What is it like to be an accountant during a Pandemic & Economic crisis

Stacey PriceWorking in finance during a Pandemic and economic downturn is certainly no bed of roses. And if one more person assumes “I must be raking it in” during this Coronavirus crisis, I seriously think I will lose my mind.

You see, we are busy, yes.  And we are super grateful for that. But we are busy in July and August every year.  But this year sees us being a different kind of busy. It is not a “nice” busy, it is a “frantic” busy, it is a “emotional” busy, and it is a “mental” busy that I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

Normally at this time of year we are busy making sure end of financial year is all nice and tidy so clients can do their tax returns. We have just completed the madness that is STP finalisation events and ensuring payroll reconciles for all clients.  We are in the middle of doing Workcover remuneration declarations.  This year we are also helping our friends at Trust One Partners with tax return compliance. We are helping clients set up accounting software to start the new financial year off on the right foot.  Along with that comes training to ensure those clients don’t get into a pickle.  All of that, we just love. We wake up every day and we love that stuff.  We are nerds, loud and proud.

Normally we would also be helping clients plan for a kick arse 2021 financial year. However, right now, we are fielding calls, emails, DM’s and texts about how will their business actually survive this pandemic. What can they do to survive. What federal or state government assistance are they entitled to, and sadly what are they not entitled to.

We are being a shoulder to cry on for many clients – who for the first time in their life, are having to rely on government payments to put food on the table. Some are almost too proud to accept the government assistance, but they also know if they don’t accept it, everything they have worked so hard for will be gone.

We are a bunch of accountants and bookkeepers, we are not psychologists, but there are many days where all I get done is be there for clients during their moment of panic and anxiety. The messages from all angles build up, and at one stage, I had 17 voicemails on my phone as I simply couldn’t answer them quick enough before more distressed clients called me. I was then accused of having a phone that didn’t work as they couldn’t leave a message – but my voicemail was so full as I was spending every waking minute on the phone helping clients navigate their own personal struggles.

We are handling JobKeeper enquiries and reporting whilst juggling home schooling and at times also school holidays – with no external support due to lockdown restrictions.

My typical days of heading out to meet clients in person are over (for now) and Zoom sessions are the norm, but usually those sessions have a few extra guests as many clients now are also facing home schooling as well.  As we know how hard it is to get things done with children around, the sessions usually go for longer to accommodate that, so we are working longer days to fit everyone in.

My typical day during Lockdown 1.0 was work from 9am until after midnight to make sure home schooling, work, clients, training, and my team were all ok.  I was making sure everyone was ok, except me. I didn’t have time to focus on me.  Nobody asked about me as it was assumed “I was raking it in”. But that is a long day to spend on emotionally taxing phone calls which were NEVER billed to clients – especially when that was my “normal” for 8 weeks straight.

We are doing so many grant applications and JobKeeper reports for clients so that they can get their hands on whatever funding they are eligible for in the hope that they can keep their own business alive and also hang onto their staff.  Between JobKeeper and grants, the combined total our clients have received is over a $1.2 million dollars in the past 4 months alone.  And our business and team is small fry compare to some others out there. Our fees to get that amount of money for our clients was less than $15,000 across the four weeks.  We are not “raking it in” nor are we profiting in ANY way to help our clients survive. I actually hate to think about the amount of losses we have incurred on these services over the past 4 months.

To give you an idea of numbers we spent over 100 hours before Lockdown 1.0 on training and up-skilling our team to understand the JobKeeper 1.0 rules and regulations. That is 100 hours of unbillable time we spent so that we could get it right for our clients. Let me get this straight – I wish I didn’t have to be a JobKeeper expert. I don’t want to be doing JobKeeper reporting, as it means our clients are struggling. And that is a huge worry to me about our business future. But without us providing this service, close to 50% of our clients would have closed back in March and not reopened at all. Ever.  Our clients need us to do this right now.  But for those thinking that JobKeeper services is a “fun” thing to do, no it is not.

We decided to charge a fee for JobKeeper reporting lodgements (a small fee) to cover the admin and ATO lodgements required as part of that process. We then had someone, who wanted to use our services, tell us we are taking advantage of clients by charging a fee.

Not sure why, during the middle of a pandemic, anyone would expect us to spend close to 50 hours each month preparing and lodging JobKeeper declarations for free.  My business certainly wouldn’t survive if that was the case and I would need to terminate my 3 staff if I didn’t pay them for their time worked.

I have been abused on the phone by a clients partner, because I didn’t do the JobKeeper reporting as they had several outstanding invoices owing which they hadn’t paid.  Invoices owing for work that was already completed by us. So I had to put up with abuse to try and get paid what was already rightfully our money.

I have been told “your business must be booming” and then got a lecture for half an hour about the whole JobKeeper/JobSeeker arrangement is not fair. We know it’s not fair. Nothing is fair right now. But we are certainly not booming when we provide that shoulder to vent on for free. Nor are we the ones making the federal or state rules/regulations.

We have had people bitch and moan to us about how we are making them sign lodgement declarations when their “friend” is getting JobKeeper without even having a decline, so can’t we just include all employees even though they are not eligible. No, not now, not ever will we lodge false declarations. Then the feeling of guilt we receive when we don’t do illegal lodgements.

So the life of an accountant during a pandemic and economic crisis is certainly not rosy, it is certainly not fun, and it is work that we wish we didn’t have to do. However, we love small business and we want all of our clients to survive.  And in order for them to survive, we are doing what we need to do.

But remember, we are in the middle of this pandemic with you. We too are feeling the pain and economic uncertainty. We are not immune and each month I have to evaluate our own business cash flow and staffing, just like you.  So bring on the end of Lockdown 2.0 when hopefully we can have some post pandemic hugs, coffee catch ups and cupcake dates with everyone.