COVID-19: planning for the new normal

The past six months have been overwhelming and indeed the greatest challenge that many businesses will have ever faced. As the pandemic continues, businesses in every industry are preparing for an uncertain future of potential disruption and operational impact.

Mirroring the challenges faced by all businesses, the team at one of Northern Ireland’s leading accountancy practices, M. B. McGrady & Co. Chartered Accountants also pivoted during the lockdown period,  with its three offices operating on a hybrid model of restricted office working and remote working.

With its advice and counsel in ever greater demand from clients, the team successfully managed a significant increase in enquiries from clients, helping them to navigate the many schemes and grants introduced by the Government to help businesses weather the Covid-19 storm.

Reflecting on the past six months, one of greatest learnings centred around online accounting. Mal McGrady, Managing Partner at M. B. McGrady & Co. Chartered Accountants, discusses the importance of online accounting and recommended business practices for companies moving forward.

“As we start to return to a sense of normality, there are important actions that all businesses can take to help plan for the future. Firstly, it is important not to lose focus on the fundamentals of business and on the requirements for all business owners with regards to their accounts and tax returns. Businesses must look ahead, forecasting income, controlling costs and being mindful of HMRC deadline dates. Businesses have new extended filing dates and deferred payment dates for VAT/Tax and these should be factored into financial forecasting.”

“To prepare for the ongoing disruption, businesses will also need to adapt operational processes to become even more efficient, in what’s predicted to be a challenging economic climate. In addition to the seismic move to virtual communications, business owners must ensure their key finance and business processes are operational in a virtual environment.

“The most important component of this transition is accessibility. By moving your systems to cloud based accounting, you can eliminate the need for on-site access and ensure you can use your data easily, whether for financial accounting purposes or in order to make better-informed business decisions. Many clients migrated their accounts to fully online software as Making Tax Digital came into play, and over this last six months, systems such as Xero, Sage, QuickBooks, FreeAgent and other bespoke packages, have really proved their worth, giving business owners immediate access to real time accounting information for this business.

“Cloud based accounting provides businesses with secure, anytime, anywhere access to information from any Internet-enabled device. Cloud accounting software, often mistakenly perceived as technology designed only for large enterprises, is becoming a fixture in most business operations, helping to drive operational improvements.

“By going virtual, you can connect into bank accounts and credit cards to track expenses and cashflow, providing a clear picture of financial performance to better inform business strategy. In addition, moving payroll and accounts payable away from paper towards fully digital capabilities will ensure that employees and vendors can be paid efficiently, and work can continue.

“Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. By transitioning your systems to the cloud, you are ensuring the flow continues even when access to your physical office is limited or completely restricted. This access also means businesses have the data and analytics they need to monitor the status of their company and quickly make decisions as the economic climate changes.

“The scale of this crisis is unprecedented, at least in our lifetime, and the full impact and consequences remain unknown. However, robust planning and not losing focus of the core accounting business fundamentals will give business owners a solid base to operate from.

“Lastly, I would encourage all business owners to liaise with their accountants. Your accountants are experts in their field and their expertise can help you to plan for the future.  There have been more variables than ever before with bounce back loans, furlough, grants and other support, and it’s hugely important to factor this into your business’s recovery.”

To keep up to date on Covid-19 Government support schemes for businesses, follow M.B. McGrady & Co on social @mbmcgrady. If you need clarification on what support is available or require accountancy and business planning advice, please get in touch with the M.B. McGrady team.