The unexpected services accountants find themselves offering during the pandemic

We’re almost six months into the COVID-19 pandemic. How has it changed client services?

There’s no denying that the client-accountant relationship has changed during the pandemic. The lockdown has brought with it a number of new measures and reliefs for accountants to get their heads around, such as:

  • CJRS and furlough
  • Deferred taxes, such as VAT
  • Reduced rates of VAT for certain sectors
  • CBILS and BBLS loans

Beyond that, clients have looked for more ongoing support. Accountants give their verdict on the most unexpected services they’ve found themselves providing over the past six months.

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Mental health and wellbeing

Rachel Martin, director, Accountant_She

COVID has brought with it an endless series of challenges, symptoms, and side effects. One positive side effect has been that the deeper relationship between client and accountant.

At Accountant_She we have been dedicated to ensuring that each client is prioritising their physical and mental wellbeing throughout the pandemic to enable them to fully embrace the changes required to successfully navigate their business through this storm.

Alongside the wellbeing check-ins, we have been providing proactive grant and government financial support updates as and when the information comes to us from HMRC. We have done this to enable clients to focus on their business and to rely on us to feed accurate and understandable information directly to them.

Next steps: I’ve seen a huge increase in clients who are using us as business advisors rather than accountants, which is fantastic and really helps us to build a supportive community around our clients.

Verdict: Clients have sought a lot more emotional support during and after lockdown.

Scenario planning and modelling

Alastair Barlow, CEO, Flinder

As a practice, we already talk about cash management, we talk about burn rate, talk in-depth about the numbers and sit in on board meetings, so from that point of view, the pandemic was almost business as usual. We were getting a lot more questions from our clients, but it was still business partnering and CFO advice.

Where we did see a change was a change in priorities. We were helping our clients become more focused on governance and risk management, identifying the risks within the business, how likely they are to happen, and the impacts on the business.

We’re doing a lot more scenario modelling with clients more frequently and with varying scenarios. You might have a base case, a low case and a high case, but the difference between the low case and high case was much more extreme. There’s a lot more sensitivity going on in business.

Next steps: We’ve been able to take a bit more reflection time and develop some new propositions ourselves such as benchmarking solutions for clients that will lead to consulting and advisory work.

Verdict: The focus is on scenario planning at the moment, alongside governance and risk management.

The various government measures/better planning and forecasting

Sherad Dewedi, managing partner, Shenward Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors

There has been a lot of unexpected services over the past few months, in the form of processing furlough claims and CBILS and BBLS loans. We’ve supported a number of clients in accessing those, and as a result, we’ve done a lot of work on cashflow forecasts so the businesses can sustain themselves.

There are also a number of compliance pieces that have come up as a result of COVID, such as the reduction of VAT in the hospitality sector. We’ve been supporting clients to ensure that their management reporting function is identifying the revenue streams that are eligible for the reduced rate of VAT. There is a nuance in the rules that the reduced rate of VAT is for sales excluding alcohol.

If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the importance of planning ahead and making disaster recovery plans. For example, if there’s a second wave, we’ll see more businesses looking to plan to ensure they can sustain themselves.

Next steps: Planning and cashflow planning will be a bigger talking point in the long term.

Verdict: A lot of services have been unexpected, but the legacy is around cashflow, forecasting and planning.

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Further reading:

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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