Accountants Can’t Afford to Delay Client Service in the Wake of COVID-19
Last week, we polled the accounting community about the many ways COVID-19 was impacting them. Our research encompassed a wide range of firms, from independent operators and small firms under 50 employees, to companies that span over 10,000 employees.
The answers we received helped us understand more about what accountants are prioritizing… and a few blindspots some firms may have.
The data also gave us a perspective on how remote accounting work is shaping the new normal for accountants. Tools used for automation and productivity, previously considered “nice to have,” are today seen as “must-have.”
It comes as no surprise that accounting firms, like a variety of industries, have been hard hit by COVID-19. Almost 60% of businesses have had to adjust their 2020 hiring plans in response to COVID-19. Which means it’s up to employers to make sure that the daily tools they provide for their staff are as effective as possible and allow them to function with fewer headcount.
Question: Has COVID-19 Changed Your 2020 Hiring Plans?
Shocking Remote Accounting Staffing Trends
Despite trends towards work from home (WFH) and remote work over the past ten years, and even with several big four firms adopting the concept of “hot desking” to minimize employees’ reliance on a singular, in-office workstation, prior to COVID-19 our survey indicated that almost a third of companies had less than 10% of their employees working remotely.
Question: How Much of Your Accounting Company's Staff Was Remote Before COVID-19?
Today, following COVID-19, that number has flipped entirely, with a majority of companies now mandating that over 90% of their workforce WFH. This means that swift, technological and cultural changes have hit the accounting industry hard. The more employers can find ways to facilitate their employees’ work conditions, the faster employees can prioritize high-value client services.
Question: How Much of Your Accounting Company's Staff Is Now Remote Because of COVID-19?
Accounting Automation Tools
One exciting aspect of this finding is that, even before coronavirus shut down the typical office environment, accountants shared that close to 90% of them were already taking steps in their everyday schedules to use automated accounting tools. So there is a recognition by the industry that in order to do more with less, some type of automated accounting tools are needed to be a CPA under normal circumstances.
Question: Were You Using Any Accounting Automation Tools Before COVID-19?
Survey respondents added that post-COVID-19, 30% are looking to incorporate either first time or secondary automation technologies to their toolkit.
It could be that now is either the time for some to take the leap on initial usage or that others might be looking for supplemental ways to incorporate automation into other areas of their work streams that may be taking up their staff’s time, from accounts payable to payment transactions.
Question: Are You Using Any Accounting Automation Tools Now Because of COVID-19?
As accountants transition to WFH full-time, we knew it would be important to assess what employers are doing to improve overall employee efficiency. How are companies enabling their staff to be strong contributors outside of the conventions of the office?
From our poll, the biggest investment firms have made is in collaboration tools. These might include tools that permit collaboration between accountants and their clients, as well as internal collaboration. Video calls done through the likes of Zoom can be used by internal and external parties, whereas a messaging tool like Slack would likely be intended for employee-to-employee communication.
Contractors and freelancers were at the bottom of this list of resources. This may have had less to do with their costs, since short term help may be less than an annual technology subscription, than with the potential time to train these individuals.
Productivity tools rated higher than freelancers, but not by much.
So at the end of the day, companies seem to be prioritizing collaboration and project management over the tools that might actually get those projects over the finish line.
Question: What Tools Have You Offered Your Accounting Staff to Improve Remote Work?
Clients Need Help Today
Despite our initial guess that accounting firms might only be swamped until the tax filing deadline, the majority of CPAs stated that they don’t actually have a “busy season.” If that’s the case, then the demand for accountants is constant and unrelenting.
Survey respondents shared that any delay in the delivery of their services would severely impact their clients, meaning they need to be in a position to offer unwavering commitment 24/7, 365 days a year.
Question: How Would A Delay In The Delivery of Accounting Services Affect Your Clients?
Accountants are searching for ways both high and low touch to help their clients through the COVID-19 crisis, and this includes everything from increased emails and phone calls to staffing up the account to implementing new technologies.
Additional communication is the easiest way to add value to the relationship, but adding new technologies to facilitate the account is seen by the majority of those surveyed as important to maintaining the client/advisor relationship. Especially in instances where increasing headcount isn’t a possibility.
Question: How Are You Helping Your Accounting Clients Address COVID-19?
What Should Accounting Firms Do?
If you’ve been hesitant to implement automated technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), this data might help put your mind at ease. Automated technologies and other employee productivity tools are some of the best ways to enable your employees to excel.
If you’re already using automation, consider expanding your tech stack. Make sure that your toolkit covers the most labor-intensive aspects of accounting, like accounts payable or wherever your employees spend an inordinate amount of time so that they can get back to advising clients during these unprecedented times.
And, if you haven’t yet considered the value of automated accounting, particularly how it can make your employees more efficient within the confines of a remote environment, it’s never too late to start.
What remote accounting technologies are you finding critical for working from home during COVID-19? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
And if you’re serious about taking your remote accounting practice to the next level, be sure to download our ebook “The Future of Accounting Technology.” (Preparing for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning).