Surviving COVID-19 and the MCO in Malaysia: The opportunity for accountants

As businesses around the world struggle to manage the business impacts of Covid-19, Lily Yong of InTune Outsourcing is on a mission to create positivity in adversity.

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Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, InTune Outsourcing was founded in 2007 by husband and wife team Alex Wong and Lily Yong. Having experienced the grunt of the Big Four in their early career, Alex and Lily saw a gap in the market for small and medium-sized businesses to access quality yet affordable accounting and financial advisory services. InTune Outsourcing believes “every small business and medium enterprise can become large” – and are on a mission to help small businesses succeed.

Getting a headstart

Lily recounts to what she refers to as a “dinosaur” age when InTune Outsourcing was founded in 2007 – desktop software and on-premise servers restricting accounting work to the physical office; working from home and remote collaboration – these were remote possibilities! 

Fast-forward to 2016, InTune Outsourcing had a vision of the future of finance, and how the cloud was at the core of it. Then, they made the decision to undergo a complete migration from outdated desktop software and servers, embraced the cloud fully, and haven’t looked back. While the practice has reaped many benefits from being on the cloud, these benefits have never been more prevalent than in the current Covid-19 pandemic. 

One day’s notice

On the evening of 16 March 2020, the Malaysian government ordered a Movement Control Order (MCO) to take effect from 18 March, initially set to last 14 days, which has since been extended by four more weeks (at the time of this writing). The MCO orders the shut down of all non-essential businesses, leaving Malaysian employers and workers with just one day to put in place business continuity plans, procure hardware and implement technology tools.

“We feel so lucky that we’re already on the cloud, using Xero, which has been key to sustaining our practice, staff and client operations,” says Lily. With client interests as its number one priority, InTune Outsourcing even upgraded the mobile data plan for its staff members to ensure they can continue to access and work on client data remotely, minimising the disruption to client services. Today, InTune Outsourcing’s clients continue to be serviced with a myriad of digital apps, including Xero, Camscanner, Zoom and WhatsApp. 

quote

We feel so lucky that we’re already on the cloud, using Xero, which has been key to sustaining our practice, staff and client operations.

- Lily Yong, InTune Outsourcing

Is there anything she wishes she’d done earlier? “Yes, of course!” says Lily. “We wish we’d equipped all our staff with laptops earlier, and had flexible-work policies in place.” Lily also wishes they’d built out an online sales channel earlier. “InTune Outsourcing has done well by relying on referral business, but we’re going to use this opportunity to build out our online presence, revamp our website, and have engaged an SEO consultant to help us reach new clients online.”

Tracking value delivered, not time spent

InTune Outsourcing was quick to pivot from the traditional 9-to-5 workday to one that helps its staff maximise productivity flexibly. In line with this, InTune Outsourcing’s staff are now masters of their own time and are measured by their output and deliverables, not the hours they put in. “We are receiving staff emails at all hours of the day. Our staff, especially working moms with young children to care for during the day, appreciate being able to dictate their workday and create their own version of work-life balance.”

The same principle is extended out to InTune Outsourcing’s clients. InTune Outsourcing has always approached client-billing on a fixed-fee model, as opposed to time-based billing. To Lily, this means InTune Outsourcing can continue to live up to its client promise despite current circumstances.

“Doing everything in our power to help our clients stay afloat”

An online survey of over 15,000 Malaysian SMEs, conducted by the SME Association of Malaysia (SME Malaysia), found that 33 per cent of respondents have just enough cash flow for them to pull through in March, while 37.8 per cent can only sustain themselves until April 2020.

InTune Outsourcing is passionate about doing everything they can to help its clients’ businesses stay afloat. Among these initiatives are:

1.

Introducing deferred payment plans to give clients the flexibility to pay part of their fees later (the initial partial payment also helps InTune Outsourcing’s own business sustain)

2.

Offering additional services for clients at no additional cost. “When the Malaysian government introduced the stimulus package for businesses, we saw an opportunity to come up with our own stimulus package for our clients. We call it the ‘InTune Customer Care Programme’. This includes consulting with them on their eligibility for government aid and assisting them in the application process,” explained Lily.

