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Report finds advisers have been a saviour for SMEs during COVID

A majority of SMEs relied more heavily on key advisers such as accountants to cope with the business fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, according to new research.

Report finds advisers have been a saviour for SMEs during COVID
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  • Adrian Flores
  • December 15, 2020
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Almost 54 per cent of the 1,252 small businesses surveyed had turned more regularly to their advisers in 2020 (on average 13.3 times each quarter), according to ScotPac SME Growth Index.

In addition, small businesses who sought advisers more often in 2020 overwhelmingly recorded that the advisers had a positive impact.

According to ScotPac senior executive Craig Michie, almost a third of SMEs approached their key advisers at the same frequency as before COVID-19 struck (on average 4.4 times each quarter).

Only one in 10 “went their own way” and did not seek out external advice; an even smaller cohort of SMEs (4.5 per cent) said they relied less on their key advisers than before the pandemic, often citing time and cost factors.

“SMEs faced so much in 2020. The pandemic created hard internal borders, temporarily devastated certain industries, interrupted supply chains and led to a government stimulus package of unprecedented size and scope,” Mr Michie said.

“To cope with the turmoil and keep things on track, businesses turned more frequently to their trusted advisers.”

Where advisers helped SMEs on their business

Of those SMEs who sought advice from trusted advisers, such as their accountant, broker or business specialist, eight in 10 (82 per cent) said this external business advice had a positive impact.

The top five positive impacts that advisers had on their small-business clients were:
  1. Reducing costs (63 per cent), to help improve their bottom line;
  2. Helping SMEs access government support and stimulus measures (37 per cent);
  3. Providing confidence about the direction the business was taking (28 per cent);
  4. Helping improve customer relationships (18.5 per cent); and
  5. Accessing funding (18 per cent).

Around one in 10 SMEs used their advisers for support in negotiating debt relief arrangements with the Australian Taxation Office; one in 12 said they had success in using their trusted advisers to help guide their sale of assets.

Mr Michie said small businesses that did not seek specialist advice during the pandemic said it was because they did not have enough time in the day (40 per cent), didn’t need advice (21 per cent) or the cost of advice was “too prohibitive” (18 per cent).

“Given the complex SME environment created by the pandemic, it may not be a wise choice for the small-business sector to shun the professional assistance a good accountant and broker can add to a business, especially on matters of cash flow and funding,” he said.

“Only a minority of SMEs (47 per cent) have been using accountants for funding advice, and for other value-add areas such as strategy and planning (31 per cent), advice on selling business assets (17 per cent), cash flow management (16 per cent) and major acquisitions (14 per cent).

“On this and many other issues, including how SMEs should fund their business, there is a real and important role for accountants in particular, and also for brokers, to guide their small-business clients.”

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