ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Accountants take the digital leap to battle coronavirus crisis

23 March 2020: Keith Underwood, Managing Director of Foulger Underwood, believes that despite the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, accountants are proving their resilience by taking the digital leap to support clients and staff through challenging times.

Weeks of concern over coronavirus’s spread, and its potential impact upon our daily lives, is now upon us.

Accounting firms are facing two key issues: firstly, taking responsibility for their employees by reducing time spent in proximity – which has seen remote working (or simply working from home) become the norm; and secondly, urgently communicating with clients to help them manage cashflow.

Many practices have closed down their office on a test basis, to check that working from home can be accommodated with communications, access to servers and information; broadly testing crisis management and contingency plans.

These communication and workflow crisis solutions have of course been around for a while. But for some practices these processes and operations will have rarely been utilised – if at all trialled.

The current crisis however, which will hopefully only run for the minimum of time, will actually give both clients and accounting firms considerable experience of digital and remote communication. It is very possible that some remote working will not only be permanently adopted by employees as well as partners, but also warmly welcomed by clients.

The use of online communication apps and conference calling will no doubt significantly rise over the next six months. I suspect these coming months will create a momentum to adopt these as a cost-effective way of reaching out to clients and an efficient way of working in delivering service – whether discussing and reviewing accounts, or just generally keeping in touch with clients.

The face-to-face client meeting, either in the office or on client site, has always been a feature of an accountants’ service for the last 100 years. Technology, however, has been adopted and the resources are available to enable online communication that doesn’t reduce service levels or impact clients – certainly, for a significant number of clients, remote contact will be welcomed as cost-effective, quick and therefore adopted long-term.

Then, there’s the flexibility of working from home – or even flexible hours. There has been some momentum on these areas over the last few years and I can only see that being built on.It will become a much more acceptable part of the profession, particularly as we continue to see recruitment difficulties, skills shortfall and the adoption of flexible working relationships to accommodate all employees.

We always want accountants and their clients to thrive. At this point, as they face major change and disruption, we also wish them and their families the best of health.

Keith Underwood is Managing Director of Foulger Underwood