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From the frontlines: COVID and the Jobkeeper Act

June 2nd, 2020 by Practice Ignition Team 7 minutes, 29 seconds read

Everything’s a little topsy-turvy right now. Across the world, countries have been hit by immense tragedy and sharp economic decline. It’s arguably the worst global crisis in living memory.

While Australia hasn’t been hit as hard by COVID as some other nations, that’s not to say that it’s just been business as usual: lockdowns, social distancing, and of course, layoffs, have severely impacted life as we know it.

As a result, the Australian government recently passed into law the JobKeeper Act. This provides a much-needed lifeline to both individual citizens and to businesses themselves, but it means that many accounting practices now have to mull over one major issue: will they charge for their JobKeeper services, or will they simply do this out of goodwill?

But this isn’t just about Australia. Employees around the world are being furloughed: creating a mountain of paperwork and stress for accounting practices.

So we spoke with three Practice Ignition customers to get their views on how COVID has affected their ways of working and their general approach to the JobKeeper Act.

Andrew Van de Beek, Illumin8

What sort of effect has COVID had on your practice’s culture?

It’s been really hard. I’m used to being physically present and monitoring how the Illumin8 team’s doing on an ongoing basis — this is obviously no longer possible, and I’m also currently just so busy trying to complete a million tasks all at once.

We do a ‘walk & talk’ one-to-one catchup every fortnight where I get on the phone with each member of the team and we have a chat while going out for a walk. It’s a nice way to ensure that everyone’s getting some fresh air and it’s good to just check in regarding work itself.

I’m sure that your clients currently have a lot of questions, so what are you doing to help educate them at scale?

We’ve found that webinars are the best solution — they not only help our clients, but we’ve had tons of bookkeepers and accountants from the wider industry tune in as well.

We’ve been doing four a week, most of which have centred around JobKeeper itself. We give weekly updates and include an ‘Ask us anything’ section where people can chat with industry experts. Plus, we’ve also organised things like ‘Cashflow Day’ and general webinars that have nothing to do with COVID — accountants and bookkeepers are still dealing with their normal day-to-day client work too, so we shouldn’t neglect this.

How have they been received?

Really well! We’ve got about 100 - 150 attendees for each COVID-specific webinar, whereas the more general ones have averaged around 10 - 40 attendees. We’ve also been mixing in some workshop-style webinars where we all interact and engage (rather than just speaking at people). In general, the results are really positive as we’ve been able to better connect with the wider business community (which has also brought in a flux of prospective clients).

It’s funny, we never thought of this as marketing — we just wanted to communicate at scale and minimise the number of incoming calls that we’d receive from concerned clients. Now, we’re basically just directing all our clients to our webinars. We feared that this might be a little too impersonal but it’s proved to be the most effective and efficient way of disseminating good information.

We also put a lot of effort into making these webinars authentic and personal. We respond to questions, encourage interaction, and generally try to make them feel kind of like a forum with our Q&A sessions.

This has helped us go above and beyond our usual practices — for example, we’re making a point of reaching out to clients who are struggling and letting them know that they’ll be able to defer their fees if they need to.

Are you currently charging for advisory services?

We are charging for certain services, but we’re also putting a ton of information out for our clients to educate and help themselves. Not only will the community-at-large benefit, but we’ll create an economy that’s more fruitful going forward.

It’s great to see everyone coming together right now — that’s been one of the positives to emerge from the whole situation.

So how are you approaching pricing in general, especially with regards to JobKeeper?

Our mindset is “We’ll show you how to do it yourself” — so we’re literally telling people how to apply for JobKeeper without needing any external help: providing blogs, webinars, and resources. However, if they really lack confidence and just want the assurance of having it completed by an expert then we charge a full-service fee. This includes training, cleaning up payroll, enrollment, and whatever else is needed.

Certain practices seem to be fairly ruthless when it comes to pricing, especially when it comes to JobKeeper. They know you need it and so they’ll charge through the nose. That’s not right — everyone’s feeling the pinch, so don’t try to take advantage of others’ misfortune.

Matt Sharwood, Advise Accountants

First up, how have you approached providing JobKeeper services to your clients?

We’re doing everything free of charge. At Advise Accountants, our customer relationships are our main priority — it’s not about making a quick buck in the here and now. Our customers appreciate that we don’t bill them for every single thing that we do, especially in times of need, and this is then reflected in their lifetime value. It’s not just the decent thing to do — it also makes strong business sense.

So are you completing JobKeeper applications upon request?

We basically went through every client file and reached out to all those that are eligible in one single email blast. It’s been really easy to handle — as soon as clients hear that we fill out all the ATO forms and basically take care of the entire process ourselves, they almost immediately give us the go-ahead.

Lots of clients have told us how much they appreciate our proactivity. It’s one thing to have a practice that does what you ask of them, but it’s another thing to have a practice that actually recommends strategies and approaches on an ongoing basis.

It’s just another way that we can provide value, set ourselves apart from the competition, and most importantly, help our clients out.

Gareth Bryant, Interactive Accounting

How did you work out which clients to contact with regards to the JobKeeper Act?

In short, at Interactive Accounting we sifted all our clients into ‘YES/MAYBE/NO’ categories. We began this process by pulling a report from Practice Ignition that listed all our clients and the various packages that they’re currently on — from there, we divided this list up and handed it over to our account managers so that they could check on each client’s potential eligibility. We already had a rough idea of who would and wouldn’t be eligible, so this helped to speed things along slightly.

At that stage, we’d reach out and directly ask all those in the ‘YES’ category if they wanted to apply, we sent out some general advice regarding the act to everyone in the ‘MAYBE’ segment, and we scrapped all those in the ‘NO’ section from the campaign.

How have you presented your services (upfront fee, recurring charge, etc.)?

To make things simple we’ve done an all-or-nothing approach. We’re offering lodgement and reporting — that’s our only package. We were initially not going to charge until we saw how much work is actually involved, so we’ve ended up charging $500 for companies with one to nine employees and $1,000 for companies with ten or more employees.

What was your thinking behind this strategy?

By charging, we weeded out the clients who could do it themselves but just didn’t want the hassle — we figured that if they have someone internally (like a CFO) that can do it then they’ll just ask them as it’s a free service.

As much as we want to help, we’ve got a business to run, so we don’t want to be dishing out freebies to companies that can just as easily do this all themselves.

What sort of response have you received from your clients?

Everyone has loads of questions which is completely understandable. It’s a tricky (and incredibly busy) time for businesses of all shapes and sizes, so the vast majority aren’t going to take it upon themselves to pore over the fine print.

We’ve basically provided all our clients with precise steps to enrolment and key milestones that they need to remember — they don’t want to keep on having to email us whenever they’ve got a question.

How are you obtaining the authority to act on their behalf?

Clients have generally given us the go-ahead via email, though around 80% of them also signed an engagement letter within Practice Ignition. These are basically just six-month-long plans as we don’t see it lasting much longer than that… Fingers crossed!

Many thanks to Andrew, Matt, and Gareth for their insights — we hope they’ve given you some food for thought regarding your practice’s approach to the JobSeeker Act.

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