The Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) has awarded the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre a $2.24 million grant for its Supporting Small Business Advisors for Better Mental Health project to train 5,000 accountants by 2022.
The grant will help fund the rollout of a sector-wide continuous professional development program for accountants and will be delivered by Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CA ANZ), CPA Australia and the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).
The program — achieved in collaboration between the professional accounting bodies, Deakin University, Beyond Blue, Mental Health First Aid Australia and WorkSafe Victoria — will help accountants identify, manage or prevent various mental health conditions through mental health first aid training.
It comes as a new study commissioned by the DISER found that nearly one in three SME owners experienced mental health issues over the past 12 months.
The study found that these business owners experienced either stress, depression or anxiety, with the main contributor related to financial issues.
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash said the funding was critical in ensuring accountants received appropriate training to support their clients.
“The government is proudly partnering with Deakin University and professional accounting bodies to deliver this vital training that will change lives,” Senator Cash said.
“Small and family business are the lifeblood of our communities and the backbone of our economy, so it is crucial that they emerge from the pandemic in the best financial and emotional shape possible.”
IPA chief executive Andrew Conway said the training was not meant to turn accountants into clinicians overnight, but to equip them with confidence to handle such difficult conversations with clients.
“By upskilling accountants, we believe there will be tremendous positive outcomes in supporting SME owners and ensuring they get the professional help as required,” Mr Conway said.
“They are not there to play the role of professional health clinician, but they can be better equipped to point their SME client in that direction when required.”
CPA Australia chief executive Andrew Hunter believes the pandemic has reinforced the need for the combined project.
“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, accountants have played a frontline role in helping individuals and businesses manage the economic fallout, and this has put them under enormous pressure,” Mr Hunter said.
“Mental health is a whole of industry issue and, more so than ever before, needs a collective approach which supports all our members.
“By training accountants to provide mental health support to their tens of thousands of small and medium-business clients, we will have a larger societal impact.”
Likewise, CA ANZ chief executive Ainslie van Onselen believes accountants are well placed to help identify and support struggling clients.
“Mental health is a whole of society issue and as one of Australia’s most trusted professions, accountants have a unique and vital role to play on the front line,” she said.
“Every day, accountants see the huge impost that has taken place on their clients and this project will make a huge difference quickly.”
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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.