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Accountants to the rescue during COVID-19

Accountants to the rescue during COVID-19


While frontline health professionals have been saving the lives and health of Australians during the COVID-19 disruptions, accountants have been working flat out to save the businesses and livelihoods of their clients.

Major Government stimulus packages such as JobKeeper and the business cash flow boost payments have been critical in keeping many businesses operating, and these business owners have relied heavily on their accountants to understand the programs and lodge applications on their behalf.

For many accountants, this has created a major stream of new work, with new rules, conditions and eligibility requirements, and for some it has escalated their levels of stress.

“This has been a torrid time for many in the accounting profession and many are struggling with a tsunami of work which just came out of the blue,” says Paul Drum, General Manager of External Affairs at CPA Australia.

“The reality is that many of the changes we have seen were foisted on accountants, and there have been consequences as they have come to terms with the new programs and also had to manage what were in many cases urgent client expectations.”

Not only have accountants been dealing with regular and quarterly BAS lodgments, 2019 income tax returns, self-managed superannuation fund administration and working with clients in the run-up to the end of the financial year, but clients have relied on their accountants to urgently apply for the new programs which are administered through the tax system.

“A lot of people would have missed out on the stimulus packages without the help of their accountant,” says Elinor Kasapidis, CPA Australia’s Tax Policy Adviser.

In addition to the quarterly lodgment of activity statements, accountants are now having to report monthly under the JobKeeper program for their clients and in many cases also for themselves.

As the economy has contracted and business cash flow has become critical, many clients have had trouble paying their invoices and this was impacting on revenues for accountants, while adding to their workload.

“Many accountants are also on JobKeeper and they are also working very long hours,” said Elinor Kasapidis.

“Some of this extra work is included in retainer arrangements with clients, but there is also pro bono work and reduced fees, because accountants are understanding that some clients just can’t pay invoices.”

While CPA Australia was not involved in the original design of the fiscal programs, it has recently been consulted by the Australian Taxation Office on the issue of lodgment and penalties.

The ATO did not adopt CPA Australia’s recommendations for longer deferrals, but Kasapidis welcomed the ATO decision to not apply late lodgment penalties for returns due in May and June if they were lodged by June 30.

The ATO has urged accountants and clients feeling “overwhelmed” by lodgment pressures to make contact.

“While the general interest charge will still be applicable, you can apply for remissions and we will take a reasonable approach in assessing your request,” ATO Deputy Commissioner Hoa Wood said in a statement on May 25.

Wood said the ATO recognised and appreciated the work of accountants to support their clients, and that “there have been additional pressures on the tax profession” during the COVID-19 crisis.

At CPA Australia, Paul Drum said he believed it was an “oversight” by the government and relevant agencies to introduce the new measures without discussing their design and implementation with the accountancy profession.

“There was just an expectation that accountants would manage all this, so I think it needed to be thought through a big better,” he said.

Many small businesses, he said, had gone ahead and lodged documents without the input of their accountants, often because they were in arrears with their accountancy fees.

This is likely to have resulted in a higher percentage of errors and inadmissible applications and ultimately more work both for the ATO and accountants.

So while accountants have been critical to helping their clients survive financially, it was inevitable that this increased pressure would take a toll on the mental health of some in the profession. Drum said CPA Australia’s message to these accountants is that “it is ok to not be ok” and that there are support resources available.

CPA Australia is offering a 90-minute webinar recording titled Mental Health at Work, which focuses on helping accountants recognise and support their clients, co-workers and staff who are experiencing mental health issues, in addition to looking after their own mental wellbeing.

There are also COVID-19 resource materials and a Mental Health Toolkit available to assist accountants on the CPA Australia website.

Lessons for the profession from the coronavirus


While the coronavirus pandemic has accountants scrambling to safeguard their people and keep up with new client concerns and legislative updates, the crisis has also given the profession the opportunity to learn some crucial lessons that can only strengthen accountants’ roles in an uncertain future. We asked a collection of accounting’s thought leaders to share what knowledge they are seeing practitioners glean — and what they should be learning — from this unprecedented time.

