Reflecting on the past year, sole practitioner and Tax Practitioners Board member Debra Anderson said 2020 was one of the toughest years she’s faced on a personal and professional level, recounting how she had lost clients through the pandemic and was pushed to the limit from an avalanche of help requests from her client base.
“Everybody has been stretched and I think we’re being stretched even more now because people are getting more desperate and the uncertainty is still there,” said Ms Anderson, director of Anderson Tax & Consulting.
“The desperation has now lasted longer.”
‘Stretched ethically and morally’
Ms Anderson believes a combination of uncertainty caused by snap lockdowns, border closures and the expiry of government support measures will see clients become increasingly desperate and create more ethical and moral dilemmas for the profession.
“Clients were desperate for money and when you’ve had to say to them, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not eligible, you’re 28.5 per cent down on your turnover’,” Ms Anderson said.
“You tell people they’re not eligible and then they go, ‘What if I delay or delete that invoice’, and you go, ‘You can’t do that’.
“If I put my TPB hat on, the answer is you have to disengage the client.
“For a tax practitioner, that’s much easier said than done. I’ve lost some of my biggest clients in the last 12 months and you sit there and you look at your business and say if I lose this client, I might as well shut up shop.
“But the reality is, it is not worth risking your livelihood, your reputation, your registration. It is just not worth it and we have to make those hard decisions.
“If everybody takes that high road, if everybody does the right thing, that client is either going to come back to you because everybody said no, or it opens the door for a better client to come in.”
Ms Anderson also believes practitioners will have also have to continue to grapple with how to charge for their work over the next 12 months.
The Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) recently marked accountants as one of six common businesses that are highly exposed to trade credit debt in the wake of the pandemic.
“I think our workloads will remain consistently erratic, but I think the question is, of those clients, how are we going to service and prioritise them because I know for myself, I’ve had to say I need to prioritise those that can pay my bills, but the other ones really need me as well,” she said.
“I’ve undercharged, I’ve done a whole lot of free work for people this year, but it’s free work that I’ve done for good people.
“You do need to look at each client and say can I afford to help you, and you need to be brave to say no, and be brave enough to walk away because we aren’t charities. However, I do think we also have an obligation to help our clients where we can. We all do pro-bono work anyway and if you’ve got the capability and capacity to do it, go ahead and do it.”
Listen to the full Accountants Daily Insider episode with Debra Anderson here.