Practice Management Strategy

Coronavirus & accountants series, conclusion: Colby McGeachy

And some observations from this week's 5-part series

Author: Jeff Buckstein

OTTAWA, April 3, 2020 – In this week-long series on how coronavirus and COVID-19 is affecting accounting firms and sole practitioners, we have profiled six accounting firms across Canada. Read our profiles of DSK LLP of Cambridge and Kitchener; Andersen Tax of Vancouver and Calgary; Ish Jindal CPA Professional Corporation of Toronto and Woodbridge, Ont.; and sole practitioners Catherine Barrie and Larry Hemeryck of Ontario. Today we conclude our series with Colby McGeachy Professional Corporation of Almonte, Ont. 

“Both the practitioners and the staff were very wary of having anyone step through the door,” says Angela Rogers, the office administrator for Colby McGeachy Professional Corporation in Almonte, Ont., who notes that, moreover, a very high percentage of the firm’s clients that prefer to come to the office are elderly and/or immune compromised. 

As a result, the firm implemented a ‘no face-to-face’ policy, along with a mail slot for clients just outside the door to leave hard copy tax documents or upload a digital version thereof. The majority of conversations with clients are via the phone. 

Colby McGeachy also has a signing station for clients. 

“We have hand sanitizer at our signing station. If people need to come to sign their documents they can come in the door, sit at the signing station, distribute the signed papers in a quarantine box for 24 to 48 hours, keep the pen they signed with and sanitize on the way out. After they leave, we wipe down the station and the door handles,” Rogers explains. 

“We have also been doing a hard surface wipe down every night for our front desk, and the railings on the stairs leading up to the office,” she adds. 

Colby McGeachy has seen a higher percentage of drop-off documents this year compared to previous years. “With fears of lockdowns and self-quarantine, it seems more people just want to get their papers to us as soon as possible,” Rogers says.

Observations from our five-part series

In the course of Canadian Accountant's five-part series on how Canadian accounting firms are coping with the challenges of coronavirus and COVID-19, one issue emerged above all others: clients (including potential clients) who insist on visiting firms in-person. Ironically, these clients tend to be among the demographic most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic — they are senior citizens who have not embraced the digital age and virtual communications. It cannot be emphasized enough that these individuals, regardless of the importance of their financial situations, place the staff of accounting firms at risk. “Our concerns are related to the volume of traffic that we have coming through the office," said Jason Kingston of DSK LLP in Kitchener. "We know that people may be carrying without exhibiting symptoms — this goes for the flu as well as for Covid-19.”

Firms are doing all they can to address the situation. Some use virtual sharing options such as Dropbox, if they have not move their entire operations to the cloud, and have taken safety precautions such as sending staff home, wiping down common areas, limiting personal contact and more. But, as we know from our reporting on the professional practices, most sole practitioners and small to medium-size accounting firms rely on a mix of both personal and corporate tax returns as revenue sources. As one sole practitioner said about coronavirus, “If it was any other time of year, it would be so much easier.”

Another theme of the series was the general sense of gratitude among accountants in public practice for the extension of tax deadlines by the federal government. But with that gratitude came both concern and frustration that the government took too long to announce the extensions. "We hope Finance and CRA officials are closely monitoring the situation," said Steven Flynn of Andersen Tax LLP. "If we continue in our current state, further extensions of these June filing deadlines will be required."

Canadian Accountant will continue to follow developments and report on how coronavirus continues to affect the accounting profession. If you never want to miss a story on Canadian Accountant, subscribe to our weekly newsletter (distributed on Fridays) for a list of links to all the stories posted each week.

Jeff Buckstein, CPA, CGA is an Ottawa-based freelance business journalist. (Colin Ellis contributed the observations from the series.) Read the full series in order: 

Coronavirus & accountants: 6 accounting firms speak out
Coronavirus & accountants series, part two: Andersen Tax LLP
Coronavirus & accountants series, part three: Ish Jindal CPA
Coronavirus & accountants series, part four: Sole practitioners
Coronavirus & accountants series, conclusion: Colby McGeachy

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