By Kerry Agiasotis, Managing Director and Executive Vice President at Sage Asia Pacific
Would you consider your small business accountant an ‘essential worker’? It is a phrase we have heard again and again the past year in the context of medical professionals, grocery workers and law enforcement, however never in the same sentence as ‘accountant’.
For small businesses, that is exactly what they are – essential. While accountants may not be providing medical care or keeping our grocery shelves stocked, they have, in many cases, helped keep the doors to many Australian businesses open throughout the ups and downs of the past year.
While the Australian economy is beginning to recover. March data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found almost 20 per cent of small businesses think they will struggle to meet their financial commitments over the next three months.
With almost a fifth of small businesses feeling uncertain about their immediate future, there’s all the more need for accountants to maintain their ‘essential’ status in the months to come.
From number-crunchers to trusted advisers
Accountants worked all hours to keep their clients up to date with the latest changes, as the world locked down and the government rolled out emergency stimulus packages.
Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that three in five Australian businesses sought external advice, such as accounting services, to navigate the unchartered territory of the pandemic.
As the challenges facing businesses undoubtedly increased, the nature of the accountant’s role underwent profound change.
Many accountants admit they felt more like a counsellor at times while supporting their clients throughout this period. On a more positive note, one of our accountant partners recently noted her highlight was getting to know her clients personally as the pandemic prompted them to open up and have more meaningful conversations.
Fast forward twelve months, and those businesses lucky enough to have access to an accountant have come to realise that accountancy is not just limited to number crunching and financial reporting.
Instead, a small business accountant is a trusted advisers guiding business owners through make-or-break decisions around how best to manage cash flow, revenue streams and whether and how to pivot business models.
Technology the key to success
Although every accountant has his or her own unique experiences from the past year. I’ve consistently heard one piece of feedback that nobody could have dealt with the unforeseen challenges without technology.
As with many industries, the wholesale adoption of new technologies by accountants throughout the pandemic launched many practices years into the future.
Automated workflows from bookkeeping to tax, dashboards, customised reporting, and data-driven insights allowed them to keep their heads above water while focusing on what mattered the most: the needs of their clients.
Accountants who had instant access to financial and operational data were able to provide the best counsel to their clients so they could make the right decisions in the ever-changing environment.
This trend is accelerating in 2021 and beyond. As cloud-based, automated practice solutions continue to enable firms to become more productive, freeing up time for accountants to focus on running their practice and supporting their customers’ needs with timely counsel.
A trusted partnership for the future
If I were to look for a silver lining in the past year, without a doubt, it would have to be how technology transformed the accountant-client relationship.
It seems ironic that software helped bring people closer together. However, by leveraging new technologies such as cloud-based and automated practice solutions, accountants could free up time to focus on well-needed client counsel.
Despite the enormous adversity endured, businesses and accountants managed to weather the storm together, finding solutions to the seemingly impossible.
As we look towards the May budget, the reopening of borders, and life after the pandemic, businesses must continue to work even closer with their accountants to leverage new opportunities and mitigate risks that may arise.
By keeping your small business accountant close and recognising the value they provide as essential to your business, you will be well placed to capitalise on the strong economic growth that’s on the cards as we continue to bounce back from the pandemic.