The Malaysian government announced a second stimulus package, themed “Prihatin Rakyat” (caring for people) on 27 March 2020. By 1 April, InTune Outsourcing had communicated to all clients about the “extra services we are offering at no cost, to help you tide over the current difficult times.” By the end of the third week in April, eligible In-Tune clients had received payouts from the government’s wage subsidy scheme.

In addition to consulting on government aid, InTune Outsourcing also introduced an additional stream of consulting services, made possible with a cash flow modelling tool, to help clients gain visibility on their run-rate and plan for future scenarios. The MCO has not stopped In-Tune from providing these services – these 1-on-1 consultations now take place over Zoom.

quote

When the Malaysian government introduced the stimulus package for businesses, we saw an opportunity to come up with our own stimulus package for our clients. We call it the ‘InTune Customer Care Programme’.

- Lily Yong, InTune Outsourcing

Lily's work from home setup

3.

Conducting a series of Facebook Live webinars discussing available government grants and eligibility for businesses. According to SME Malaysia’s survey, 77.6 per cent of Malaysian SMEs have yet to apply for the special relief fund. “The Facebook webinars came about as an initiative to help our clients, many of whom were struggling to make sense of available government aids and their eligibility,” said Lily. “We started hosting webinars so we can address our clients’ needs at scale. We were even happier to learn that our webinars were able to reach and help more Malaysian businesses outside of our clientele base.”

As the webinars gained traction, the topics expanded beyond the scope of finance – Lily figured their clients would also need help in other areas of their business. “We invited a business coach to join the webinars and share expertise on sales process innovation; we got a lawyer to come in to discuss the employment law and provide advice for managing salary costs; we invited a loan expert to shed light on loan options that were available to help meet cash flow demands, a digital marketing expert… we did all this with the ultimate goal of helping small businesses stay afloat, regardless of whether they were our clients.” 

4.

Fast-track the adoption of new tools. According to SME Malaysia’s survey, four per cent out of the 22.5 per cent of Malaysian businesses who applied for loans faced rejection from banks. In order to increase their chances of securing loans, businesses had to ensure their books were in order. “In anticipation of the increased demand for bookkeeping services, we doubled down on our adoption of Hubdoc, a data automation tool which was introduced in Xero on 18 March 2020. We told our clients to courier their accounting documents to the homes of our staff members, who would then use Hubdoc to digitise and process them. This was a huge move for us as we’d never had to give our staff’s home addresses to clients,” Lily laughed. 

We told our clients to courier their accounting documents to the homes of our staff members, who would then use Hubdoc to digitise and process them.

Manage yourself, then you can manage others

Without a doubt, InTune Outsourcing’s staff have had to put in additional hours during this period to learn new information, adopt new tools, and meet increasing client demands. Lily says the key to motivating her team is by articulating clear goals, helping them understand and find meaning and purpose in their mission to help SMEs.

InTune Outsourcing also encourages its team to be open about sharing challenges and form their own support groups. Working moms, in particular, have been able to benefit from these sharing sessions. 

“Only if I can manage myself and stay positive, then can I motivate my team. It starts with a positive mindset and everything else (having to learn new tools, work extra hours…) – those are the easy parts!” Lily’s tips on staying positive include staying connected with family and friends, and regular meditation and exercise.  

Sink or swim, it’s your choice

No one can predict how long the Covid-19 pandemic will last. One thing is for sure – businesses are already impacted today, and many will take time to get back on their feet again. “It’s important for business owners to grasp the reality of the situation, and take actions now to guarantee the future survival of their business.” Lily has turned this challenge into an opportunity to reflect on current business models, review current business processes, and think, “what’s next? The survival of businesses will be for that of the strongest and most resilient.”

The Covid-19 experience has equally been a breakthrough for InTune Outsourcing. “New tools such as Hubdoc, Zoom and the cash flow modelling tool – they were all new territory for me! The key is not being shy to ask when you’re unsure, and always be opening to learning new things. With the MCO now, this is the best time to do so!”

In closing, Lily urges accounting professionals to rise out of the challenge and put their accounting expertise into good use. “When times are good, it’s easy to keep your clients happy. But it’s when you help them tide through tough times that they will stay with you.”

If you are a Malaysian business that has been impacted by Covid-19, InTune Outsourcing is offering their customer care packages starting from MYR 299. To learn more, get in touch here.

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