Recently, Client Culture Director Greg Tilse spoke to HLB Mann Judd Perth Partner Litsa Christodulou about feedback she had received from clients following the early days of Western Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in late March, as businesses began to feel the first impacts of the pandemic, it was their accountants that business owners reached out to first. Litsa describes a hectic period of frantic client phone calls, “we all lost our voice,” she says, referring to the Business Advisory team.

Never before have whole sectors of the economy been forced to close or drastically change operations literally overnight. For many businesses, a virus that started on the other side of the world months before, was now, suddenly, putting their very survival at stake.

Clients show their appreciation

In June this year, clients showed their appreciation for Litsa by giving her an unprecedented personal Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 100. Further, the Perth firm’s business advisory and tax divisions received an overall NPS of 90 (higher than the industry average of 61). The Perth partners evaluated who were evaluated by clients at this time included Litsa as well as Guy Brandon (Tax Consulting) and Kirstin Stewart (Business Advisory Services).

One step at a time

“The main message for our clients initially was don’t panic,” explains Litsa, describing her plan of action in those early days, “We needed to take it one step at a time.” Clients were anxious and for good reason. Being available to listen and reassure clients was very important. Litsa would receive calls and emails at all hours, seven days a week. She remembers calling one client early in the morning on Easter Sunday. “You just had to be there for them,” she says.

Budgeting and forecasting

“Suddenly budgets were out the window,” says Litsa, “These had to be re-done. Forecasts were extremely difficult, but vital. How long would this last? was the key question. No one had been here before, so we prepared multiple forecasts with a range of assumptions.” This gave businesses a sense of a plan, a strategy to get to the other side of the worst business impacts of the pandemic. For many businesses, big decisions had to be made and made quickly.

Accessing government assistance

Gradually government and ATO assistance measures began to take shape. For the accounting profession, long hours of study was required. “I have never had to read and comprehend as much in my whole career as during that early stage of COVID-19,” says Litsa. “As well, we were all working from home. My team was suddenly dispersed. Like all accounting firms, there were impacts on our own business to consider. For a time I felt like I had little control.”

30,000 steps

We have all needed strategies to look after our wellness in the last months and for Litsa it was walking – 30,000 steps a day, before work, after work and also during work. Spending so much time on the phone, helping one client after the other, Litsa would pace around her house to get her steps up – multitasking at its best.

Over-communicate

“During this time you just had to be proactive. You couldn’t necessarily wait for a client to contact you. You had to reach out to them as well,” Litsa said. As government assistance programs became clearer, like the cash flow boost and then JobKeeper, it was important all clients understood how it might affect them.

Business impacts varied

Not all businesses were impacted equally of course. Litsa has a number of medical professionals as clients, particularly specialists, and for them, times were very tough indeed. In preparation for a COVID-19 influx of patients, hospitals cancelled elective surgeries. Cash flow for specialists completely dried up and people were reluctant to visit their GP’s for fear of contracting the disease.

For some businesses though, it was the best of times. A rush to work from home, meant office workers needed ergonomic chairs to set up home offices. For one client of Litsa’s, a manufacturer of office chairs, they were never busier. For them meeting surging demand was their challenge.

Where to from here?

There is still no vaccine on the horizon. Recent research from the UK suggests that immunity for those that have had COVID-19 is short lived, perhaps three months at best. This has huge implications for our ability to beat this virus – developing a vaccine will be harder and recurring outbreaks, like the one in Melbourne, may become more common.

Litsa sees unemployment rising. “I am worried,” she says. “For the business community, and also for the accounting profession. Gone are the days when you can set and forget a budget. They need constant checking. Forecasts need flexibility. Going forward you need to have a strong forecasting and budgeting discipline. This is an area we are focusing on with our clients”.

“You also need to be open minded though. The way you’ve operated in the past may not be the best way forward. Be open to change and new ideas. Think creatively and look for opportunities, because with any really big change, there are always opportunities.”

About Litsa Christodulou

Litsa is a partner at HLB Mann Judd Perth and leads the firm’s Business Advisory Services division. Earlier in the year, she was recognised nationally by her clients who voted her “Best Accountant” and “Best Professional” at the 2020 Client Choice Awards.

Litsa develops strong and lasting relationships with her clients and works closely with them in the day-to-day management of their businesses. She prides herself on being responsive to any of her clients’ business needs whether it’s dealing with tax and compliance work, assisting with financing issues, or dealing with asset protection issues.

Litsa regularly contributes articles to HLB Mann Judd and industry-wide publications and is also a member of HLB Mann Judd’s national Business Advisory Services group, structured to improve services to clients and industry.

About Client Culture

Client Culture provides a technology platform, support, and advice to help professionals of all types better understand the experience of clients and staff to strengthen relationships and sustain and grow their practices. To learn more about Client Culture – https://clientculture.com.au/