In a recent article featured in the International Accounting Bulletin, PrimeGlobal members reflected on opportunities for firms to engage in new services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses worldwide face huge challenges which require hard decisions about their ongoing viability. To build back better, a business needs to have long term resilience, be able to anticipate demand, have the capacity to be agile and an ability to scale. Entrepreneurs have the drive and creativity to adapt and find new opportunities. However, businesses often do not have the know-how to make it happen.

PrimeGlobal member firms offer a range of established services to help, including corporate recovery, restructuring, insolvency, business valuation and forensics. However, it has been critical for firms to understand what is unique about each business and blend their services accordingly. Firms are increasingly acting as business architects, and structural engineers, providing advice to focus on building the parts of a business that have the capacity to prosper in the future.  Over the next stages of the pandemic, and recovery, this role will be even more critical as businesses face fundamental choices.


MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Over the course of the pandemic, firms have helped businesses stabilise their operations. Tom Murray, Partner at Irish firm Friel Stafford compares his firm’s role to that of an air traffic controller. He notes: “We have helped firms understand and anticipate the danger ahead, moving them into a holding position – helping them streamline, receive government support and reduce cost, so they are in the best position as the fog begins to clear.” 

Philip Armstrong, Restructuring Advisory Partner at UK firm FRP, observes that government support has helped to prevent a significant rise in insolvencies. This has provided an opportunity to help business anticipate and adapt. FRP’s Review. Adapt. Evolve. solution has helped business leaders prepare for the future by tailoring advice from a range of specialists. Support has included helping businesses focus on their core proposition, renegotiating debt, and obtaining additional equity.

For some, priorities have changed, they have considered options to realise the value of their business. Advisory firms have supported owners to secure sales of assets which then help to build other growing businesses. Murray believes advisory firms play a crucial role to help recycle business, so assets are in the right place to meet future demand.

Advisory firms are proud of the difference they have been able to make during the pandemic.  Armstrong highlights how FRP helped save viable businesses and keep people in their jobs. For example, Carluccio’s, a UK restaurant chain, where FRP secured a sale of 31 sites – saving 872 jobs. 

Richard Pollack, Director-in-Charge of Forensic and Advisory Services at US firm Berkowitz Pollack Brant, comments that the firm was able to complete several equity sales and help creditors recover debt throughout the pandemic.

Miguel Angel Sepúlveda González, Managing Partner at Mexican firm Traust, notes that they have helped clients transform their finance functions so that they are able to get up-to-date information.  This has enabled businesses to control cash and develop essential financial scenarios.


TURBULENCE AHEAD

Businesses are going to be facing huge turbulence in the coming months, as government support diminishes, landlords take enforcement action as rental holidays end, and banks get tougher on credit terms. In addition to having less financial support, businesses will have to start paying back debt generated through government support schemes, while operating with less revenue and reduced staff. The environment will continue to be uncertain and volatile. There is a risk of a huge number of insolvencies impacting thousands of workers.

Armstrong comments that there is clearly a problem if costs are not matched by operating revenue because of the need to pay deferred liabilities that have built up over the pandemic. The media often comments on the risk from unviable companies having been kept alive through government funding. However, there is a bigger risk that good companies will not be able to survive because of insufficient working capital. 

Advisory firms can help ensure that business has a strong understanding of working capital requirements - adequate cash will buy time and allow for more options. Advisory firms can create forecasting models to anticipate pressure points, stress test and identify solutions.

Murray comments that there could be a significant increase in demand as lock down restrictions reduce and consumers rush to enjoy services which have been denied for so long. Business needs to avoid overtrading but ensure they can scale up securely to meet demand.

Sepulveda feels that his firm is ready to complete business health checks, helping firms anticipate and pivot their business to meet new demand. He is proud of how they have helped manufacturing clients move their production to support the health sector. Business will need help to operate with agility as conditions continue to change rapidly.

A key consideration for business is to consider whether releasing equity will provide them with capital to overcome short-term challenges and respond to opportunity. Private equity has significant levels of capital to invest, which is likely to be released as lockdowns eases. This could allow business to obtain the capital it needs and build back for the long term. Many business owners do fear losing control if they sell equity; however, as Armstrong says: “100% of nothing is a lot worse than 80% of a very strong business.”

