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2020/21 Reporting Season: an organised client is a good client when working remotely

10 February 2021: Reporting season might have been complicated by COVID but, says Joe Scaife, Head of Audit and Assurance at Bishop Fleming, you can achieve the same objectives in different ways.

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Being organised got Bishop Fleming through the last reporting season and it will get it through the next one. Where clients can organise their information, make it accessible and do so in a timely fashion, this has helped the south west-based firm exponentially.

You would think this hardly needs saying, but the pandemic has shed light on the sheer joy an organised set of files can deliver to an auditor that has had to shift its working methods rapidly.

“We were already well set up from an IT point of view when COVID hit,” says Scaife. The move towards partial homeworking had put Bishop Fleming in a good position to adapt to the changing circumstances quickly.

“But the pandemic made managing a team more difficult,” he concedes. “We no longer hear each other’s conversations so our communications with each other are more structured.” However, communications between the firm’s seven offices have improved, resulting in better but shorter meetings, he says.

Then Scaife turns to servicing audit clients themselves. “Initially there was an enthusiasm amongst clients to put off the audit,” he comments, “then we found some clients wanted to get on with it quickly as the pandemic gave them time to give it their attention.”

He says audits took longer to complete because there was simply a dearth of remote working experience amongst clients and their staff. This is where being organised has made all the difference. To help relay information on the new ways of working, Bishop Fleming has organised webinars to support clients through this rapid period of change.

Despite the very different working arrangements, the firm has taken on a significant number of new clients and onboarded many new staff. “Our growth plans have not been affected at all,” he says.

For example, the firm has been pitching for – and winning – work outside the region in which it is located and diversified its client portfolio too. As for new starters, in September 2020, Bishop Fleming increased its workforce by 15% to over 360 staff

Going concern has – as expected – been a thorny issue. He says that he and his team have been warning clients that there may be a reference to material uncertainty in the audit report.

“From the business point of view, things looked much more uncertain in April, June and September,” says Scaife. “Now, from a business point of view, things seem to be a bit more certain.”

One of the sectors Scaife himself focuses on is education, specifically the audit of academies. He reminds us all UK academies have an August year-end with accounts usually required to be filed with funding agencies by the end of December.

“This year everything has been undertaken remotely,” he says. “We have been on lots of Teams and Zoom calls. It has been a very different experience.”

He continues: “Schools have simply wanted to get their audits completed, and quickly bought into remote working. They organised their documents and happily worked through portals.” These clients sit squarely in the “organised” category.

Perhaps one pleasant upside to the events of 2020, says Scaife, was low mileage. “In our environmental report for 2020, mileage was down 77% year on year,” he says. “That just shows what a different world we inhabited in 2020.”

Article series: 2020/21 Reporting Season

The above article is part of a series looking at the challenges of the corporate reporting season in 2020/21. The series aims to examine what shareholders, investors and other stakeholders want from corporate reporting at this difficult time.

See the series