Lesson 1: Truly essential

One of the most reassuring lessons from the pandemic is the invaluable role of accountants, especially amidst all this volatility, according to our panel of leaders in the profession.

“Many people believe a crisis is a test of character, but it’s not,” said Sarah Dobek, president and founder at Inovautus Consulting. “A crisis instead reveals the character and skills you already have. I think the biggest thing firms are learning is how well they were really doing on certain fronts. Firms are learning a lot about the resiliency of their partner group’s mindset and the soundness of their vision and strategy for growth.”

“I think the pandemic has made two things very clear related to firms,” said Erik Asgeirsson, president and CEO of “First, their services — in particular, their role as a trusted advisor — is highly relevant. Their clients are turning to them for critical business advice and support.”

“I believe CPAs and other accounting professionals have learned how invaluable they are to their clients and the community — something that has always been true but has been especially brought to light during the COVID-19 health and economic crisis,” said Ralph Thomas, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. “Our members have been tested in new ways, but they discovered the real value they bring to the table is helping clients navigate the unknown.”

Marc Rosenberg, president of The Rosenberg Associates, reports a similar takeaway, in “how much clients really appreciate their CPAs. Accountants have become lifesavers for their clients by helping them navigate the complexities of the government stimulus programs and generally providing advice, counsel, and solace on survival. This goodwill will play a huge role in firms’ recoveries.”

“The assistance with PPP and other stimulus solutions have given accountants the needed self-confidence boost to finally see themselves in this light,” said Angie Grissom, president of The Rainmaker Companies. “I have heard comments from clients like ‘My client will never see me in the same way again. He is grateful that I helped save his business.’”

Kim Austin, a business development manager for national accounts at Inuit, has heard similar feedback, including from one Intuit partner, Gabby Luoma of MOD Ventures: “A powerful quote from her message was, ‘Accountants are the first responders for small businesses through this.’ Firms are realizing that their clients need them, and are putting their trust in them to guide them through this.”

“We are needed now more than ever,” said Ron Baker, founder of the Verasage Institute. “We are not commodities, no matter what people mindlessly say. Just as the men and women in the medical and first-responder community are putting their very lives at risk to keep people physically healthy, CPAs will be needed to keep their customers financially healthy.”

“The other lesson that firms should be learning is how clients will truly value strategic insight,” said Todd Shapiro, president, and CEO of the Illinois CPA Society. “It was common for firms to be assisting a client in the preparation of their PPP application. Many firms proactively reached out to clients to advise them on alternatives to help their businesses survive and, eventually, thrive — all while not knowing if there would be compensation for their advice and assistance.”

“Our clients really need us in a crisis, and we have to have a lot of people on our team with the right advisory skills who are ready and able to handle client inquiries and provide solid advice or we risk not being able to help them all,” said Jennifer Wilson, co-founder, and partner of ConvergenceCoaching.

“Clients highly value their accountant as an advisor,” said Darren Root, co-founder and general manager at Rootwork and VP of market strategy at Right Networks.

Dawn Brolin, executive vice president of business development and compliance at Powerful Accounting powered by Out of the Box Technology, noted that clients and non-clients alike were waking up to the value of accountants. “People who typically file on their own realized they didn’t know what they were doing and were finally willing to pay for services due to the confusion around all of the rules,” she said. “The pandemic has taught me that you can never underestimate the importance of the accounting industry and its relevancy and its critical role in the economy.”

“I also think we have learned how to react and respond ‘on the fly,’” said Allan Koltin, CEO of Koltin Consulting Group. “When the CARES Act and/or PPP loan program came out, firms literally had hours to become the ‘resident expert.’”

Lesson 2: Move to advisory

The crisis has only crystallized the necessity for firms to embrace advisory services.

“Advisory really is the service that our clients value the most!” said Jim Bourke, managing director of advisory services at WithumSmith+Brown “During this time, if I can point to one area where our team members excelled, it was in guiding and advising our clients around their cash flow needs during this period of time. From dealing with clients with crushed revenue streams to those struggling to find a bank that was willing to process their SBA-PPP loan applications … now more than ever, we have learned it’s all about being that ‘trusted advisor.’”

