Accounting firms, professionals to get $8 million lifeline to cope with Covid-19 impact

The Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants Support Fund will mainly benefit individual accountants and Small and Medium Practices. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Accounting firms and professionals here will soon be able to tap an $8 million support package to transform their businesses and cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) Support Fund will benefit mainly individual accountants and Small and Medium Practices (SMPs), or small and medium-sized accounting firms.

ISCA president Kon Yin Tong told The Straits Times that more accounting firms are likely to feel the full impact of the coronavirus crisis this year:

"SMPs service mainly SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). When we performed our work last year, the full impact of Covid-19 had not hit our clients yet as businesses and SMEs were cushioned against it by government support."

Last year, ISCA rolled out a similar support package of $3.6 million for the accountancy sector. Singapore had 701 public accounting firms and 1,155 public accountants as at March last year.

Three million dollars from the $8 million ISCA Support Fund will be used to accelerate SMPs' digital transformation and upskilling efforts, as well as provide working capital to firms affected by the pandemic.

Enterprise Singapore (ESG) will match $1 for every $2 contributed by ISCA under ESG's SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience programme, which supports funds set up by trade associations and chambers or industry groups.

Eligible SMPs will receive up to $10,000 each to fund business growth and upgrade their capabilities. The national accountancy body has identified potential high-growth areas that SMPs can enter, such as business compliance and advisory, to help firms diversify their services.

The institute is also working with trainers to curate relevant programmes and roll out certification courses in these areas.

"Eligible SMPs can receive funding to upskill and reskill their staff in these areas," said ISCA in a statement on Monday (Feb 8).

SMPs can also use the money to offset the cost of digital solutions and build their digital capabilities. These solutions include digital signing and telecommuting tools, which boost SMPs' productivity and help them grow operations without incurring higher rental costs, said ISCA.

Tools such as digital analytics software also help SMEs to offer value-added services such as data analysis and data-driven business recommendations.

Firms can visit the ISCA-run online SMP Centre for more information.

Eligible SMPs facing cashflow issues will also get a working capital grant of $5,000 each.

President of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants Mr Kon Yin Tong at the ISCA building in Cecil Street on Feb 4, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Meanwhile, individual members who are facing financial difficulties will have their ISCA membership fees waived so they can retain their professional credentials. The ISCA has set aside $2 million for this.

These members can also get 20 complimentary hours of continuing professional development training so they can pick up new skills to enhance their employability, said ISCA.

The final $3 million in the package will go towards upskilling and reskilling the institute's more than 32,000 members.

Each member will receive a Continuous Professional Education voucher worth $100. They can use the voucher when they take any of the 500 webinars and 400 courses the institute is offering in its e-Learning library. This is in addition to over 50 complimentary webinars for ISCA members.

ST understands that the support package will be rolled out by the third quarter of this year.

Mr Kon told ST that the pandemic has disrupted project workflows and created a manpower crunch as fewer foreign employees are now available.

"Another long term challenge is, as SMP clients adopt tech, these clients are able to provide additional information and more granular data for service providers. Accountants can therefore play a more effective role in employing data analytics tools," he added.

Mr Kon said many firms still have manual work processes and added: "I hope more firms will use audit software to help them be more productive and have better quality control in the long run."

Mr Michael Heng, managing partner of Heng Lee Seng LLP, said the firm hopes to tap the fund to introduce more digital cloud-based solutions and telecommuting tools.

These will allow it to grow its workforce without incurring higher rental costs, he said.

"I anticipate that in the mid term with these tools, I will be able to comfortably operate an accounting practice that is double the size while using the same office space," said Mr Heng, who added that more value-added services such as helping clients to digitalise are also on the cards.

Ms Lynn Phang, senior director at Kreston Ardent CAtrust, said the company will focus more on data analytics tools that will help it to better serve clients whose businesses are data-driven.

The firm also plans to upskill its partners in advisory capabilities.

"All our partners are public accountants so we know numbers pretty well. Other than the numeric part, we want partners to be able to do other sorts of business advisory with a qualitative angle - for example, in advisories related to regulatory areas."

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