With a state economy that has been growing strongly for the better part of a decade, HLB Mann Judd Sydney has capitalised on an ever-burgeoning financial services sector and private client businesses. Now, in the grip of a global pandemic, Tony Fittler explains how the firm is positioning itself to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic and to help its clients weather the storm.

HLB Mann Judd Sydney has always had a strong focus on customer service and we have recently formalised our approach which we call OneHLB. OneHLB leverages our expertise and disciplines across the firm to give clients a more comprehensive, full advisory and financial service offering.

To help with this, we have structured the firm to focus on our three major client markets – Corporate, Private & Family Business and Individuals.

An example is Family Business. We have several qualified family business advisers and we’re a supporter of the Family Business Association. Our family business advice includes succession planning and asset protection as well as wealth management, estate planning, debt advisory and insurance practice areas from different parts of the firm.

The not-for-profit (NFP) sector has also been a key area of focus for the Sydney firm since the establishment of our Exclusive Not-for-Profit Community in 2010. The community has now grown to over 1,000 key industry leaders as members. Many NFPs and their beneficiaries are experiencing an especially challenging time, and those who almost exclusively rely on fundraising have had to reassess their models which is something we are able to help with.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has presented our firm and our clients with some challenges, but also opportunities. Back in March, I assembled our Management Committee and senior people in key functions such as IT and HR. We met daily to discuss the issues at hand, and it gave some of those staff members a chance to be involved in decision-making at a higher level.

The degree of uncertainty affected everyone, including myself, but our key priority during that time was protecting the firm and making the right decisions with the information available.

When the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme was announced, we saw it as a great opportunity to help our clients. Clients have been very receptive to increased communication and checking in to see how their business is faring.

The impact of COVID-19 on funds management and corporate clients has very much depended on their sector, but generally they are in very sound positions.

However, it is important to recognise that we are in a time of unprecedent Government support and that it is crucial that businesses and organisations position themselves for the end of these measures. We are well placed to assist businesses consider their options, whether they involve buying or selling businesses, refinancing or taking steps to winding down parts or the whole business. Steps taken now will maximise the opportunities for a successful outcome.

Looking at the accounting profession in retrospect, the industry has evolved and changed so much throughout my three-plus decades as a professional Chartered Accountant.

Tax legislation was very basic when I began my career – now, there’s three large volumes of legislation in addition to the numerous ATO rulings and cases. There’s been a dramatic shift in the sheer volume of information we need to be across. Of course, all other areas of practice have become more complex over this time – it’s not unique to tax.

The one aspect of the accounting profession that hasn’t changed over the years, and that’s the need for client engagement. You’re dealing with real people and real businesses that experience many different situations. It’s their investments and as their accountant and adviser, we’ve got a very important role to play.

This article was published in the 2020 Spring edition of Financial Times.