“The opportunities for advisory services are huge right now,” agreed Jody Padar, vice president of strategy at Botkeeper. “There are so many services that we never dreamed of offering in ways we never thought of delivering them.”

“The biggest lesson I think firms should take away from this is that regardless of how their firm feels about ‘advisory services,’ their clients will be coming to them to advise them through tough times,” said Intuit’s Austin. “If a firm is not able to provide the type of help and guidance their clients need, they’ll be forced to look elsewhere for that assistance.”

And accountants must realize this demand will survive the crisis. “I think they should be learning to embrace change as a challenge to be better,” said Dobek. “We are seeing many firms take this approach and others that have yet to make that leap. I’ve heard a few comments around the move from compliance to an advisory, and some being happy they retained more compliance work. These firms are missing the bigger picture. The advisory work is what will help businesses and individuals make it through this pandemic.”

“Overall, the most important focus for firms should be realizing that this is a defining moment and time to deliver on the trusted advisor role with their clients,” said Asgeirsson. “Over the past two months, firms have been put in the center of advising their clients on how to manage the downturn and business relief. Over the coming weeks and months, they are going to support their clients on restart efforts and adjustments to their business model. This is a historic moment for the firms to help their clients. Clients will remember who helped them navigate through this time successfully.”

Lesson 3: ‘Remote work works!’

One of the most obvious opportunities to come out of the pandemic is the (long-awaited, for many) move to remote, flexible work. “The biggest lesson learned is that work-at-home can work,” said Randy Johnston, executive vice president of K2 Enterprises and CEO and founder of Network Management Group. “Stay-at-home orders forced everyone into this new work environment.”

Wilson agreed: “Remote work works! People are more productive than firm leaders imagined. Firm leaders realize they have to double down on technology to have maximum flexibility in the way they serve their clients.”

Hector Garcia, CEO of Quick Bookkeeping & Accounting, shared similar insight: “Embracing flexible work; not just ‘remote work,’ but different ways of being able to have team members work without interruption.”

“While firms have toyed with working remotely for several years, it has not been something that was widely done,” said August Aquila, CEO of Aquila Global Advisors. “The pandemic forced firms into doing it and they have found that it works. People who work remotely are more productive overall and have a better quality of life since they do not have to commute. Once the dust settles from the pandemic, remote workers will be the norm rather than the exception.”

“In as short as two days, many firms moved on-site engagements and critical administrative functions to 100 percent virtual environments,” said Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, executive director of finance thought leadership for the cloud business group at Oracle, and a past chair of the American Institute of CPAs. “Necessity is the mother of invention and this quote has never been more true. In a pre-COVID-19 environment, a completely virtual working environment would have taken many firms several more years, if ever, to implement.”

While the adjustment period is challenging, mastering new models can provide future benefits.

“Working from home was a difficult transition for some of our clients,” reported Jeff Phillips, CEO of Accountingfly. “But many firms have learned they can give staff this great gift of flexibility and still be highly productive.”

“Adaptation is not optional; it is essential for survival and firm leaders will see this as the new expectation,” said Grissom. “This includes the move to virtual workforces as necessary, the types of services offered, and the adoption and use of technology in their firms … The work-life blend is non-negotiable.”

Lesson 4: Embrace technology

Our panel emphasized technology’s vital role in a remote workforce, and in surviving post-pandemic.

“Difficult times magnify strengths as well as weaknesses. The efficient use of technology in a virtual environment is a primary lesson,” said Gale Crosley, president of Crosley+Co. “The tech world has been operating virtually for over 20 years. They’ve figured it out and we have only to peek over the fence for insight.”

“As time marches on and changes occur, so a firm should never put off for tomorrow what can be done today,” said David Bergstein, strategic account manager with the accountant and advisory group at Intuit. “Up until now, firms have been talking about taking advantage of technology, being virtual and collaborative, but were moving at a snail’s pace. Firms are now retooling at a record pace, trimming staff where they should have done it before, and utilizing technology that leads to digital movement of data and elimination of paper.”

“The pandemic has taught us the importance of true practice virtualization in that everyone needs to be able to work effectively from any place at any time,” said Roman Kepczyk, director of firm technology strategy at Right Networks.

