The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc for many countries and has negatively impacted local and global economies with high unemployment and bringing travel to a halt—especially tourism. The accountancy profession has remained a relevant and influential voice that is much needed during these uncertain times. Accountancy professionals have been instrumental during the pandemic by supporting their governments and local businesses. Governments have relied upon accountancy professionals and professional accountancy organization (PAO) leadership to offer guidance and input as countries strive to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic.
In June, accountancy representatives from the Caribbean region gathered for a virtual discussion on operating under these new circumstances, sharing best practices, and learning how their neighbors were supporting their members, regulators, government, and other stakeholders. As the global voice of the accountancy profession, IFAC collaborated with our Network Partner, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean (ICAC), to convene all PAOs in the region with representatives from 9 jurisdictions including, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Island, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Belize, and the Eastern Caribbean. The inclusion of all PAOs, regardless of IFAC membership status, was an important and deliberate action to enhance the conversation, provide support for all PAOs in the region, and facilitate a platform for greater knowledge sharing.
The participation of all PAOs was of critical importance especially as the annual gathering for the Caribbean region—the ICAC’s 38th Annual Caribbean Conference—was postponed until June 2021 due to the pandemic. In addition, as the pandemic looms in all aspects of our lives, it is important to remember that we are all in this together and stronger as a unit. The Caribbean PAOs understood this and shared their experiences candidly amongst the group.
The conversation focused on overcoming challenges, crisis management planning, stakeholder engagement, and collaboration. PAOs shared the approaches they have undertaken, and lessons learned—for example, how to be an effective and influential voice with their government and other stakeholders.
The countries represented in the virtual discussion continue to be in various stages of lock-down with some preparing to re-open, others preparing for a more intense lockdown, and some PAOs never closing their offices but reducing the number of staff that are physically present on a given day. Below are some of the key takeaways.
Overcoming the challenges:
- All PAOs have transitioned to working remotely and supporting remote staff by maintaining regular team meetings and switching to digital platforms such as Zoom.
- PAO leaders shared their technology challenges, including not having enough equipment such as laptops and software licenses or staff not having reliable internet connections from home.
- Several PAOs are proactively looking at their financial reserves and preparing action steps to ensure the sustainability of the organization.
- For instance, many participants noted that the virtual work environment is progressing well and are considering implementing working remotely on a more permanent basis thereby reducing costs incurred for office space usage.
- Many continue to seek guidance and advice on developing a crisis management plan and/or a business continuity plan.
- PAOs are looking to upgrade their websites to allow for electronic payments and shifting more documents, records, and information online to enhance remote accessibility.
- All participants are looking for solutions and applications to offer continuing professional development (CPD) online and have thus far successfully provided virtual seminars—some with over 200 participants and on essential topics such as mental health.
- All PAOs are preparing to hold their annual general meetings virtually for the first time and some are amending their bylaws to allow for virtual meetings.
Collaborating with government
- Many of the PAOs are engaging with their governments about making accountancy professionals essential workers, which would keep members employed and at the same time aid in the economic recovery of their countries.
- Several PAOs have been approached by their governments, seeking guidance of the PAO leadership on how to best assist and support businesses.
- Some are working with their governments during a time of political unease while focusing on establishing long-term collaborative partnerships.
The Caribbean PAOs hold a wealth of knowledge and insight and are using this uncertain time to proactively forge relationships and maintain an influential voice in their country and region. The ICAC is bringing the region together and believes virtual discussions are an excellent way to gather, network, and empower each other.
There is power in unity; the Caribbean region will continue to work together and overcome the current challenges.
For additional resources, guidance, and advice from the IFAC community on adjusting and managing during this rapidly evolving situation, visit the IFAC, IAASB, IESBA, and IPSASB COVID-19 web pages, which are continually updated. For PAOs that may need support in offering Continuing Professional Development (CPD) online, please see IFAC’s Online CPD Services for Professional Accountancy Organizations webpage, which lists several IFAC member organizations that are ready to assist PAOs with online CPD for members.