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Accountants as therapists


Accountants occupy such a crucial role in business that it is amazing they do not rule the world.

They are required to know and interpret the law. They are expected to be oracles, divining the subtle winds of change that gust ever so gently through the accounting ledgers.

In the modern age, they are the consulting gurus. They are trusted advisors to their clients who are supposed to know just about everything.

In this they have one crucial advantage over other advisors: they have clients in different sectors and businesses and that gives them a bird’s eye view of the land. They see how different businesses react to different challenges, and from that they can see what works and what doesn’t. That market intelligence is pure gold – yet, most accountants give it away for free.

You could look at accountants in practice as therapists. What they offer is purpose and hope, says Joe Woodard of Woodard Events LLC, writing in Accounting Web.

Many people attend therapy sessions, not to find out what they are doing wrong, but for affirmation that they are doing things right. It’s the same with accountants. The figures will show where the company is doing things right. A little tweak here and there will correct those area that need correction.

The problem with accountants is they have a very limited view of their role in the business world. Ask them what services they provide and they will tell you “compliance and keeping the books up-to-date”.

That’s really selling themselves short. Here’s a list of what Woodard calls “transformative work”. How many of these do you provide?

  • Psychological well-being
  • Knowledge
  • Solutions
  • Process
  • Time back (i.e. adaptive capacity)
  • Direction
  • Opportunity
  • Measurements/metrics
  • Automation
  • Standardisation
  • Leadership
  • Coaching
  • Profits
  • Scalability
  • Work-life harmonisation
  • Financial security
  • Strategic planning
  • Visibility/clarity
  • Stability

You’ll notice that most of these are hardly technical or compliance-related. These services have to do with peace of mind. Fewer than 20% of accountants surveyed by Woodard consistently provide transformation work like financial analysis, business coaching and technology advisory.

Let’s take just one example: financial analysis. We assume managers know what trends to look for in their figures. That’s what they’re paid to do. But accountants often see trends missed by their clients. Accountants are expected to be able to read the tea leaves and warn on impending disaster. It is always a good idea to have a slightly pessimistic view of things in the business world. Things may be good this year, but we need to plan for a time when things turn bad.

We can sit and complain about the economy not growing, but that is a shmuck’s game. Everyone else and everything else is responsible for our well being. That’s guaranteed to drive us into the sewer.

If you sit and listen to your client whingeing about the bad economy, you are killing him. Tell him to wipe his nose, stop crying and get busy. If his sales staff are not selling, get the MD on the road. By-pass the sales staff and show them how it is done.

Stop your client spending on needless things

If times are good and the company is rolling in money, it’s a certainty that the MD will want to buy himself a new car, and move to a better neighbourhood. Stop him. In good times, he should be stashing away reserves and economising, preparing for a time when things are not so good. Oh, and tell him that he can never access these reserves. They can be used for the acquisition of fixed assets only, which would in turn allow for the expansion of production. These reserves are not a petty cash box to bail the company out of any fix it gets into.

Another mistake accountants make is to sit back and watch as their clients scale back marketing and promotion when times get hard. Big mistake. They should be accelerating marketing and promotion during lean times. If they don’t, they are guaranteed to emerge smaller and less relevant when times get better.

The other big mistake accountants make is to assume business is a product of the economy. It is not. It is a product of the efforts and drive of the people in the company. The economy has nothing to do with it.

So take your assigned role as therapist seriously. Jump in there. They need you. And don’t listen to sob stories. Remember, the world eats victims, so don’t let your clients become lunch.