Once known for its steel-manufacturing, blue-collar roots, the port city of Wollongong has grown to be a mature accounting and business advisory market – with more growth to come.

Born and bred in The Gong, it was a natural step for business services and taxation partner, Paul Apolloni, to follow in his accountant-father’s footsteps. There have been marked changes to the profession since he began his career with a small firm on the south coast of New South Wales. Business advisory, in particular, has undergone significant change in recent years.

Software and technological advancements, including cloud-based technology, has driven the demand for live-time advice and support, especially during the COVID pandemic.

Within tax and business services, there continues to be substantial data collection from the ATO which has, in turn, increased compliance activities. There’s also been continual legislative change to the tax system, with case law and rulings driving the need for more technical expertise within state and federal tax law.

There are five partners in the firm, spread across business advisory, taxation, audit, superannuation and wealth management. A shortage of skilled accountants and advisers, coupled with a shift in people rethinking their businesses and investments has seen the firm’s services being a valuable commodity. Post-COVID and with the advent of the Great Resignation, many people – some of whom have been made redundant – are now setting up their own businesses, resulting in a need for professional advice.

The core industries serviced by the firm are largely professional services, medical industries and construction – remain largely unchanged.

Construction, in particular, remains very strong, with a buoyant Wollongong property market continuing to bear fruit for property owners. On the city fringe, farm land is being developed and subdivided, and with the shift of Sydney people moving to regional areas, there’s a natural level of activity underpinning the economy, all of which is further assisted with cheap debt and housing stimulus measures.

Client concerns over the past 18 months haven’t been dictated by sector, but rather spread across the entire base. For many, cash flow was an issue – with some even were forced to shut down – and the health risk to staff and families took a financial and emotional toll.

As trusted advisers, the Wollongong firm were committed to the needs of clients, guiding them through some of the most challenging trading conditions. From administering Jobkeeper, to negotiating with banks and financial institutions regarding arrangements and liquidity issues, the firm became a strong resource for its client base. At an operational level, it also provided advice and guidance concerning safe reopening, staff management procedures and business risk management.

At the firm level, the partners took stock of IT infrastructure needs for the 50-odd staff members, implementing IT and HR plans before major lockdowns occurred. The firm also ran through hypothetical scenarios, and undertook split team working from home arrangements.

The partners were also very conscious of the mental and physical health of staff throughout lockdown periods, and created a fitness challenge. Staff members were encouraged to post photos of health and exercise sessions as a way to keep staff connected and morale strong.

Unlike many other accounting firms, HLB Mann Judd Wollongong didn’t make any forced redundancies during the pandemic period; instead, it continued to recruit and grow the staff base.