Changes wrought on small businesses by the impact of Covid-19 are having a similar effect on many companies that serve them, such as accountants.
A survey of SMEs in the UK has found that since Covid-19, almost half (49 per cent) of small business owners rate communication skills as the number one characteristic they want in an accountant – a dramatic departure from the traditional view of the profession before the pandemic struck.
And the situation is similar among New Zealand companies, believes Charles Clark, co-founder and marketing director for BOMA, an online content and communication tool for accountants that helps them to support clients and grow their practice.
"Every conversation we have here in New Zealand tells us the same message is coming through," he says. "This is placing more pressure on accountants who are working long hours to support businesses throughout the crisis.
"But Covid-19 has led to massive change. With so many small businesses in crisis and, in some cases, literally weeks away from going bust, they are looking for help and advice about how to survive and navigate through these times.
"It has put huge demands on accountants to give crisis support and to communicate changes and government support measures to their clients."
Clark says many SME owners will be feeling isolated and alone and need a strong human connection about how to get through the next six to nine months.
"Accountants have always been helping their clients with cashflow issues, taxation and the like. But now, more than ever, they need to help support their clients' business survival while still handling the day-to-day accounting issues. More and more accountants are moving to digital communication to support, advise and inform clients."
A report into the New Zealand accountancy industry by international research organisation IBISWorld appears to support Clark's view. Published in August the report says the main challenge for accountants in the next five years is expected to be the need to change in line with technological advancements and increases in client expectations.
"Firms must also be able to quickly and successfully adopt new technologies to remain viable," the report says. "They must also be able to attract and retain clients through meeting their changing needs and expectations."
The UK Insight 101 survey questioned small businesses in mid-May, two months after the initial lockdown in Britain, to find out how they felt their accountants performed during Covid-19.
Communication skills came out as the number one characteristic that small businesses want from their accountants (a similar survey in 2019 had it well down in priority behind sector knowledge), a result considered a direct consequence of the stop on face-to-face contact during lockdown.
The survey further found only 38 per cent of SMEs had received an email from their accountant during the lockdown while 27 per cent got a phone call.
Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of SMEs made the first contact while seven per cent had not heard from their accountant at all.
Although 69 per cent of respondents said their accountant had met their expectations during Covid, 16 per cent said they had failed to do so while 11 per cent were thinking of changing accountants.
While communication skills were considered the most important characteristic, crisis management was also highly rated (coming in second), specialist product knowledge was third, while flexibility/adaptability and leadership were ranked four and five.
Clark says the accounting industry in New Zealand has been undergoing change for a number of years due to cloud accounting products which have streamlined the traditional compliance focus for many firms, but Covid-19 has quickened this trend.
"Compliance still makes up a large proportion of an accountant's revenue, but increasingly they are offering more high value advisory services," he says. "Covid-19 has led to businesses having to get their heads around even more issues like the wage subsidy and other compliance matters that have arisen because of Covid-19."
Liz Studholme, BOMA's content marketing manager says many accountants - a fair proportion of which are small businesses themselves - are so busy that they don't have the hours in the day to manage social media and other communication platforms which have become ever more necessary as efficient/effective means to support their clients.
"Covid-19 has put huge pressure on all business owners, and accountants are no different," she says. "In fact the crisis has meant that businesses are leaning heavily on their business advisor for advice, planning, information on support schemes, and assistance in preparing general applications or just surviving the months ahead."
"Accountants are doing a heroic job right now and added to the pressure is the need to be communicating with clients," Studholme says. "Digital marketing may once have sat at the bottom of their to-do list but is now the best tool for sharing advice, important updates and changes. Social media and email marketing allows them to support in a 'one-to-many' fashion.
"Accountants need to be on top of all the latest changes and updates that may affect their clients, such as scenario planning or accessing government services – and need to be communicating these to them," she says.
Studholme says the key is to communicate with clients en masse particularly when lockdown measures put an end to face-to-face meetings – which is where BOMA can help.
BOMA has an extensive library of over 400 articles specifically written for accountants to share with their clients. The platform enables email and social media campaigns to be sent via a few clicks in minutes.
In BOMA, accountants can run social ads, create lead capture forms and analyse campaign performance. With personalised support for every BOMA customer, the platform is transforming the way in which accountants can communicate with, and support clients.
For more information on BOMA go to: bomamarketing.com