Date posted: 1/09/2020 4 min read

Top tips for difficult COVID-19 client conversations

Guidance for CAs dealing with clients under financial stress on how to manage difficult conversations and look after themselves.

In Brief

  • CAs should be alert to the signs that financial stress can impact the mental health of clients
  • CAs can provide non-judgemental and supportive advice encouraging the client to seek appropriate professional support
  • CAs are under significant pressure and should take steps to manage their own wellbeing

How do Chartered Accountants best respond to difficult conversations? During the COVID-19 pandemic, this question has become a vital one to answer as clients with struggling businesses increasingly rely on a Chartered Accountants' availability and advice.

As trusted advisors, CAs develop strategies to provide the support that their clients need during trying times.

Here are some tips for dealing with clients in financial distress and for your own self-care:

  1. Recognise that financial stress and mental health problems are linked. Financial stress can be a trigger for as well as an outcome of mental health problems.
  2. Be alert to the signs that your client might have mental health problems. Mental health is not black and white. It sits on a continuum and can move back and forth between thriving through to mild, moderate and severe mental health problems.
    • Have you noticed their appearance, attitude, mood or behaviour has changed significantly?
    • Have they become uncharacteristically indecisive?
    • Do they appear to be having trouble concentrating or remembering details?
    • Have new conflicts arisen in their business or personal relationships?
    • Do they appear to be more disorganised than they normally would?
  3. CAs are not expected to be psychologists or counsellors, even though you can sometimes feel as though you've been thrust into the role.
  4. Reflect on your own attitudes, beliefs and judgements. Judgemental, impatient, critical or dismissive communications won't help your client. In these communications, authenticity and tone matter.
  5. When communicating with a client you think suffers from poor mental health:
    • Listen openly and without judging, asking questions to clarify your understanding of their situation
    • Show empathy and support. You don't have to agree with the client to acknowledge their feelings and support them.
    • Be respectful
    • Be patient
    • Give the client time to think and express themselves
  6. Be flexible and responsive. The client may have trouble organising their thoughts, documents and/or appointments. Be as flexible and supportive as possible.
  7. Encourage the client to speak to a specialist mental health professional. Despite the prevalence of mental health problems throughout the community, many people still feel some stigma about getting help. A supportive conversation which normalises their situation could support the client to get the help they need.
  8. Take immediate action if your client suggests they are going to harm anyone.
    • Take any threats seriously.
    • Explain that you can't observe confidentiality in this situation
    • Contact a local mental health service, crisis team or Lifeline
    • Get help from a colleague
  9. Take care of your own wellbeing. It can be easy to take on the anxiety, stress and negativity of your clients and the people around you. Make an intentional plan to manage your own mental health, focusing on your supportive relationships, physical wellbeing and building your mental and emotional resources.