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COVID-19 is changing the work advisers do to support small businesses

Daniel West
Daniel West
10 November 2020 7 minute readShare
changing the work advisors

The pandemic has rapidly accelerated the underlying trends that require small-business advisers and their clients to adopt new digital tools and modern practices. Here’s how to stay ahead of the change.

COVID-19 has impacted businesses in a variety of ways. In particular, it’s the increased rate of digital adoption that’s creating new revenue streams and driving efficiencies, even for those businesses that may have initially been slow to take up new tools.

Recently, MYOB identified five ways that digital adoption is driving success for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) during the pandemic: finding talent, access to capital, efficient revenue generation and cost of servicing benefits, compliance costs and online transactions.

Understanding and supporting these initiatives has also become of increased importance to the accountants and bookkeepers who support these businesses, so having a firm grasp on the use of the tools available to them is also becoming a top priority.

And, from an economic perspective, MYOB calculates that enhancing the digital capability of Australia’s 2.4 million small businesses could increase SME contribution to the Australian economy by 20.8 per cent, the equivalent of $33 billion.

How is digitisation enabling business success?

In the case of finding talent, MYOB found SMEs that have opted for digital recruitment tools during COVID-19 were more than eight times more likely to create jobs, acting as a significant driver of growth.[1]

Evidence also suggests that remote work is highly sustainable, with half of the remote workforce continuing to work flexibly after the pandemic, which opens the gate to even more consistently available specialised talent for employers.[2]

COVID-19 has also presented an entirely unique scenario when it comes to capital. Many businesses now prefer digital or card payments, and the move to entirely digital payments is altering the way cash flows through the economy.

10.8 per cent of Australians are now using contactless mobile payments due to COVID-19, growing from 7.1 per cent only a year ago.[3]

Innovation has also been a winner, whether by choice or by necessity. Here, studies found that SMEs embracing digital are 14 times more likely to innovate with new products or services than SMEs not taking advantage of digital.[4]

COVID-19 has also redefined the boundaries that SMEs are willing to work with, with research showing that businesses focusing on digital channels are seven times more likely to export goods directly to overseas customers, while B2B interaction has increased by over 30 per cent compared with rates before the pandemic.

Working from home is a new reality for many

The most recent edition of MYOB’s Business Monitor found that of over 1,000 businesses surveyed, two-thirds implemented changes to their business model in order to continue trading.

For many of these businesses, JobKeeper payments have played a large part in keeping operations running, but not everyone has been a winner. Smaller businesses had less to take advantage of here, with our data showing only 18 per cent of sole traders and 36 per cent of micro businesses accessed the first wave of JobKeeper, compared with the overall average of 42 per cent.[5]

Our research also found that bigger businesses have experienced increased productivity as a result of flexible working or faster adoption of online services and e-commerce by customers, but SMEs have had less luck adapting.

MYOB research found that 66 per cent of sole traders and 49 per cent of micro businesses experienced no benefits during the pandemic, in relation to the national average response of 35 per cent.[6]

How are these changes going to impact the work of advisers?

Technological progress is rarely, if ever, reversed. Those clients who have adapted to a more digitised, flexible way of working are unlikely to ever return to their old ways.

Those that haven’t need to find ways to get up to speed, fast.

More likely, they will continue their exploration of technological advancement and become more expectant and demanding of their business partners or suppliers to be of a similar level to themselves.

The most recent edition of MYOB’s Business Monitor found that of over 1,000 businesses surveyed, two-thirds have recently implemented changes to their business model.

Investment in digital innovation has made business operations more mobile, flexible and efficient than previously thought possible. Businesses leaning into these three benefits have consistently found new ways to improve workflow and create a happier workforce at the same time.

Obviously, the most dramatic manifestation of this has been the speed at which MYOB and other organisations adapted to remote working. Evidence points to remote working becoming highly sustainable, with half of those who are able to work remotely planning to continue to work flexibly after the pandemic. This may, of course, present challenges to employers, but at the same time offer great opportunity as talent pools are opened, free from geographic limitations.

The success stories of those who’ve managed the switch, and the digital empowerment their protagonists enjoy, will continue to shape the attitudes and, more importantly, the expectations of business owners towards digitisation.

And that is where these trends really begin to impact on accountants and bookkeepers.

To understand how, and why, you first need to understand the mindset of an increasingly digitally native client base.

