Data from Service NSW shows that more than 292,000 applications for business support have been lodged as of August 2021. Approximately 82 per cent of those applications have been approved, which is a total of $2.3 billion in payments. Of this, only $1.8 billion has been paid out, meaning many businesses are still waiting for their stimulus payments.
Increasing vaccination rates suggest there is light at the end of the tunnel, however until the restrictions are eased our small businesses are not yet out of the woods. In the interim, accountants can play a critical role in helping small businesses access this support, not only for the benefit of individual livelihoods, but the broader economy.
Keeping up to date with new stimulus
Keeping up to date with new regulations and government announcements is part and parcel of being an accountant, however this has never been more important than during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the Delta outbreak, there have been numerous new stimulus packages announced, with regular updates being made to these grants via daily press conferences.
In NSW alone, there are three types of grants available to businesses, all with different eligibility criteria, in addition to reductions in payroll tax.
In Victoria, businesses also have access to a one-off government grant, while the Queensland government has also announced financial support for small and medium businesses impacted by the lockdown.
These grants are a lifeline for many small businesses; however, they can be notoriously difficult to understand and access. To provide the best possible assistance to clients, accountants must stay on top of changing stimulus packages and most importantly have a thorough understanding of the eligibility requirements for each of these grants.
Overcoming the eligibility barrier
It’s not enough to understand the eligibility criteria – accountants also must know how to prove it. A common eligibility criterion to avail government COVID-19 grants is for businesses to demonstrate a decline in turnover over a period of time. For many practices, identifying business clients that have experienced this decline in turnover can be a time-consuming process. This means practices struggle to proactively offer their clients support with the business grants, and instead rely on clients to contact them.
Moreover, for practices whose client data is spread across multiple bookkeeping solutions, it’s difficult to quickly compare their clients’ business performance over time. They’re forced to manually go through each client account one by one or run reports from different bookkeeping applications. Fortunately, there are tools built specifically for accountants that can consolidate and analyse client data in one place – and thus inform accountants as to which clients are eligible for specific grants in real-time.
Not only can these technologies help accountants save time, but they help proactively engage those business clients that may be eligible for a business grant, and thereby provide the advice they need as well as a better customer experience.
Technology is here to support, not replace
Since the beginning of the pandemic, accountants across the country have worked tirelessly to support their business clients. For many practices that are still operating on legacy systems and outdated processes, much of this work has been manual and therefore incredibly time-consuming.
With new mechanisms like cloud computing, automated payrolls and blockchain technology, it is becoming significantly easier for accountants to stay agile and adjust their ways of working even amid the ever-changing COVID environment.
The industry is undergoing a monumental shift towards digitisation and it’s something that we need to embrace as a whole. Automation and other data-driven technologies are poised to free accountants, not constrain them. Firms that understand the potential and importance of these technologies – and invest in the tools and training required to help their accountants take full advantage – can provide real value to their clients long-term and stay ahead of the curve.
Businesses will reap the benefits – whether it’s through accessing COVID grants or getting the most out of tax time while for accountants, it will free up time for what matters most – providing the best possible client service.
Kerry Agiasotis is the president of The Access Group Asia Pacific.