Most small and medium-sized business people used to see their accountants once a year. They would use the annual meeting to go over tax returns and engage in tax planning for the coming year. According to Bala Pudukkotai, one of the founding partners of Mississauga’s CQK Chartered Accountants, that role is rapidly changing.
“When the pandemic first went into lock down, people were giving us a call to ask for help shutting down their businesses,” Bala said during a recent telephone interview. “But often they found we could help them stay in business, keep their workers and plan for the future.”
The reason? Government programs designed to help businesses survive changes during the pandemic have eligibility, reporting and program compliance issues that often require expert help. Bala and his partners have been there to provide that expertise.
“There are two kinds of people we see very often,” Bala explained. “There are those entrepreneurs that are very independent-minded who don’t want anything to do with the government. Then there are those who want whatever ‘free money’ they can get regardless of the eligibility requirements or agreement compliance issues. And, of course, there are people who fall somewhere between those extremes.”
The Federal government responded to the pandemic very quickly with supports for businesses of all size. However, due to the speed of the response, there was little time for businesses to develop an understanding of what specific programs would meet the needs of their industry, organization size and business structure. The confusion is not unfounded. There is a wage subsidy program, not to be confused with the temporary 10% wage subsidy program. There are work-sharing programs and opportunities to create new jobs for students and youth. There is a low-interest loan program, a loan guarantee program and a co-lending program.
“What we do is work with our clients to create a picture of where their business is right now, where they will need to change to meet the demands of new behaviors created by the pandemic, how much it will cost and how it will impact their finances and tax responsibilities,” Bala said. “From there we can determine which programs they are eligible for that will offer them the most support to help the business survive and owners to thrive.”
Among all professions, accountants, like lawyers, are subject to some of the highest standards in terms of training, certification and reporting. Compliance with these standards means they are uniquely qualified to provide support during emergencies like the pandemic. Like other professionals who support businesses, CQK Chartered Accountants have seen demand for their services go up during the pandemic. Entrepreneurs have had the time to review their business structures, agreements and succession planning strategies and they are looking to accountants for support in determining the best model in terms of taxation and financial opportunity.
Bala sees the closer relationship between accountant and entrepreneur as a positive one.
“We are able to help them out with our special knowledge and it gives our clients more time to concentrate on their core competencies to run the business,” he said. “And with the changes they are also seeing improved work-life balance where before the pandemic there was only work.”
Matters of Conscience
Other benefits of the arrangement have been realized by employees of small and medium-sized businesses.
“We had a few clients approach us who were worried about having to lay off employees who had been with them for twenty or even thirty years. It was affecting their conscience and sense of responsibility as employers,” Bala remembered. “We were able to explain the wage subsidy programs to them and assist with the application processes. It helped the businesses keep their talent that they could never replace and it helped employees keep their jobs. It reduced the stress and worry for everyone.”
A clear understanding of government programs, their compliance requirements and eligibility can be difficult to obtain without expert help.
Bala recently delivered an Ask the Expert webinar on these issues for the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre’s Business Services Advisory program.
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