Date posted: 7/08/2020 4 min read

What NZ learned from the lockdown

New Zealand went through one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdowns and is now rebuilding. What can the country’s CAs tell us about making it through?

In Brief

  • New Zealand CAs can offer insights into what helped them, and their clients, make it through a country-wide lockdown
  • Embracing change, communicating with clients and nurturing a growth mindset are important strategies
  • CA ANZ members can access support by joining conversations via the member portal and social media

A stage four COVID-19 lockdown, such as the one Victoria is experiencing, is a drastic measure but it's one that has been enforced before, in New Zealand.

In fact, New Zealand has become a standard-bearer for how to manage and survive a global health crisis, which means there are opportunities to learn from the experiences of those CAs who are helping to rebuild businesses in an uncertain world.

Several New Zealand-based Chartered Accountants have shared their experiences, revealing helpful insights into how the challenges of lockdown became opportunities.

Embrace major changes

Going paperless was something that had always been on Silks Audit's wish list, but the realities of lockdown forced the change.

Talia Anderson-Town CA is the director and engagement partner at Silks Audit, a Whanganui-based firm with 25 staff. In a heavily paper-based industry, where work with clients involves regular site visits, lockdown presented extraordinary challenges. But it also gave the business a chance to achieve goals that had never quite made it to the top of the list.

"We encountered a situation where only essential services were running, and essential services didn't always include stationery and paper and printing consumables."

The idea of going paperless was again floated, and staff were thrilled.

"There was a lot of buy-in from the staff as to how we could implement this the best way, and I think that buy-in allowed us to implement it within a week," she says.

The move has been hugely beneficial, with a significant reduction in operating costs and a much more efficient service.

"I think the most important thing is that it just proves that you can work from anywhere and still be able to carry out the service," she says. "It's the most important thing we've achieved."

Reducing costs is just one advantage of using new efficient technology. Nicki Nicol CA is the Chief Operating Officer of New Zealand Rugby and says the organisation has embraced the advantages of remote working.

Before lockdown, flexible working was allowed but seen as an exception to the norm, says Nicol. But COVID has forced a reassessment of New Zealand Rugby's values.

"[We have] built a huge amount of trust with our people working remotely," she says. "Those are the sorts of things that I think have been really positive."

She says the mindset shift to flexible working is a sign that the lockdown has changed peoples' attitudes.

"I think people have left behind their own siloed approach [and] come together to say, what's the most important thing to make the boat go faster and get rugby back into our communities?"

Being there (when you can't be there)

Anderson-Town says the main thing clients look for is clarity.

"A lot of clients just wanted some confidence about what was going on, any information that we could provide them with, any support that they could be provided with," she says.

Significant energy was put into supporting staff in the shift to remote working.

"I think if you provide support to your staff, they have the ability to provide support to your clients," she says.

That support included weekly meetings and staff training over video conferencing and extending the use of collaboration software. It meant staff were well-equipped to use the new technology when supporting clients – many of whom were facing the same changes.

"We had the slogan of 'virtual doors are open', which meant that we were working remotely, but we were still providing our service and giving assurance that we could continue with the work that we had started."

Anderson-Town says that now New Zealand is out of lockdown, the focus is on reinforcing client connections through more site visits.

"There's a lot of work that still has to get done," she says. "It's all about resetting, re-analysing and seeing how we can get through the rest of this year without having the impact of COVID affect the entire year."

Develop a growth mindset

Cormac Denton CA, finance director for PAE, encourages CAs to develop a growth mindset to build resilience.

"You have to be comfortable that what you're doing today, you won't be doing tomorrow," he says.

He says a growth mindset means embracing change and looking for ways to do things better. This also means looking for professional development and support by tapping into the resources available to CA ANZ members.

"One of the benefits of being a CA is you do get LinkedIn Learning for free, so I highly, highly recommend spending some time on there," he says.

Looking for chances to improve is something Nicki Nicol is relishing. Along with elevating the representations of women, Māori and Pasifika in rugby, she says COVID is encouraging New Zealand Rugby to think about how the future should look.

"Maybe we won't ever get back to that same level, we'll do things differently. And maybe that's the opportunity for us coming out of COVID."
Nicki Nicol CA,COO, New Zealand Rugby.

"We want to build in a way that's much more sustainable and we've got to look at both income opportunities [and] also the way that we deliver the game." The Ministry of Sport's NZ$264 million investment is cause for excitement, says Nicol, because it means a chance to build a new legacy.

"The mandate that they have is to build it better. Build it different and build it better."

Join the conversation

What have you learned from your experience and insights during lockdown? Help make a difference for those still dealing with restrictions by posting your tips and learnings on social media using hashtags #CAANZ and #DifferenceMakers or join the conversation in My CA.

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