‘We have to be more available than ever’

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Written by Adrian Flores on 1 April 2020

The rapid transition of the SMSF industry towards working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic has meant accountants, advisers, auditors and administrators “have to be more available than ever” for their colleagues and clients, says a leading administrator.

Speaking exclusively on the launch episode of The SMSF Adviser Show, Heffron chief executive Meg Heffron spoke about her own company’s experience with adjusting to the realities of working from home through the COVID-19 outbreak.

She said she decided very early on in the SMSF administrator’s history that it had to be readily available to serve clients at any time, but the COVID-19 outbreak has meant this element of client service is more important than it ever has been.

“That’s how we step up,” Ms Heffron said.

“We’re dealing with accountants whose small-business clients are in a world of pain. So are the accountants because they’re needed more than ever by their clients and yet presumably the money isn’t rolling in.

“We’re dealing with advisers who, if they’re paid on a percentage of assets basis, you’ve just seen their revenue tank.

“We’re dealing with trustees whose retirement savings are just sinking like a stone.

“We’re dealing with people who have real problems, so if they need to talk to us about something, then we have to be more available than ever.”

One of the interesting switches Ms Heffron said the company has had to make is to be available when people have called in, so much so that she referred to it as its “call to arms”.

“When you get an email, if it’s something that’s going to take more than two lines, ring and talk to your client about it so they get what they need quicker and they can ask you more questions. You can check in on them,” Ms Heffron said.

“It’s funny. It’s quite different to the normal work from home which is a secluded time, where you’re very consciously trying to switch off the outside world.”

Ms Heffron said the same applies to accountants with their clients.

“I think they probably have some similar issues to us. Much like it’s really important for us at the moment to be highly available. I suspect accountants have the same need,” she said.

“They’ll need to be highly available for their SMSF trustees who are worried about retirement savings, but probably more importantly, their small-business clients or all their clients who are out of work or reduced hours or reduced pay.”

3 key points to keep in mind amid COVID-19

The pandemic will eventually end

Ms Heffron said that stakeholders should always keep in mind that, while incredibly difficult, the coronavirus pandemic will have an eventual end date, meaning that being highly available will be important to winning over and maintaining clients.

“One would hope that in six months’ time we’re having a really different conversation, and I guess the accountants who’ve been there through the tough times are going to be heroes during the recovery.”

Face-to-face will still be critical to client engagement

With face-to-face time at a premium and in-person consultation no longer an option, Ms Heffron said accountants and advisers will need to look towards video conferencing, which will become the most helpful tool to use with their small-business clients.

“Accountants in my view are the unsung heroes of small-business counselling, so the need for them is more enormous than it ever has been. If you look at the other group, the unsung heroes of counselling, it’s advisers. [These are] two groups that will absolutely need to be there [for clients].”

The pandemic will end, but it could go on for a long time

Ms Heffron said her company is a business that has survived three floods, meaning it’s used to handling uncertain times and making sure its internal processes work for at least the next three or four weeks.

But now she said she has moved on to considering next steps should the pandemic go on for months and how it expects to maintain social contact with all its staff throughout this uncertain period.

“We run a thing we call a town hall once a quarter. The whole company gets involved. It’s a couple of hours. There are presentations on what’s happened over the last couple of months and then there’s a big barbecue lunch,” Ms Heffron said.

“And it’s actually often one of the most social times in the company. Next one is due in April. What do I do about that?”

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