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Looking ahead after looking back with COVID-19 challenges

A conversation with RKL’s partners Bethany Novis and Ryan Hurst

Ryan Hurst and Bethany Novis, both partners with RKL LLP.

RKL partners Bethany Novis and Ryan Hurst sat down recently with the Central Penn Business Journal to talk about COVID-19 challenges, as well as looking ahead to what recovery looks like. The full video of their interview is below.

CPBJ: What have these past three months been like? What have you seen as some of the biggest challenges local businesses are facing?

Bethany Novis: One of the biggest factors is really the uncertainty. It sounds so simple, but businesses do so much planning, strategizing and forecasting. The current unprecedented situation really goes against the grain of being prepared and having a plan. The full force of the pandemic and stay at home orders hit so swiftly – many businesses were out of their offices within 24 to 48 hours. Since then, they’ve had to contend with uncertainty as they navigate customer changes, workforce matters, new legislation – it’s really a pace we’ve never seen before.

Ryan Hurst: At first, we were focused on the here and now – what new stimulus was emerging, how we manage through this crisis. Even though we’re seeing more stability now, there’s still uncertainty. What will the new normal look like, will we see a second wave, can businesses be more prepared if that comes to pass – these are the types of questions we’re asking as we look ahead.

CPBJ: As it relates to the swift turn of events, how did RKL respond to the crisis and this new set of needs in the client base that seemingly sprung up over night?

Novis: While no one could have predicted the scale the pandemic’s impact, in one sense the RKL team didn’t really miss a beat when it came to serving our clients. For a number of years now, we’ve been taking a “what’s next?” approach to conversations with our clients. So that didn’t really change even though it became a different, more immediate interpretation of what’s next, not just long-term planning.

Hurst: Another thing I’d note is that we at RKL have long thrived on collaboration and always strive to create cross-disciplinary solutions. This made it easier to tackle these historic challenges versus having everything broken into silos. So many aspects of business planning overlap and the crisis doesn’t know department or functional divisions. So thanks to this approach kind of being baked into RKL’s DNA, our team was able to very quickly pull together a suite of solutions to meet our clients where they were.

CPBJ: There seemed to be one week in May when so many new regulations came out around PPP, what was that like behind the scenes to digest the information and share it with the business community?

Novis: As we were developing our weekly webinar series, we had a big decision to make. In our profession of accounting and business advisory, we are brought up thinking that it is critical to be 100 percent correct. But in that moment, info and updates were flying fast and furious. We said, do we stay silent and wait until we know 100 percent? We figured we’d be waiting forever if we went down that road, so we made the choice to be open and honest with our audience and let them know when things are still unknown or unclear and what information may have evolved. We wanted the business community to know that we are in it with them and that we’re all digging in together to learn and figure it all out.

CPBJ: How did your clients, webinar attendees and others in the broader business community respond to that?

Hurst: I was nervous during our first webinar. I hoped the audience wouldn’t feel like we were letting them down. Instead, our attendees and the business community have really embraced this approach. We keep a sense of humor about all the back and forth and breaking news, and I think that helped form a positive forum. I think sometimes people appreciate transparency and honesty to say here is what I don’t yet know, but if you stick with us, we’ll make our way through.

Novis: It’s been an interesting progression, especially as far as the PPP goes. We have been on a sort of a rollercoaster as the legislation was passed and business owners were very excited, then the SBA regulations came out and more confusion and unease crept in as everyone wanted to make sure they were following the rules. We felt frustrated on behalf of our clients but finally the pendulum seems to have swung back a bit in the other direction with the PPP Flexibility Act removing some of the issues and addressing some of the unknowns.

CPBJ: What’s next on the horizon for companies as most of the state moves into green?
Hovis: I think there’s two maybe concerns. One is living within the guidelines of the phase and realizing that green isn’t completely back to normal. There are still going to be elements of restriction – what does that look like and how do you deal with your workforce? Second, what happens if a second wave emerges? Will there be shutdowns and a move back to “red”? If so, how will businesses respond?

Hurst: Employees are really the biggest resource of a business. How the employees respond to this new environment, like going back into the office or staying remote, will play a big role in the long-term success of a business. We don’t exactly know what’s down the road, but we know that employees will be key.

Bethany Novis, CPA/ABV, CVA, CFE is partner/leader in RKL’s Business Consulting Services Group.

Ryan Hurst,  ASA, is partner/Business Consulting Services Group for RKL.

Watch the full interview below:

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is Associate Publisher/Editorial Director for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@bridgetowermedia.com.

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