloud users need accountants

Thousands of small businesses have taken a DIY approach to accounting using cloud software. Thornton believes many will now seek help from accountants.

 “What this will make them do is realise the value add of an accountant is not just doing the books. It’s understanding the business and being able to project forward and react rapidly to changing circumstances.”

6. Need for good communication

Thornton urges Licensed Accountants and members in practice to deal sensitively with new business inquiries from companies and individuals in distressed.

“Accounting is about numbers, but the bottom line now is about people, jobs and families.”

He strongly urges members to get on the front foot with communication.

  • Calm the situation down.
  • Analyse the information available
  • Tell them about the help that is available – or that might be coming.
  • Communicate again when full details are available.

“Be proactive. Even if you don’t have the answers right away, say: here are your immediate options. When we know more, we will work out what that means for you. Then quickly get that information out to them.”

7. Be realistic about who you can help

Accountants need to use good judgment in dealing with inquiries.

“If you have capacity, be upfront about what you can do and what the cost implications would be. If you can’t help them get out of the way and let them go to somebody else who can.

“Part of being a good professional is to know when to stand back. People in difficulty need to be quickly connected with people who can help them. If you can’t do it, stand out of the way and let them go to someone who can.”

8. Focus on the future

Overall, everyone in the accounting profession needs to remember that there will be a future after the crisis. We should prepare for it.

“At this time, it’s very easy to dwell on the negatives. Even in the hardest times, there are opportunities. If you have your eye on the future and are preparing for it, it will give you more focus and a purpose to work towards.”

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

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