MSI Global Alliance (MSI) is a global association of independent legal and accounting firms with members drawn from 260 countries, giving it a unique position to identifying how accountants and lawyers are responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It appears that most member firms have adapted very quickly to remote working. Many had some form of remote working in place prior to the pandemic; however, the various lockdowns necessitated a rapid relocation of the workforce. Most have handled this well, from a technology and operational viewpoint, although it caused significant additional workload to establish it at the outset. Many member firms now anticipate a new norm with more people working from home. This in itself has a knock-on effect, with more firms reporting that they may need less office space going forward. Staff welfare is a key consideration for many, especially given the spike in client communications, new ways of working and a dispersed workforce.

There is also a very strong emphasis on client communications. Inevitably, for professional advisory firms there has been a need to communicate both best practice, the details of Government support packages as well as ongoing specific advice to clients. This, combined with internal communications, has seen a substantial lift in virtual meetings with many members seeing this as a sustained trend as opposed to a pandemic specific one.

Moments of crisis inevitably place a spotlight on leadership. The feedback obtained from MSI members suggests that issues such as empathy and communication and broader people management skills are critical at this time. This is allied with an inevitable requirement for strong financial and operational management. Some are also actively reconsidering the service packages they offer their clients.

As to the future, MSI member firms are crystal clear on the need to both retain and attract new clients. A survey of MSI’s members in the Americas region revealed that 98% of respondents saw active business development as either very important or important, with new opportunities emerging. Many also anticipate changes in international business behaviour. This increases the importance of international capability that associations like MSI offer their members.

Learning from the experience of others is key at this time. For example, MSI members report that in China most firms/ businesses are generally back to functioning normally with people returning to offices, but even then with a typical ceiling of 50% employee office attendance. In Australia things are also returning to normal and most offices are now starting to open, although the government is still recommending that if people can work at home then they should.

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Commenting on the trend findings, MSI Global Alliance CEO Tim Wilson said, “This is a challenging time for all of us. It is heartening to see how well our members have responded to the pandemic. As we come out of lockdown being able to share experiences will continue to be very helpful to our members. But equally important will be the need to seek new business opportunities through channels such as MSI.”

In summary, we can expect a new normal for MSI and its member firms. One that blends office working with home working, virtual meetings with personal meetings, and an even greater emphasis on effective communication and empathy both internally and externally. The global economy has taken a hit but we know from previous downturns that the really good firms will find business and seek opportunity amidst adversity.