Advisory firms help a business assess whether to divest non-core parts of their operations in cases where it will reduce cost and help focus on building the core business. When attractive assets are put on the market, investors are moving quickly.

For some business owners an exit route might suit their position. Advisory firms provide advice to ensure a successful outcome for the owner and the long-term viability of the business.

The circumstances of each business are different, advisory firms understand the unique needs of the owners and business, and assign staff with the right experience across service lines to help. To attract the capital needed to build for the future, the firms help ensure that a business can demonstrate it is resilient, the earnings are maintainable, and it has the potential to grow. 


READY TO BUILD

Advisory firms’ teams have been exceptionally busy over the pandemic. Professionals have worked hard for their clients, working long hours to help them survive and give advice to help them adapt and remain viable. Business will need their help more than ever over the coming year. It is critical, therefore, that the firms’ teams feel energised and are ready to support business.

Murray notes that they have played an important role to “talk owners down from the ledge, providing encouragement, empathy and counselling.”  Ensuring the team feel energised and equipped to do this is important.

Pollack agrees, noting that the biggest impact they can have for their clients, and wider society, is to focus on their people, so they are ready to support clients. He says:

“Our people are what makes the difference. From the start of the pandemic, we ensured they felt secure in their jobs and despite uncertainty we did not reduce staff - in fact, we have recruited. We ensure staff have access to mentors and coaching so they never feel alone. We have created a team spirit through regular meetings and having fun – for example, taking part in virtual escape rooms.  The whole team share a collective passion and celebrate success together.”

The focus on team building within advisory firms is essential for wellbeing and to create a collaborative culture which brings together the right expertise to support clients.


PREPARE TO ACT

For business it is important to act now to be ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead. Engaging an advisory firm gives time to assess the issues and consider a range of possible options.

Armstrong uses the analogy of pruning plants (removing dead branches and leaves to create light and oxygen so the other plants can grow). The firm will help business look at the big picture and align capital and attention to the parts of the business which will flourish. He notes that they help negotiate win-win arrangements; for example, rent payments linked to revenue – the rent drops in difficult times and increases when the business is growing. The landlord maintains reliable tenants, and the business can manage its working capital effectively.

Sepulveda and Murray comment that it is critical businesses speak to firms as early as possible, to ensure they can work on scenarios together. Pollack notes that being a member of PrimeGlobal is key, as the association enables them to connect and collaborate with other firms to provide clients with the advice, expertise and help they need.

The critical role advisory firms have to build viable businesses is not always visible or well understood. Advisory firms help to calm even the most severe of storms. They deserve recognition for the essential role they play. We can all be confident about the future, knowing these firms are ready to work side-by-side with business. During difficult times, the whole accounting profession can be proud of the difference they are making.  

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FRP is a leading business advisory firm with a strong reputation for providing cross-border solutions to create, preserve, and recover value across a range of complex stressed and distressed situations. Working across the board, from multinational organisations to small enterprises, we develop effective strategies for all kinds of businesses.

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Friel Stafford is one of Ireland’s leading independent accounting and advisory firms specialising in corporate recovery and insolvency, personal insolvency, forensic accounting, business valuations and corporate finance. The firm was founded with the mission of offering a positive commercial approach to business problems, and aims to bring added value to all of the professional services provided.

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The advisors and accountants of Berkowitz Pollack Brant have provided comprehensive tax planning and compliance, forensic and litigation support audit services and business consulting to entrepreneurs, companies and individuals for nearly four decades. Our strength is establishing inter-disciplinary teams comprised of CPAs, finance and valuation professionals, senior tax professionals, technical audit specialists, information technology resources, and financial and estate planning experts. The firm has earned a reputation for integrity, collaboration and technical skill.

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Traust Accounting is the effort of more than 100 people working along with your team. Our firm began in 1973, under the personal name of CPA Jesus Mario Treviño Sepúlveda. In 1983, we became the Office Sepúlveda Treviño S.C., and have been growing ever since. Today, we bring the experience of over 40 years in business to the accounting industry, helping companies and individuals make the best decisions in matters related to tax, audit, accounting and finance.

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