With its hard border stance, Western Australia has largely weathered the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s economy is on track for further growth in 2020/21. Newly elected managing partner of HLB Mann Judd Perth, Lucio Di Giallonardo, explains how the firm is poised to capture and service growing demand from local business owners.

From a very young age, I was taught the piano accordion and my teacher was a partner in an accounting firm in Perth. We kept in touch throughout high school and when I indicated I was interested in a career in accountancy, he arranged a meeting between myself and another partner in his firm.

It was an unconventional foray into accounting and, fortunately, it’s been like that somewhat ever since; the profession has endured constant change since I became partner in the mid-90s, which is exciting.

Technology has really driven much of the change, and with new developments, particularly to do with automation and the way clients are serviced, it’s reengineered the way our firm operates.

At a strategic level, using these advancements in technology will form a major part of my tenure – how can we continually improve the way we deliver our service to the benefit of our clients?

COVID-19 of course has also led to developments involving technology and client engagement through the widespread adoption of platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and has changed the way we do business.

In addition to technology, we’re also grappling with the volume of continually-changing government regulations, which have increased markedly during my time in the profession. Dating back to Enron and other high-profile corporate collapses over the years, regulators now react quite sharply with the introduction of new regulations. Our firm and indeed the profession-at-large has systems in place which are documented, monitored and recorded, and has unquestionably made us more accountable.

At a very practical level, our partners and staff have been doing all they can to ensure our clients are taking advantage of the various stimulus packages available. Our clients need to receive the appropriate advice required to see them through troubled times.

Even though WA hasn’t been badly impacted from a health perspective, there are still plenty of businesses struggling to stay afloat. Mergers are often needed to achieve economies of scale, particularly in the not-for-profit space.

We’re also looking to expand our business services division, not by means of a merger but rather seeking to align with one or two-partner practices that are struggling to cope with the increased regulations.

Under such arrangements they could potentially leverage from our internal infrastructure, such as IT, HR, finance and marketing support. This will be a key area of focus for me over the coming couple of years.

In terms of sectors, we’re very strong in energy and resources; within audit and corporate services, we audit around five per cent of the total listed companies in Australia, with a large number of
these being in resources. However, the number of listed clients in other sectors such as technology, manufacturing and agriculture, is expanding.

Within our business services division, property and building construction is one of our key sectors, along with medical specialists. The latter in particular is seeing growth as a result of COVID-19, and we’re starting to offer a back-office service as many specialists are increasingly time-poor and don’t have capacity for ‘the numbers’ so we’re now able to perform that on their behalf.

With so much change and uncertainty, it’s vital for the firm to be in a position to respond to new opportunities – or business risks – and act quickly and appropriately.

We also have a number of firm values in place, with every decision aligning with these values. COVID-19 has really brought accessibility and trust to the fore, and it’s my job to ensure all our staff and partners are living by these values.

This article was published in the 2020-21 Summer edition of Financial Times.