'Where there is bank debt, it is more of a challenge for firms in hard-hit sectors’

Mark Butler is an expert in strategic business planning, with a focus on veterinary practice, food, hotel and leisure, and property investment.  He is the founder and chairman of HLB Ireland, a federation of the Irish member firms of HLB

Activity

After staff costs, technology has been the largest investment for a number of years. We already had in place a fully operational, secure, remote and paperless systems for workflow and client communication. Therefore, work from home from that perspective has been pretty seamless in facilitating a model that is here to stay.  The main operational challenge has been onboarding and the ongoing training of junior accountants and maintaining the firm culture and environment.

Business Supports

The EWSS is a far more fit-for-purpose scheme than the TWSS, as it does not directly impact employees’ tax affairs. CRSS is also a scheme that has been a welcome cashflow input to businesses that are closed. Without these supports for business, I believe we would see wholescale business failure and redundancies.

Where there is bank debt, it is and will be more of a challenge for firms, especially in hard-hit sectors. The loan moratorium only lasted six months and securing further deferrals has been a challenge. In most cases not possible without going down the default route and all the implications that brings. Therefore, unless debt can be refinanced, the longer the lockdown continues the more pressure is applied to such business.

It would have been very beneficial if debt attaching to viable businesses impacted could have also been put into hibernation. This would give otherwise viable businesses the best chance of survival post lockdown. For many firms in the retail and hospitality sectors, if they do not have the cash reserves to manage change, along with dealing with pandemic debt, we could see many closures.

Enterprise

Some sectors of business have done better than others. We are seeing particular opportunities to help business in:

  • New FDI enquiries decreased from March 2020, but we have noticed a particular interest in new businesses establishing in Ireland post-Brexit.

  • Many family and owner-managed businesses have taken time during the pandemic to consider how they are structured, where they are in the business lifecycle, and the planning they should put in place to meet their goals.

  • Veterinary is a particular sector in which we specialise. Many of these practices have seen an increase in business and we are helping them incorporate, manage their business finances and extract value in the sale of their practices.

  • Many food and agri clients have had to pivot and focus on exporting to markets outside the UK. Strategically, they also need to carefully consider what sustainable growth means to them and how they widen the market for their product.

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