Where now in the post-Brexit era of uncertainty?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Brexit has been a political earthquake. Warnings from the Bank of England and virtually every economist and business organisation weren’t enough to sway the electorate and now the UK is set to leave the EU. In the week that followed, we have witnessed a seismic shake up across politics, fractures within the UK, the value of the pound sinking, our AAA credit rating downgraded, and share prices have plummeted.

It’s an era of uncertainty and it could be like this for a long time. Things may change dramatically, they may change significantly but not in the short term, or they might not end up changing much at all. With this intensely confusing backdrop, there’s the inclination to wait it out and avoid decision making. This is especially the case for smaller SMEs, where any instability or downturn in business hits hard.

However, these are unprecedented times and call for a different approach. In order for practices – especially the small and micro firms – to weather the storm, all eyes have to be on retaining clients by helping them navigate through the coming months, and building business through identifying the opportunities Brexit may offer. Now is the time to live up to the term ‘trusted advisor’ and expand upon this role.

Communicate now: If you haven’t already, reach out to your clients and offer reassurance, suggest meeting up to discuss any Brexit concerns, ask them if they have any specific worries you can address. Are they just anxious and would appreciate support, or are they actually inconvenienced by Brexit and need solutions? Most clients will welcome the interaction; many will expect this of you. And if it isn’t relevant to them, they will recognise the effort you made. Whether it’s queries about the single market, currency fluctuations, or what will happen to VAT; you won’t have all the answers (you aren’t alone; nor do the politicians!), but you will be able to provide guidance.

Personal touch: We’ve mentioned this point in a previous article on practice growth, and now the point is even more pertinent: never underestimate the power of the personal touch. Our reliance on technology is both a blessing and a curse. It makes business easier, but people like to be valued and treated as a person and not a number. This is the time to pick up the phone, invite people in, go to meet your top tier clients and show yourself to be an extension of their team. While ‘stronger together’ may not have won the referendum, it’s a useful motto for business post-Brexit.  

Proactive planning: Some of the leading practices have sat down with client lists since the referendum result to do scenario planning for clients. Practitioners with European clients or clients trading within the EU will undoubtedly be the ones facing the biggest issues at the moment. Have any contracts been cancelled/delayed, are they protected against currency fluctuations, what will an EU exit represent for their business/industry/staffing/supply chain? Larger businesses are more likely to have assessed the risk of Brexit and use hedging to protect currency instability, so potentially it will be the smaller firms that need to review their options.

Offer more: Clichéd as it is, for every threat there’s an opportunity. For clients where you provide a fairly standard level of service, consider what additional services you could offer. If you have the expertise personally or within your practice, the right skills could be used to grow. For clients with EU connections or trade links, how can you help limit their risks, how exposed is their business model, what other trade routes would be economically beneficial, do their forecasts need adjusting? Low cost bookkeepers have their place, but practitioners that can offer advisory services will surely be best placed to benefit.

Seek support: Keep informed, share experiences with your peers, and draw from your own network of business organisations. For instance, we know that tax – domestic and international – will be a big issue to be thrashed out post-Brexit. When the updates come, be ready to attend the seminars, boost your CPD, a pour over the detail – clients will be hungry to for guidance. Look too to trade bodies and member organisations you are part of. At the CPAA, we are committed to helping our members through this time and understand the concerns you will have.

We want to support our members through uncertain times ahead and are pleased to have launched our new format website this week, with more content and information now easier to locate. Communication works both ways, and if there are any topics you would like to see addressed on the website, explored in member emails, or discussed on our regional seminar programme, we would welcome your views.