Going to see my accountant reminds me of being sent to the headmaster’s office in the third form. Here are five things that would improve our relationship.
1. I want my accountant to understand me
I am not a number, I am not a series of digits; no, I am a person and I have very specific needs.
From where I stand, I am totally unique. No-one else has the same specific problems that I have and no-one else has the same worries and concerns. When I talk about money and my business, I want the other person to have a real interest in me and my aspirations.
My business is my baby; I have nurtured it from conception through its birth, through its first faltering steps and into the healthy infant it now is. This journey has been a total learning curve for me. I spend just about my whole waking life thinking about my business and how I could make it better. I want the accountant on the other side of the desk to understand that.
But how can an accountant understand me? I could never imagine wanting the type of environment that the accountant works in; and the accountant would never want the environment that I work in. That’s why they are accountants and we are "business people". Their concerns are about ratios and balancing the books; my concerns are about where the next piece of work is going to come from, whether the last client wil pay, cashflow and how to continually motivate my staff.
2. I want my accountant to understand business
If I am going to share the intricacies of business and finance with a relative stranger then I want him or her to really understand (or at least be able to empathise with) just how brilliantly skilful I must have been to grow a business despite all the odds. Accountants need to understand the whole picture.
Business is not simply about money – accountants often seem to think that it is! Business is about people; employing and motivating people, getting people to buy from you and finding people to buy from. Business is about sales and marketing and about delivering your service or product.
And business is about passion and dreams and thrills and disappointments – it is a way of life; you don’t work to live – you live to work. A "passionate accountant" is an oxymoron… like "fighting for peace" or "fun run"!
I do not expect an accountant to understand everything about business – but a decent rudimentary understanding is required and not unreasonable.
3. I want my accountant to understand my business
I have specific problems – problems that are specific to my industry, to my market and to the way that I run my business. The accountant should know this and be able to assist with specific industry-related support. At a minimum, a knowledge of benchmark ratios would help. But really I want them to add value – tell me what the accounts mean and tell me what options I have. I want a partner in my business.
4. I want swift action
I will not accept intolerable delays. I want swift actions or, at a minimum, I want the answers to be there when promised. A little courtesy is all that I ask.
What I want, I believe, is relatively simple. How about guaranteed service level agreements (to turn around all work within 14 days or your money back, for example). My last accountant took 14 months to deliver year-end accounts even though they were given all the information within three weeks of the year-end. What was going on there?
5. I want to know what I am paying for
If an accountant charges by the hour then surely they are incentivised to work slowly. Other professional service firms (architects, dentists, doctors) work to a price (and a deadline!), so why can’t accountants? Surely fixed price agreements would incentivise them to work more efficiently?
If mobile phones can charge a series of tariffs for different service/product mixes then why can’t accountants do the same?
Robert Craven spent five years running training and consultancy programmes for entrepreneurial businesses at Warwick Business School. He now runs The Directors' Centre and is described by the Financial Times as "the entrepreneurship guru". For further information, contact Robert Craven on 01225 851044, firstname.lastname@example.org
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