If you tuned in to our myprosperity@home series through the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, you would have heard first hand from the accountants and advisers we spoke with about how they were supporting clients in dealing with mental health issues. It stands to reason that advisers will be at the front line of this issue when economic pain is felt and it is often SMEs that cop the brunt of that pain.

Andrew Conway, CEO of IPA, has been a vocal proponent on this subject for some time. In fact, the IPA put out research back in November 2017 indicating 68 per cent of small businesses said that they are “significantly stressed,” and 69 per cent said that their small business is the primary reason for this stress. It’s fair to say that mental health issues amongst SMEs has been a long standing concern which has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic.

Other key players in the advice industry have also gotten behind this cause, for example Xero last month announced a partnership with Beyond Blue in Australia to develop a course that helps advisors understand different ways to care for the mental wellbeing of their clients and themselves. The four-part course covers everything from looking after yourself at home, checking on others to supporting small businesses day to day. It’s now available and free for Xero partners in Australia via Xero Central.

Back to the IPA Survey, 85 per cent of small businesses found engaging an accountant significantly reduced their stress levels. Andrew Conway also noted in a speech he delivered in 2018 that “early studies show that when a small business client engages with their accountant, 95 per cent of them feel a relief in their stress levels,” he said. “We also know that people will turn to their accountant for advice well beyond compliance and audit requirements; this is the power of trust that is divested to us, and one which we must respect and live up to,” he said. It is clear that the advice industry can make a huge impact on this important challenge facing the heart and soul of our economic engine, the SME sector.

So it was welcomed news to see that the government has announced an investment of $2.4M to help train accountants in dealing with mental health issues among their clients. It was reported in Accountants Daily this week that the Department of Innovation, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) has awarded the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre a $2.24 million grant for its Supporting Small Business Advisors for Better Mental Health project to train 5,000 accountants by 2022.

The grant will help fund the rollout of a sector-wide continuous professional development program for accountants and will be delivered by Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CA ANZ), CPA Australia and the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).