How to stop being a boring accountant

Three months ago I asked “Is it old fashioned to be a boring accountant?” The responses to that article on AccountingWEB varied from those who accept that they are boring, to those who recognise that others may find them boring, to those who delight in being perceived as boring.

Clearly being boring or being perceived as boring is not a problem for everyone. In this follow up article I want to outline one of the key things accountants can do to reduce the number of people who consider them to be boring. If you don’t mind being associated with the archetypal boring accountant then this article is not for you.

When I say that ‘Boring is Optional’ some people suggest I am wrong to focus on this issue. They say that by doing so I am perpetuating a negative image of accountants. If I thought that were true I would stop. But I am quite sure that the stereotyping needs no help from me. This is evident even simply from my tracking of references to “boring accountant” on twitter.  There are new posts every day, many from young people, hundreds of whom seem convinced that all accountants are boring.

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Comments
Bob Harper's picture

Time    1 thanks

Bob Harper | | Permalink

@Mark - recording time is boring and basing the fees on time produces boring firms and people because they are internally focussed.

Switch the focus to value and accountants may start to be interesting because they're interested.

Bob Harper

Crunchers | Alternative Accountants

Paul Scholes's picture

Count me in....    1 thanks

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

My name's Paul and I am a bored accountant. So I'm trying to do as little accounting as possible and recommend this solution to others.

johnjenkins's picture

ohoh

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Bob, your worse than me. @Mark. Missed your first article. I have a question. Is it clients that think their Accountants are boring, people that don't have Accountants that think Accountancy is boring or don't we know?

@Paul. Is it doing as little as possible or Bob's "value" brand you are recommending?  

I have never found Accountancy boring and I've been in it in some way shape or form for 47 years. I think there are boring people in every walk of life. We shouldn't really call them boring. I suppose lively people will always call less lively people boring. Or do you call the person that goes on and on and on boring. I find Paxman boring yet Clarkson exciting. (could be the motors)

bookmarklee's picture

@johnjenkins

bookmarklee | | Permalink

1 - Be good if we could keep the Bob and John show to the other thread that has you both so engaged, entertaining though it is....

2 - I am both astonished and disappointed by the number of people who assume accountants are boring. Some of them have accountants, but most I suspect do not and are simply repeating the stereotyping they have heard others reference.

3 - Absolutely agree that boredom is in the mind of the beholder (as it were). There are, as you say, plenty of boring people in all walks of life and the people I find boring may not be the same as those whom you find boring (and vice versa).

Mark

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ireallyshouldkn... | | Permalink

The only I find boring about being an accountant is the half dozen a articles a YEAR you see with this as the theme.

Its a very very tired and yes very very boring.

 

 

bookmarklee's picture

@ireallyshouldknowbetter

bookmarklee | | Permalink

I'm intrigued and would be fascinated to know what it is you read. I've looked around and have not found it is a common subject for articles. Indeed that was one of the reasons I focused on this.  If I've missed as many as you seem to suggest exist then either they are not online or Google isn't doing a very good job.

Mark

.    1 thanks

ireallyshouldkn... | | Permalink

there is one in Accountancy (or ecnomoma as it is now) at least annually, or at least it seemed to be when I stopped reading it.

There used to be one in the defunct Accountancy Age regularly.

It also pops up in all sorts of articles and magazines etc when talking about accountants, usually something along the lines of "accountant? Boring? Not us! Ha Ha Ha"

Although to be fair accountants think in terms of years not moths so I am probably exaggerating the frequency.

Q quick google throws up heaps of them, including one by you in 2011.
 

Anyway ignore my ranting, I do normally enjoy your articles.

 

Get a life!    3 thanks

Cambridge Business | | Permalink

If anyone is concerned about becoming boring, help others.

Helping others, which usually involves you in community matters, is the most rewarding thing you can do: and gives you a perspective on issues that will ensure that when talking to people no anything, you will demonstrate knowledge and empathy.

I agree with Stephen Covey's assessment of "understanding first then being understood" being the critical step.