As much as the experts lauded the profession’s ability to go virtual, some identified new obstacles to overcome in the transition. “Interestingly, as the huge impact of the pandemic on personnel’s work lives and their sanity (partners and staff alike) have become apparent, one of the biggest issues emerging is people lamenting over the lack of interpersonal interaction,” said Rosenberg. “The very people who demanded more remote work time now crave more face-to face-time. This is especially problematic for younger staff, who need more attention and guidance than more experienced personnel.”

“First, firms had to shift to a remote work environment. Many were prepared; however, many were not,” said Shapiro. “The need for technology, especially cloud-based systems, became a game-changer, and those who were cloud-based transitioned more easily. However, the degree to which clients were comfortable with technology also had a huge impact on the success of shifting to a remote work environment.”

Going forward, many of the profession’s leaders expect these new work environments to endure, ushering in other changes. “One lesson that I believe we are about to learn is that we likely have too much office space,” said Bourke. “Our firm, like many, has large physical locations in major cities. Yes, we have embraced the ‘hoteling’ concept and have even deployed technologies to facilitate that process, but will our staff be willing to come back to the new reality of social distancing, face coverings, continual cleaning of the work environment, the temperature checks, the unknown contacts made by the staff that sat in the space before them?”

“One of the biggest lessons will be how to reconfigure space and implement the new office reopening standards for social distancing, safety, building entry (scanning for a fever), and cleanliness,” said Koltin.

“Virtual meetings, audits, advisory services, and consulting engagements are here to stay,” said L. Gary Boomer, visionary and strategist at Boomer Consulting.

“Firms should be looking to not only get their practices and clients securely through the COVID storm but also be prepared to take advantage of the new work economy afterward,” said Kepczyk. “We saw with the rushed transition to WFH that security was not made a priority, so firms are just now catching up on policies, training, and technical remediation which cloud/hosted providers natively had in place.”

These efforts can also serve as a blueprint for future change management. “Now it is time to lead change,” said Ellison-Taylor. “If we have learned from iconic businesses that either is no longer here or have been dramatically impacted, we know that new disruptors are sure to emerge in the post-pandemic environment.”

As Ed Kless, senior director of partner development and strategy at Sage, put it, one pervasive lesson is, “Change is not only possible but often necessary.”

5 tips to enhance your accounting skills this year


Good news: accounting professionals who offer the tech, data analysis, and communication skills that employers are looking for will be in high demand this year. Here are some steps to enhance your accounting career.

By Johanna Leggatt

“It is always difficult to find good accountants, and that hasn’t changed,” says Benjamin Jotkowitz, director of an accounting recruitment firm, Benneaux.

“Across the industry, skilled accountants are in high demand.”

Acquiring these accounting skills, however, takes effort and a positive attitude towards change. Here are some tips on what accountants can do to ensure they enjoy a long and rising career in accounting.

1. Don’t fear technology

There is no escaping the fact that software skills are vital, says Jotkowitz.

“Back in the day, employers would nominate software proficiency as something they desired, but technical prowess is more of an expectation now,” he says.

This translates into fluency with accounting-specific software, such as Hyperion or Xero, as well as the software used by a broad range of business professionals.

“A lot of things are cloud-based now,” Jotkowitz says, “so accounting professionals who are very proficient in data-based applications and ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] programs are well regarded.”

Regional Director Australia and New Zealand at Skillsoft, Rosie Cairnes says rather than fearing the onset of automation and technology, accountants need to embrace it.

“Automation frees up the talent pool to focus on business insights and work that adds value,” she says.

A healthy amount of curiosity is also vital for ambitious accountants, adds Cairnes.

If accountants have curiosity it puts them in a good position to grab hold of what new technologies offer, she explains.

“Accountants should also look at what the emerging technologies in their industry are. What are the productivity and collaboration tools that can be introduced?”

2. Learn to analyze data

It’s not enough to operate the systems that manage data – you need to be able to interpret that information as well.

This is especially pertinent if you are mid-career or at the senior level where there is a greater expectation of strategic analysis as part of your role.

