According to Coco Hou, CPA and CEO of Platinum Professional Training and Platinum Accounting Australia, being an accountant is no longer just about working with businesses to provide tax advice and crunch the numbers to get the best outcome, it’s also about providing moral support. During the pandemic, the accounting role has evolved to take on a much more compassionate and human counselling aspect.
“Accountants have become ‘accountsellors’. Since the arrival of COVID, we don’t just look at the numbers and ledgers now, we have taken on much, much more,” Hou said.
“The past two years have been hard. People are under unprecedented amounts of stress. Businesses have gone to the wall due to forced closures, people have been laid off work, others are on the brink of financial ruin. It’s not just the stress of financial loss that people are dealing with, it’s also the loss of their livelihoods, their identities and their self-worth.
“And as accountants, we are not only assisting business owners to find a way through all of this, we are also having to provide emotional support as well. This is tough.”
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that in response to the impact of Covid-19, around 30 percent of people said they were feeling financially stressed in terms of paying for essential goods and services. The biggest proportion of those reporting feelings of stress belonged in the 18-44 age group, with 44 percent of them experiencing high to moderate levels of financial stress.
“There is a link between financial stress and mental health. It’s a vicious cycle because financial stress takes a toll on your mental health, which then takes a toll on your ability to protect your financial health,” Hou said.
“Accountancy is seen as a trustworthy profession. It’s no wonder then, that when people are thrown into circumstances of great financial stress, they turn to people they can trust with finding them financial solutions, and end up offloading their personal stresses too. It’s an additional role that’s evolved out of sheer necessity.
“The challenge is that accountants are just regular people. Without the necessary professional training, we lack the required knowledge, skills and professional ability to cope with this added role. It can become very emotionally draining.
“Despite this we want to help clients find the best strategy to get through the financial challenges of COVID because we realise that their lives and mental wellbeing are all intertwined.
“When we help a business come up with an idea to move forward, there’s a positive outcome in their overall wellbeing and that makes us happy and satisfied that we’ve done our jobs well.”
According to Hou, 2022 will only become more intense for the accounting sector. She has outlined some tips for accountants to help them get through the year ahead.
Take care of yourself
“Take care of yourself. As an accountant it is important to ensure you are able to deliver the best advice and services possible to your clients and the only way you can do this is if you are on top of your game - feeling well, getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy foods,” Hou said.
Connect with colleagues
“Working with stressed clients can increase your own stress levels. Connect with colleagues and friends and family to ensure you are getting the right amount of support at work and at home,” Hou added.
“If you have genuine concerns about the wellbeing of a client, tell someone. This way you can work out an approach to assist them.”
“When working with distressed clients, try and focus on providing practical outcomes. While the circumstances may be difficult, ensure they understand what steps need to be taken and when by,” Hou added.
“If there options available to them, ensure these are clearly outlined and where possible involve other professionals in the process such as their financial advisor.”
Balance your time
“As professional service providers we usually bill our time on an hourly or project basis. It is important to manage your time carefully so you are able to focus on delivering the best possible services,” Hou explained.
“When working with stressed and emotional clients a lot of time can be consumed providing support. Try and find a way to balance this as time is billable and the last thing we need to be doing is absorbing costs or passing on more costs to the client.”
Seek out someone who can help
“When working with a client that is facing difficult circumstances, take the time to encourage them to seek help and support. This is essential for the health and wellbeing of clients,” Hou said.
According to Hou, the easing of restrictions will make life easier for many people.
“Hopefully because we are coming out of lockdowns and restrictions are easing, and lives are getting back on track, we will see a turn around in people’s mental wellbeing and outlook,” Hou emphasised.
Coco Hou, is the Managing Director of Platinum Professional Training. Platinum is one of Australia’s largest accounting training and internship providers with offices across all major Australian cities. Coco Hou is also a CPA qualified accountant and Managing Director of Platinum Accounting Australia – a national network of bookkeeping and accounting services.