Accountants worry about losing clients amid the pandemic

Client attrition is the issue that's keeping the most accounting firm leaders up at night amid the upheavals of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey — even as a third of those leaders struggle to balance their work with the new personal responsibilities brought on by the new environment.

The research, conducted by Accounting Today's parent company, Arizent, polled 189 accounting firm executives in mid-April as part of a broader survey of 592 executives across an array of sectors including financial services, wealth management, insurance and professional services, to understand how businesses are dealing with the crisis, their sentiments about the future and potential actions under consideration.

Some of the high-level findings of the survey are below.

AT-051420-coronavirus Big Issues for accountants GRAPH
Accounting firms' worries largely mirror those of the other responding industries, though they're slightly more likely to be concerned about client attrition (46 percent versus 39 percent), and less likely to worry about workforce stability (22 percent versus 30 percent).
AT-051420-Coronavirus Biggest Impact on accountants GRAPH
Accountants were more likely than the overall set of respondents to be impacted by client delays (34 percent versus 25 percent) and the need to help clients navigate the crisis (28 percent versus 17 percent), and less likely to be impacted by the move to remote work (29 percent versus 38 percent).
AT-051420-Corona- Personal responses GRAPH
The accounting executives surveyed were somewhat more likely to be struggling to balance their work responsibilities with the new personal responsibilities put on them by the pandemic than their peers in the overall survey cohort, and somewhat less confident that their firm's response to the pandemic would prepare them for recovery down the road — but a little more confident about their own personal long-term job security.
AT-051420-Corona- When will firms return to normal GRAPH
Accounting firms are less likely than the overall survey base to expect their work environments to return to normal in the near-term time frame of 1-3 months by a 10 percentage points (28 percent versus 38 percent) — but that's largely because they were more likely to report that they hadn't change their work environments at all (26 percent versus 14 percent.
AT-051420-Coronavirus - firm responses GRAPH
The responses accounting firms are planning for COVID-19 largely mirror those of the rest of the survey cohort — including the quarter (26 percent) who aren't actively planning on any of the 18 possible choices they were offered.
AT-051420-Coronavirus Layoffs graph
Three-quarters of accounting firms and all the other financial and business organizations in the survey reported that they had not removed any employees in the weeks since the coronavirus kicked into high gear — but the quarter of the remaining accounting firms were more likely to have laid off or fired only one person.
AT-041520-Coronavirus CARES Act GRAPH
Despite putting a great deal of effort into helping clients apply for stimulus programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, accountants were only slightly more like to take advantage of the CARES Act.