Business Plus Accountancy & Business Advisory Survey 2021

As part of the annual Business Plus Accountancy & Business Advisory Survey, Mark Kennedy, Managing Partner, Mazars in Ireland, discusses the Covid-19 impacts on business.

Mark is actively involved with a number of the firm’s key clients, primarily in the banking and insurance sectors, where he leads teams delivering audit and other assurance services. Mazars in Ireland recorded revenues of €40 million in 2019/20 - up 11% on the previous year.

Activity

While the Covid-19 pandemic created uncertainty, it has also resulted in increased demand for advice on employee matters, government support schemes, taxation, cashflow management, funding, cybersecurity and outsourcing. We developed a specific service offering around this area, including tools that our international clients can access to assess the impact on their business in different jurisdictions.

Remote working

We coped well with the transition primarily because we have built a robust technical capacity to work from anywhere in a secure and effective way. We have been able to deliver both audit and non-audit services seamlessly. All of our teams worked hard to maintain communication within the team and with our clients. While remote working provides increased flexibility, allows for better work-life balance and hasn’t materially adversely impacted productivity, face-to-face meetings and opportunities to collaborate are essential in business. The office will remain an integral part of working life in the post-Covid world. However, I don’t think we will return to everyone working in the office five days a week.

Business supports

The pandemic impact has been felt very differently in individual sectors, with smaller businesses finding the period more challenging. Schemes such as the CRSS have worked well for many, but the exclusion of some tourism activities from the regime has impacted some businesses. In the retail sector, the impact has been significant, and while some have adapted to online shopping, many firms will need support as consumer expenditure recovers. I would like to see a phased or gradual reduction in support as economic activity is re-established – perhaps focusing on smaller businesses that collectively provide so much employment around the country.

To flatten the infection curve and protect public health, restrictions on public activity and business activities are necessary. While support schemes such as CRSS and EWSS have been helpful, what is needed now is a clear roadmap for business re-opening, how they will be supported, and for how long. Businesses need to plan and need to know the parameters within which they can do so. Government should withdraw Covid-19 supports for businesses on a phased basis for different sectors, especially for smaller companies and those exposed to Brexit that face a particularly challenging period. This type of approach would allow businesses to reorganise and restructure, as there is concern among the business community about an immediate return to normal.

Enterprise

Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for digital transformation in business. Firms that are late adopters in technology have needed to invest significantly in innovative techniques to ensure they can support remote working and adapt their services to the new environment. We see the potential for artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and data analytics, and we are building our expertise and solutions in this area. We also anticipate an increased demand for advice on assessing cybersecurity risks and impacts.

This article first appeared in Business Plus March 2021.

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