“You need to be able to tell the story that the data presents,” says Jotkowitz.

“This leads to the importance of critical thinking in accountancy. When you look at a spreadsheet, do you see a bunch of numbers or is there a deeper story?”

Cairnes agrees that accountants who are able to think creatively and draw solutions from data are in high demand.

“Long-term planning and analysis are very important,” she says.

She argues that this can apply to junior accountants as well. Younger people, and those who are relatively new to the profession, should not underestimate their ability to contribute new thinking.

“If you have a good handle on these technologies and if you’re coming up with solid business recommendations, then that can provide a new way of doing things. Creative solutions are what people are looking for.”

3. Hone your communication skills

As repetitive tasks become increasingly automated, accountants need to offer the kind of skills that cannot be easily replicated by algorithms.

“This means the ability to relate information to clients who are not across jargon, and to display excellent written and verbal communication,” says Jotkowitz. “Clients want more of service now.”

The ability to communicate is important, whether you are an experienced accountant or new to the profession, says Cairnes.

“The most in-demand skills across many industries are often professional development skills like communication,” she says.

“Communication means not just what you say, but your ability to listen and understand what the organization is all about.”

4. Learn how to lead

An accountant with strong leadership skills is highly regarded, says Cairnes.

“There is a lot written about poor leadership and how it causes churn and lack of productivity, so strong leadership is really an evergreen skill.”

However, the kind of leadership skills accountants need has changed over the past two decades.

“Thanks to technology changing the way in which we work, leadership is more about collaboration and managing virtual teams,” Cairnes says.

“Our organizational structures are much flatter, too, so inevitably it’s not just executives that need leadership skills, it’s almost everybody in the organisation.”

If you want to brush up on leadership skills, Jotkowitz recommends management courses or seeking out a mentor.

“Put up your hand for that leadership role and see what happens,” he says. “Keep on pushing yourself.”

5. Seek sector-specific experience

Jotkowitz has noticed that many employers are looking for accountants with experience in their own sector.

“If they are recruiting in FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods, such as soft drinks, toiletries], then the employer will want candidates who have worked in that sector,” he says.

“So think strategically if you want to work in, for example, pharmaceuticals.”

While candidates are often convinced they can apply their skills across many sectors – and they’re often correct – employers value sector-specific experience.

“So, if you have an aged care role, it helps to have to have aged care experience,” says Jotkowitz. “That is the preference we are noticing.”

Professionals call for revamp of the accounting education system to attract the young crowd

Accounting professionals, accounts institutes, colleges, universities, and consultants are demanding new standards and education in the accounting sector so that more and more young group gets attracted towards them.

According to the accounting education department of Australia’s consultant Heath Smith and pre-eminent product ‘Hype girl’, something is missing in the fundamentals of accounting.

Firstly, when this debate started, Ms Smith thought that this argument is just a waste of time. They fear that nowadays, due to technological advancements, robots are taking the work of men as an accountant, as this is the world of artificial intelligence and countless technology opportunities.

In another report, she also stated that the Australian students are getting tensed as there is a considerable hype in AI, and their jobs are in danger.

Now the question arises, what can be the scenario if accounts jobs get more interesting after some changes?

On the other hand, Ms Smith has a firm belief that this accounting education needs some alignment so that it gradually focuses on technology in an applied manner. Nowadays, also in spite of so much advancement in technology, accounts are taught in the same way at the tertiary level. It means the future accountants have to learn various things before getting into the workforce.

The director of For Prime Partners, James Carey, says that the work done by accounts graduates right now must be reflected at a tertiary level so that the young faces choose it as their career.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence and relationship-building need to engage in professional accounting courses, Mr Carey stated.

Business is that sector that needs accountants no matter how much technology gets advanced as there is a stable relationship between the two. Business owners can only trust accountants and can take advice for future progress, Mr Carey said.

He also stated that if the future accountants get extra-ordinary relationship skills, then not only their relationship gets strong and excel, they can talk to

clients. They can explain complex subjects in a small way, making them perfect for this job.

All the above comments from Ms Smith and Mr Carey are mainly from the side of universities, professional bodies, and from the employers.

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