Throughout 2020, the JobKeeper payment scheme was a lifeline for many businesses and individuals alike. The Government designed it to help businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID-19, and introduced it during March 2020 to help prevent business closures and job losses. The scheme has been extended a few times since then, and despite murmurs around a more ‘targeted’ state and industry type extension, the official scheduled JobKeeper end date is 28 March 2021.
We talk to Brett Isenberg, Octet’s Chief Commercial Officer, about JobKeeper, its impact on the Australian economy, and what the future might look like without it.
JobKeeper: a lifeline
Q: What were the positives of having the JobKeeper payment scheme? Did it do what it was meant to?
There’s no doubt that JobKeeper was a required measure. When the scheme was introduced back in March, COVID-19 had already begun to seriously affect healthcare systems and lives around the world, and there was real concern that the same thing would happen here.
Our government moved quickly, both with lockdowns and financial support to help businesses with the inevitable economic downturn.
From that angle, JobKeeper has been a big win. For businesses that couldn’t sell (or had limited capacity to), JobKeeper provided vital cash flow to cover operational costs. It also helped businesses to retain employees and ride out the lockdown periods.
Without measures such as JobKeeper and tax relief, we’d be looking at a very different economy today. These measures have provided businesses with much-needed cash flow, helped to keep consumer spending alive, and – to date – helped us to avoid serious economic fallout.
A year of mixed fortunes
Q: It sounds like JobKeeper was a big win for businesses and employees alike. But what were the downsides? And what could have been done better?
To understand the flipside of JobKeeper, we need to consider what’s happened in our economy since March 20.
What we’ve seen is a real dichotomy of fortunes, with results that vary according to industry and state. Until very recently, Western Australia has remained virtually untouched by COVID-19, while Victoria has experienced some of the strongest restrictions in the world. Each state has run at a different pace, which essentially means that we now have six or seven different economies running in the one country.
On top of that, we’ve seen huge variations across different industries. Tourism and hospitality have taken massive hits, while eCommerce has absolutely boomed, especially across certain categories.
I think the biggest problem with JobKeeper is the fact that it’s been a blanket solution to deal with a host of different problems. Broad initial eligibility rules meant that businesses who were still doing well could adjust their results and continue to receive payments. This, in turn, has meant that some businesses have ended up in a stronger position than they were in before the pandemic, with extra cash flow and less business stress. Some businesses are now even (considering) returning a portion of their JobKeeper subsidies due to their stronger than anticipated financial position.
Meanwhile, investor confidence has soared, with an unprecedented stock market boom from the end of March. Consumer confidence has also continued as eCommerce saw its biggest growth in history.
While this all sounds positive on the surface, it points to real concerns about what happens when JobKeeper ends. The blanket approach has helped to mask any potential issues, such as ‘zombie companies’ which include businesses that use the payments to simply keep afloat without adapting to change.
Overall, I don’t believe we’ll see the true economic impact of COVID-19 for another 12-24 months.
I think a more considered approach, with regular and specific monitoring by industry and state, would have helped to create a more stable outcome.
A future without JobKeeper
Q: Do you think it’s a good time to end JobKeeper? Are Australian businesses ready for it?
Australian businesses need to be ready. They’ve had a good 8-9 months to consider their position and plan for what lies ahead. While many businesses have no doubt done this, others have used this time to hibernate or have been reluctant to change. These are the businesses that will struggle and may contribute to bigger economic problems down the track.
Because of this, I think it is a good time to end JobKeeper in its current format. The idea is to help keep the economy moving and keep small-to-medium-sized businesses – the lifeblood of our economy – flowing.
I believe a more targeted approach will help to do exactly that.
Q: What can businesses do to help them prepare for a future without JobKeeper?
Businesses need to plan for what will happen when their cash safety nets are removed. How will they cover costs? How will they adjust their operations? How will they continue to grow revenue?
Knowing when cash is coming in and going out, and having the right tools to deal with fluctuating sales, cover procurement and capture opportunities are all key. Getting the right working capital in place lets businesses capture the opportunities that have come out of the pandemic.
Changes such as remote working and direct selling online have transformed the way many businesses operate. It’s the perfect time to consider what has worked well, what you want to continue doing, and how you can create opportunities to reduce ongoing costs and increase sales.
With flexible finance options, you can take advantage of this time to gain a powerful competitive advantage.
Preparing your business
With the end of JobKeeper payments imminent, now is the time to take control and prepare for a future without it. If you’re looking to secure your working capital position, take a look at our trade finance solutions and talk to us if you’d like to know more.
Disclaimer: The following comments are only our views and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgment. Although information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author’s own judgment as at the date of publication and are subject to change without notice.