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IPA boss gets raw on mental health of clients, accountants

The Institute of Public Accountants chief executive, Andrew Conway, discussed the “unfathomable” truths of mental health in the small business sector at the World Congress of Accountants this week.

Business Reporter 08 November 2018
— 2 minute read

At an address in Sydney, Mr Conway encouraged hundreds of accountants to acknowledge the harsh realities of mental health issues among small business owners.

“The real statistics are unfathomable, when over 1,000,000 people commit suicide each year; one every 40 seconds globally and estimated to grow to 1,500,000 each year by 2020, only two years away,” said Mr Conway.

“As a profession, it is beyond time that we have a mature and robust discussion about this dilemma that faces our world,” he said.


The IPA’s research indicates the mental health of small business owners is central to the success – or failure – of their firm.

“Our research, and much more research will be done, points to the biggest stress points for small business owners, is the fact they are striving to survive,” Mr Conway said.

“We were openly told real truths when we conducted our study over a 12 month period, such as: ‘I am doing well, but my business is killing me – I’m never there for my family; I went to a client with bandages on her wrists and I took her to the hospital to get professional help; I was told by a client that he couldn’t manage anymore, the phone call ended and I haven’t been able to contact him again’.

“As a profession, we cannot ignore our social responsibility.  That does not mean we are the fixers but more the concierge service; that when we recognise our small business clients in stress, we guide them to ensure professional assistance and solutions are achievable.

Where do accountants come in?

The IPA’s work to date shows the role of an accountant is central to addressing the mental health stressors of small business owners.

“Our early studies show that when a small business client engages with their accountant, 95 per cent of them feel a relief in their stress levels,” he said.

“We also know that people will turn to their accountant for advice well beyond compliance and audit requirements; this is the power of trust that is divested to us, and one which we must respect and live up to,” he said.

“Collaboratively, we must agree on resourcing the appropriate tools and systems that enables us all to address this trend,” he said.

The findings to date

In November last year, the IPA released research indicating 85 per cent of small businesses found engaging an accountant significantly reduced their stress levels. 

“Flipping that around, we were also surprised that over a quarter of small businesses told us that if they knew then what they know now, they wouldn’t have gone into small business. That is quite alarming. That figure is quite an indictment on the economic and policy settings,” said Mr Conway. 

More to come this week

IPA boss gets raw on mental health of clients, accountants
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