Accountant Paul Meissner shares some of the lessons he has learned while working in lockdown at his home in Victoria, Australia.
Greetings fellow lockdowners! This year has thrown everything at us, and with second and third Covid waves hitting across the world accountants have shouldered a greater burden than most. As well as all of the general challenges like working from home, children being home from school, etc, we have come to the aid of clients in distress and navigated a wave of government rescue packages.
Here in Melbourne we had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns with an enforced curfew from 8pm-5am, we were only allowed to leave the house for one hour a day, a limit of 5km travel, mandatory mask wearing anytime we left the house, and we needed a permit to leave the house for work.
Today, Victoria has only two active Covid cases and 21 consecutive days of no new cases. Clearly, our two countries have differences, but lockdowns work and the feeling at the other end, to have done our bit to protect vulnerable people, is immensely satisfying.
So I wanted to share with you five experiences of a ‘Pandemic Accountant’:
1. Bulk client communication: I have never been a fan of mass emails to clients. Part of me has seen them as impersonal; they can be too simple as to insult clients or too detailed that clients’ eyes glaze over.
During our first Covid lockdown email blasts was the first change I made, and has been one of the real wins that enabled me to tell clients about the stimulus payment available.
Targeted, proactive email blasts can have some real benefits, like helping you understand the stimulus and be able to communicate it, engaging with clients who appreciate it both in the short term and long term. It reduces the time spent explaining all of the stimulus packages to every client individually and repeating yourself. As a bonus, these emails did lead to new client enquiry as they were shared with my client’s wider networks.
2. Accountant burnout: This year has been the hardest of my career, where at times I’ve swung from the exhilaration of helping small businesses survive to the exhaustion of nine hours of back-to-back calls while at home with two kids. As an industry with an older demographic, some accountants won’t make it. Be it retirement, resentment or respite, and we all might wonder at some stage if it was time to do something else.
Remember to look after yourselves and each other. Your support to clients and your network has a massive positive impact.
3. Stimulus is the new compliance: While the pandemic has created so many issues it has also given us a great deal. Through government stimulus (like the furlough system and loans) we are seeing more services demanded and the chance to build a more trusted relationship with clients.
4. People wanting their tax done: One of the things that really surprised me was that the lockdowns spurred clients into action in getting their tax done. Whether wanting to know their position, wanting their refund or just boredom, I can’t recall a time where work came in without asking.
5. Compliance advisory: Advisory is a big part of compliance. You don’t need to sell a monthly three-way cashflow forecast to clients to be an advisor. Over the past six months the depth of conversations with clients reminds me of our trusted advisory status and the advice we give every day.
6. Pricing in a crisis: Charging a set monthly fee for ad hoc advice has had the greatest impact on profitability in the 10 years I’ve run my firm. The major benefit during Covid was that I was already charging monthly. Unless you have a way to charge for ad hoc phone calls/emails you won’t ever recover fees for the time you spend. Setting a fixed fee, even a relatively small one, means you’ll be paid for your effort and helps the clients understand your value.
During the difficult times of lockdown I focused on being safe at home rather than stuck at home. Accountants are an important part of the business community. If we can look after ourselves, our clients and our peers, we’ll feel very proud of what we have achieved.
• Paul Meissner, Director 5ways Group Accountants