These are challenging and tough times. Our lives have changed, both personally and professionally and the world around us has come to a standstill, impacting national and global economies.
The accountancy profession has an important role to play to support governments, businesses, and its members as the crisis unfolds. There are immediate needs to be addressed by PAOs to remain financially viable and relevant to its members and other stakeholders. There are also long-term opportunities that need to be identified now, and acted upon, to be successful in the new environment that will emerge after the crisis is over.
On April 9, 2020 representatives of PAOs from Albania, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Romania came together and joined a virtual discussion facilitated by IFAC to brainstorm and share their experiences with responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Members of the IFAC PAO Development Committee also participated to observe and to contribute.
The conversation focused on three main response areas: operations, provision of member services and engagement with regulators. Representatives of the PAOs shared approaches they have undertaken, challenges they experienced and how they overcame or are overcoming those.
Most of the countries in the region have been in a lock down since mid-March and have switched to working remotely. It was a challenging experience due to lack of tradition and experience to work remotely as well as the lack of necessary equipment and software. Some of the lessons learnt so far include:
- Maintaining the mental and physical health of staff is critical. When we go back to normal, which will most likely be a “new” normal, employees’ overall health will be central to surviving. A few approaches undertaken by PAOs in the region include:
- allowing maximum flexibility to employees as they are adjusting to working from home,
- ensuring ongoing communication through regular individual and group meetings to engage the staff and
- providing an opportunity to connect while also thinking through means to keep employees motivated.
- Investment in software platforms and tools—such as SharePoint, Microsoft Office 365, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Yammer, TeamViewer—is beneficial both in the short and long-term as these platforms and tools will help PAOs increase their effectiveness and efficiency through digitalization of internal and external operations.
- Frequent communication with staff and volunteers are of utmost importance to ensure continuity and effectiveness. Although many PAOs have introduced regular meetings with staff, reaching out to volunteers has not been as effective.
To remain relevant and financially sustainable, PAOs must find ways to continue to provide services to their members.
- Identifying and providing new services for members of PAOs to help them respond to the crisis is a priority for PAOs. Such services may include communicating and interpreting new government policies and regulations, ways to access financial aid, consultations on provision of auditing services in a virtual environment, supporting SMPs, among other services.
- Speed of communications is critical in the changing environment. Different forms of communications may include a combination of daily updates of the website, social media profiles, newsletters, news alerts, helplines, webinars, among other means.
- Improving information management practices and incorporating them into daily operations now will help PAOs better fulfill the needs of its members in the future.
- Providing free or reduced-cost services such as webinars, consultations, help lines and postponing membership dues—will help maintain membership base, especially in cases where membership in a PAO is not mandatory and competition is a factor to keep in mind.
- Assessing alternative ways to conduct exams, CPD. and other learning modules. Possibly surveying members to determine their preferences, effective planning of schedules will help minimize disruptions in examinations and CPD programming.
Engagement with regulators
The profession in the region is mostly regulated at the state level, with governments and regulators establishing “rules of the game”.
In this environment:
- It is important to maintain close dialogue with the government to understand their response and effectively communicate it to the members.
- It is essential to be bold and proactive in offering technical expertise of PAOs and its resources.
- It is imperative to make sure that the government’s response is not only short-term, but a long-term viable solution that takes into consideration the needs of businesses, economies and the profession.
- This crisis presents an opportunity to reconfirm or to establish your PAO as a strategic partner of the government.
And finally, the most important lesson we learned so far—we need to collaborate more, listen to each other more, acting thoughtfully and with solidarity. These are difficult times, but we are in this together and we will get through this—together.
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