About the author

Tim Underwood is managing director of Foulger Underwood Asia

Covid-19 has forced all businesses to change the way they work – or at least how they will operate when they get back up and running.

But you could argue that accountancy practices and the profession as a whole have been in a constant state of evolution for decades, and the recent global events are just another hurdle along the track.

The current crisis may have convinced more firms to look at different ways of resourcing their practice throughout the year, rather than just at seasonal peak times of work

Practices have always approached these evolutionary pressures in different ways, some adapting quickly and others, not at all. Those firms that took steps over the past five years to review their strategies and implement new technologies may now be thankful that they did so.

Asia’s road to recovery

If you use the reduction in lockdown restrictions as a yardstick for economic recovery, Asia is certainly on the way out of the crisis.

This means that businesses across the region are in the final phase of what was the unknown, before they retrace their steps and cycle back through the various stages of their country lockdowns towards a new norm of operating.

This new norm – which I don’t think we will recognise until Q2 or Q3 2021 – will likely still have elements of:

  • social distancing in the office
  • split teams and/or a proportion of staff working from home/remotely
  • client interaction and communication continuing to leverage conference calling platforms and messaging apps
  • business travel restrictions.

Talking to accountants across Asia, many haven’t felt a significant impact from the lockdowns or upheaval caused by Covid-19. Most have experienced some pressure on collecting fees and debtor levels inflating slightly, but they are not anticipating significant levels of bad debt to materialise.

Only the beginning

All the firms we have spoken to in recent weeks are, however, conscious that this is a snapshot in time and it is only when clients reappear, staff return, food and beverage outlets open up, manufacturing switches back on and supply chains are restored that accounting firms will be able to take a view on what the impact of the virus will be to their practices.

This lag from the start of crisis to the direct impact on accounting firms isn’t dissimilar to what happened after the global financial crisis from 2007-09, when it took 12-18 months for some of our accounting clients to really feel the effect of the downturn.

Revisit and reflect

The main differences with this crisis are how quickly we moved from the normal course of business to complete lockdown (in most countries); and the amount of time many practitioners have found – outside of day-to-day firefighting and restructuring (and home schooling!) – to revisit projects previously put to one side due to a lack of time and resources.

The crisis has also reinforced so many topics and issues that have been discussed for years in accountancy magazines and at conferences. The two key areas are:


While this is probably a topic that has been overdone in terms of air time over the last few years, practices that have implemented any elements of automation, artificial intelligence or cloud-based platforms will have been well placed to deal with lockdown and what is to come down the road.


Outsourcing, the use of contractors, flexitime and working from home have also been a talking point across the profession for a long time. While Asia hasn’t been at the forefront of any of these in terms of widescale adoption, the current crisis may have convinced more firms to look at different ways of resourcing their practice throughout the year, rather than just at seasonal peak times of work.

There are a whole range of other practice pressures and factors that fall in and around these two key categories that practices are currently having to address, such as client service delivery; communication internally and with clients; relationship management and the necessity of travel; office space; and whether physical spaces to house staff are really a necessity.

As I say, the drum has been beating on these topics for years and one positive that will come from this phase of the Covid-19 situation is that firms, as well as their clients, will have had the opportunity to evaluate and implement some key aspects of practice management. For some, there was just no more road to kick the can down.