Firstly, while your clients respect your expertise in accounting and bookkeeping and are willing to pay for it, they’re also increasingly expecting you to be able to advise them in their adoption, integration and use of technology.

So, while our governments have performed admirably in their quick response to stimulus, focusing on business connectivity in the future is the most logical approach to both connectivity and growth.

We’ve had firsthand evidence that there’s significant potential and room for growth in Australia’s small-business sector when it comes to everything digital, and investing here is perhaps the best means of supporting sole traders and micro businesses in the long term.

Accountants face a shift in needs from clients as working from home goes from being a perk of some workplaces to becoming a normalised aspect of work culture. For businesses, accountants and bookkeepers included, focusing more on mobile connections with customers and clients will become more of a priority as convenience becomes more valuable.

With strong evidence pointing to an increasing adoption of digital payments, finances moving faster and more freely will inevitably require processes that keep up.

Instead, real-time advisory is the logical step. This thinking isn’t just based on assumptions, either — our research has found something as readily available as accounting software can provide large time gains for SMEs as a direct result of automating repetitive tasks and creating more accurate results overall, meaning time and money is better spent in developing new ways to nurture the partner-client relationship.

New ways of presenting personalised information will become a need for accountants and bookkeepers alike. Technology, rather than hindering the personal touch, can be used to automate wherever possible to leave more room for developing these new client relationships.

At the end of the day, open-mindedness will be a key tool for businesses in the future when it comes to technology — SMEs will rely heavily on digital innovations to succeed in a digital-centric world, so accountants and bookkeepers should be the first to embrace these changes. This way, they can confidently make recommendations and support clients where necessary to help position themselves at the forefront of this new era of innovation.

Time to tool up for real-time advisory

Although the bonds between technology and business are only set to strengthen in the future, this won’t mean it will be a natural transition for everyone.

For accountants and bookkeepers, fulfilling specific needs and expectations may require some trial and error, meaning getting the most out of technology will require patience and a willingness to learn from fellow accountants, bookkeepers and SMEs.

While accessing a pool of new customers through digital platforms will be an option, it’s important not to forget the needs of those who haven’t yet brought their businesses online.

Key areas of tech guidance from advisers to SMEs:

• Cloud computing

• Real-time data

• Bank feeds

• The ability to check bank reconciliations, invoices and cash flow anywhere, anytime

As they integrate their work and home environment, they will also expect to better integrate their business systems — expecting you to collaborate and communicate with them on their terms. This recent embrace of flexibility in the workplace means that, right now, we’ve seen technology create a digital world that is less about face-to-face interactions and more about ease of use, convenience and improved options.

Modern business owners are looking for a one-stop shop. They are accustomed to it in many of their other transactions, and now, it seems, they expect it from their financial services, too. As working from home becomes the norm, there’s an increased focus on mobile connectivity with customers and clients. This will become more of a priority as flexibility, convenience and business agility become a must-have, rather than the nice-to-have it was once considered.

MYOB Practice users have access to a set of online collaboration tools that help you stay connected with your clients without having to visit them onsite. These tools allow you to create tasks and action items, to share important documents and collaborate online via secure portals. Find out more today.


[1] Deloitte 2017 – Connected Small Business - https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/connected-small-businesses-google.html

[2] Gartner – April 2020 - https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-04-14-gartner-hr-survey-reveals-41--of-employees-likely-to-

[3] Roy Morgan May 2020 - http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8408-digital-payment-solutions-march-2020-202005120625

[4] Deloitte 2017 – Connected Small Business - https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/connected-small-businesses-google.html

[5] MYOB Business Monitor Budget Edition Release, September 2020 - https://www.myob.com/content/dam/public-website/docs/misc/MYOB%20Business%20Monitor%20Budget%20Edition%202020.pdf

[6] MYOB Business Monitor Budget Edition Release, September 2020 - https://www.myob.com/content/dam/public-website/docs/misc/MYOB%20Business%20Monitor%20Budget%20Edition%202020.pdf

COVID-19 is changing the work advisers do to support small businesses
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Daniel West
Daniel West

As Chief Sales & Support Officer, Daniel is responsible for leading MYOB's efforts to improve go-to-market effectiveness and developing a customer success capability which will help businesses across Australia & New Zealand use MYOB's business management platform to start, survive and succeed. 

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