‘It felt like Armageddon’: when lockdown hit business.
Link to official AFR article here (requires AFR subscription): https://www.afr.com/…/it-felt-like-armageddon-when…
Accountant Darren Crowther is hopeful but wary as lockdown restrictions are eased in Melbourne.
Based in Cranbourne, south-east of Melbourne’s CBD, Mr Crowther has seen first-hand the stress and damage the extended second lockdown has had on his business clients.
“I’m feeling positive about the easing but cautious. We’re currently working on a COVID plan to get back in the office in a minimal capacity,” he said.
“We’re cautious because there still hasn’t been a clear plan about how we are going to live with the disease. At the moment, there is only the lockdown. For a business owner, that can mean that the cure is worse than the disease.”
Mr Crowther, a partner in Highview Accounting & Financial, said this inability to plan had caused untold stress for his business owner clients.
“The extended lockdown has certainly taken its toll on our clients and, in particular, small business,” he said.
“Clients have continued to be impacted financially, in many cases not as harshly as we anticipated. However, in my opinion, the true financial impact of Melbourne’s second lockdown will not be measurable for many months to come.
“What has stood out most when speaking with my clients has been the toll on their mental health.
“Business owners not being able to proactively plan, predict, or willingly invest in their business due to the uncertainties of government regulations – the mental strain has affected them greatly.”
Despite the pandemic, income at Highview Accounting & Financial increased by 20 per cent to $10.1 million in the 2020 financial year, making it one of the 10 fastest growing firms in The Australian Financial Review Top 100 Accounting Firms list.
Mr Crowther said the strong growth had been due, in part, to a continued stream of new clients being referred to the firm.
Highview Accounting & Financial has four offices across Victoria, with taxation advice accounting for almost 90 per cent of its fees.
“Bigger picture, our business has been on a year-on-year growth path,” he said.
“Our projected revenue growth has been hit by COVID-19 FY20, but we’ve adapted and slowly got ourselves back on track as we approach September. Now in October, we estimate that we will be 10 per cent lower than our projections by year end.”
Mr Crowther said the initial March shutdown had seen the professionals at his firm working extended hours as they fielded calls from anxious clients and sought to understand the range of COVID-related government measures that were unveiled.
“The first few weeks felt like Armageddon. It was something I’d never experienced before. I was up until midnight trying to work out the new laws and regulations,” he said.
Mr Crowther said his team worked mainly on “non-billable advice work” in the initial weeks of the first lockdown.
“A lot of our work was free to clients really struggling due to the downturn,” he said.
consulting with incredibly stressed clients and working hour upon hour of
overtime simply to respond to the huge influx of emails and calls.Advertisement
“Our clients had never needed us more, and our billable work was slowed dramatically as a result and, in many cases paused, to handle the direct situation in front of us. We needed to be there for our clients. It was an incredibly hectic few weeks.
“Moving weeks forward, JobKeeper work and COVID-19-related advice replaced our usual strategic work and tax planning in May and June.”
Article written by Edmund Tadros, 27th October 2020, Professional services editor, Australian Financial Review.