As we have all witnessed over the past weeks and months, the COVID-19 crisis has left no-one untouched, in one form or another, and Russell Bedford is no different.
The past few weeks have seen the network respond in unprecedented fashion bringing our members daily press updates and insights on government support measures from around the globe, so that they may continue to share with their clients reliable and up to date information in support of their business needs.
It’s a process that we continue to navigate, while we adapt our service offering to ensure that it’s fit for purpose. In an exceptionally volatile global business environment, each week brings with it new challenges; and each week we seek to develop new strategies to function in the current environment. As we strive to keep our members connected, aiding them in sharing their experiences and their invaluable expertise, we have needed to consider alternative methods to normal practice.
On Wednesday, 8 April 2020 we held our first large-scale virtual meeting where we heard from managing partners of our member firms from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
So what have managing partners across the region learned, as their lives and businesses somewhat dramatically transformed overnight? Here’s what we heard:
‘Remote working’ works – managing partners expressed surprise at how well their teams are handling the transition to 100% remote working, and are extremely impressed by how effectively and confidently their teams are continuing to service clients; with productivity remaining very high. As one partner said, “Although in some ways the Tsunami is overwhelming us, we are reacting to the influx in a positive way.”
Enhancing client benefits – bringing added value to clients through additional no/low cost services, at a time when they need all the help they can get, could be pivotal in strengthening client relationships while enhancing loyalty. Some of the examples shared were:
- ‘Virtual’ client support sessions
- Insurance advice
- Providing Cash Management resources.
Opportunities arising mid-crisis – a surprising number of partners shared experiences of winning new business as a result of the crisis. In difficult times such as the present, clients are often seeking the personal approach from an independently owned and managed firm that bigger global firms are not typically known for. It provides a unique opportunity for mid-tier accountancy firms to swoop in and offer a more personal service that is so desirable in times of crisis. Partners recounted that clients in industries such as construction, logistics and some government sectors, for instance on projects for roads and highways, continue to thrive through the crisis.
Taking a proactive approach to client support – partners shared the view that now is the time to reach out to clients to let them know you’re there to support them through this difficult period. As everyone (including your clients) scrambles to adjust and adapt, it’s the approach and decisions you take now that your clients will remember. The message from Russell Bedford’s managing partners was loud and clear; ensure that you are communicating confidently and reassuringly with your key clients, and they’ll repay you with their loyalty.
Consulting on difficult decision making – accountants hold a unique position in providing their clients with not only guidance on applying government measures and advice to their businesses, but importantly advising clients on the specific actions they should take, rather than offering a general set of options. Having the confidence to direct your clients in taking those difficult decisions (even when they may not wish to take them) is where the real value is added. Making important recommendations, and advising clients sensitively as they come to make critical business decisions, has never been more important as the stakes for clients are so high.
Employee engagement – partners shared their views on the importance of helping their teams engage with each other through regular communication; both with managers and with the need for top-down communication. It is important for teams to hear from the top those decisions being made that affect business operations. Russell Bedford member firms are also taking a very proactive approach in terms of the wellbeing of their employees through various activities including quizzes, well-being talks from mental health professionals, and interactive social sessions.
And what will the future look like? The million-dollar question. As our members actively seek to construct future business plans, based on multiple scenarios of varying outcomes, most will agree that the way we do business is unlikely to remain the same. Some have already accepted that the traditional office arrangement may now change and are planning to adopt a more flexible approach, though most still agreeing on the value of their teams working together in an office environment.
At Russell Bedford, what will always remain the same is the set of values that define us. Our people are the core of our business, our network exists because of them, so although we will continue to adapt and adjust how we reach and service our members, their business needs will always be our top priority.
We’re changing how we operate faster than we ever could have imagined possible and all with surprising success; the attitude of our members remains the same as it always is – one of strength, cohesion and positivity. We’re in this together and we will come through this together.