‘We were able to see Covid-19 unfold in China from the beginning’ said CEO Philip Turnbull
The international nature of its operations gave the Association of International Accountants (AIA) a head-start when it came to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in the United Kingdom. Having staff based in Beijing and partners throughout China provided an early insight into both the seriousness of the virus, and the implications and effects of lockdown.
A membership and examining body for accountants, AIA is a not-for-profit organisation. Founded in 1928, it operates in more than 85 countries worldwide from its UK base in Newcastle upon Tyne. AIA is a Recognised Qualifying Body for statutory auditors under the Companies Act and is a professional body supervisor for its members under the Money Laundering Regulations.
“We were able to see Covid-19 unfold in China from the beginning,” said CEO Philip Turnbull. “Restrictions in China were severe and immediate. People had to sign in and out of their apartments to go shopping and movements were tracked. As an international organisation we knew how serious it would be and started planning in February, weeks before lockdown here in the UK.”
AIA devised an emergency business plan in consultation with the Association of international accountants (its board of directors) and staff, ensuring they all had the capability – including equipment – to work from home. Its use of Microsoft Office 365 has enabled staff members to pretty much work as usual, having access to the documents and applications they need, including their CRM system and regulatory tools.
“We had a trial run with all staff working from home for a morning. When lockdown came, we were ready straight away; I was pleased with how smoothly it all went.”
AIA cancelled all its face-to-face events in February, including attendance at trade shows and conferences; its own CPD events programme was postponed and transferred online where possible and additional webinars organised.
When lockdown came AIA put the emergency plan into action, narrowing its strategic focus to member services, organisational sustainability, and regulatory compliance. It has created a Covid-19 hub on its website to ensure members have access to the guidance and resources they need to help their own businesses deal with the impact of the outbreak and regularly provides updates in recognition that AIA members are also a key source of advice for their clients.
Turnbull added that there is a lot of information coming from HMRC and the government, the Financial Reporting Council and others, and small businesses need their accountant to help them find what they need. Additionally, regulatory requirements have not changed and key services and benefits, like free AMLCC software, are helping to keep AIA members compliant, up-to-date and trained.
Turnbull expects June to be when the crisis will peak for the UK’s businesses. “The two big issues that businesses of all sizes face are cash flow and profitability,” he said.
Philip Turnbull praised the government’s measures to support business, including the Job Retention Scheme; in recognition of the changes to working practices he has made the difficult decision to furlough members of staff whose roles were impacted by the narrower focus.
This whole process was easily accomplished, as AIA outsources its payroll function. “I’ve spoken with small businesses undertaking manual payroll and they are really struggling. And many AIA accountants are seeing their workload increase as businesses look to assistance from qualified professionals to interpret the various schemes and facilitate access to them.”
As a global organisation, AIA already conducts several of its board meetings online and is currently planning its AGM. Turnbull believes good governance and transparency remain vital and the AIA Council have been involved in the strategic planning from the outset.
“I sat down with the President and other key office holders and scrutinised rigorously how the outbreak would affect our financial situation and working practices,” said Turnbull. Having cash reserves and an adaptable workforce has cushioned the impact of Covid-19 on AIA. “But we still have a duty to our members to perform as a business,” said Turnbull. AIA had a turnover of £2m for the last financial year but expects that figure to be lower this year with social distancing and lockdown measures having a knock-on effect on the provision of qualifications.
Turnbull anticipates a return to office working in some form, dependent on government advice, in August. But, for now, he is focusing on the Association of international Accountants, its members and its students. “We have to make sure that, when the time for exit comes, we can continue to support our members and their clients.”