Institute of Public Accountants chief executive Andrew Conway believes the accounting profession will need to address the impacts of mental health and provide better training and support to practitioners as they approach confronting client conversations.
While practitioners in public practice will be no strangers to tough conversations with clients, Mr Conway believes Australia’s first recession in almost three decades and the ongoing health crisis will likely exacerbate the issue.
“You don’t get taught what to do when a client is sitting opposite you crumbling,” Mr Conway said at the Accountants Daily Strategy Week.
“It might be a matrimonial issue, it might be a broader cash-flow issue related to COVID and pressures economically, or it might be a return client who doesn’t have a job and is really struggling — what do you do?
“As a profession, we really haven’t done enough to prepare our professionals for the conversations they have in practice and we need to provide better training and better support.”
What can accountants do?
Mr Conway believes accountants should seek out a mental health first aid course or similar training to equip them with a framework to navigate tough client conversations.
“We can’t turn anyone into a clinician overnight, that’s not what this is about, but it is about building confidence to have conversations,” he said.
“This isn’t about anyone having a mortgage over this training, it is about encouraging as many people as possible to undertake it, to equip you with confidence to have better conversations.”
The mental and physical toll of COVID-19 on the accounting profession has also been recognised by the professional accounting bodies, with Mr Conway urging practitioners to look after themselves first before helping others.
“You’re not a superhero and it is OK not to be,” Mr Conway said.
“Sometimes we think we’ve got to be all things to all people, we’ve got to be on the phone, answer every query, be there at every stage for the client.
“At the end of the day, it is that oxygen mask mentality — how am I going to help others if I am not helping myself first?”
Mr Conway’s comments coincide with R U OK? Day, a day of action aimed at reminding Australians to check in with each other and help support someone in need.
He believes accountants should look to contact a client or a loved one and cement their position as a trusted adviser.
“Trusted advice is not about the numbers; in fact, it has got nothing to do with the numbers,” Mr Conway said.
“When you say to a client ‘don’t worry, we can work through this’ or ‘don’t worry, we will work with the ATO and get an arrangement in place’, that has an ability to genuinely change the course of a person’s life.
“Numbers are important, but people are what we do; we’re in the people business.”
If you or anyone you know is in need of support, you can contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.