This can be anything: charity work, sports coaching, community associations, town twinning, CAB, scouts, guides, school governorship etc etc.  Helping young people is the most rewarding part of helping others and then work starts to be a less important part of your life and you get more out of it.

That sounds dull does't it!

Do everything with a smile on your face!

petersaxton's picture

Difference between doing and watching it be done    6 thanks

petersaxton | | Permalink

Some people think accountancy is boring because they are bored by watching an accountant prepare a set of accounts.

Some people think chess is boring because they are bored by watching two people play chess.

I don't think most accountants or chess players think accounting or chess is boring.

Only a small proportion of my time is spent preparing accounts or tax returns. The majority of my time is spent talking to people about solutions or dealing with issues.

Not everybody can be Prime Minister or a professional footballer. People may think that jobs like that are glamorous but they don't think about the time David Cameron has to spend understanding subjects, the time the footballers have to spend training, tennis players and musicians have to spend practicing.

People want to be on TV with millions of people watching them because they don't understand or want jobs where there is a lot of hard work involved.

People talk about "boring accountants" because they see people writing about "boring accountants" yet these people simply don't understand life. I wonder how many of these people have ever been able to do anything well.

I recommend that people strive to do well in their life and don't try to either conform to the stereotype or artificially try to break it.

Paul Scholes's picture

Nice try Peter    2 thanks

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

I've not done a set of account or a tax return yet this morning but I'm still bored and certainly would far rather be playing chess.

I agree that "accountancy" encompasses a wide range of stuff and I don't regard myself as boring but I have to say that when chatting with friends  (and when I can sometimes stand back and look in) "accountancy" as a whole is a bit boring....isn't it?

I've had to admit, it's taken 40 years of doing it to realise it's never come naturally to me!

petersaxton's picture

What's exciting when you look at it as a whole?    1 thanks

petersaxton | | Permalink

What employment would you consider exciting?

Even things you would enjoy doing have many hours which would be considered boring.

Kent accountant's picture

Anything can be...    1 thanks

Kent accountant | | Permalink

...boring if you'd rather be doing something else.

Lion taming on the other hand...

well I am

justsotax | | Permalink

sure jumping out of a balloon 25 miles up is exciting....but i am thinking the ride up must have been a little tedious....(perhaps he did his 1040 on the way....)

johnjenkins's picture

He Could have

johnjenkins | | Permalink

audited the Euro accounts on the way up and dropped them off on the way down.

I wouldn't think of myself as being bored until...

exceljockey | | Permalink

a client comes along and they have a really exciting business, usually something that no one else is really doing.

Steven Covey starts his 7 habits book by asking the reader to imagine people talking delivering eulogies at the readers funeral - what would the reader like people to say about them. 

When viewed in this context accounting can seem boring (no one wants to be remembered for being able to balance a balance sheet or reconcile a bank statement) and possibly they way to avoid being boring is to have activities and interests outside of accounting. 

I met an accountant recently who I thought was really boring but after getting to know him I realised that he had an illustrious sporting career prior to becoming and accountant and now I really enjoy meeting him for a chat and we don't talk of accounting.

In another life I worked for a tax consultancy and one of the product offerings required the customer to view 2 hours of tax related videos before the product (tax insurance) started. They wanted to sell it to a guy who owned a chain of strip clubs and I had to explain to my boss that an owner of a strip club would never in a million years watch a tax video. 

Guys were so internally focused that they had no comprehension of how the rest of the world viewed them as incredibly boring!

jndavs's picture

zzzzzzzzzzzz

jndavs | | Permalink

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

yawn

eh what?

White knuckles

leon0001 | | Permalink

These days professional life is way too frightening to allow the luxury of boredom. Just tell people that thinking about POCA takes up most of your time...

MH1982's picture

Boredom

MH1982 | | Permalink

What is 'boring'? I'm bored by people who do and talk about extreme sports, yet extreme sports are seldom described as boring.

I find some of my colleagues boring but not because they are accountants but because they are boring, indeed, generally, the only time I do find them 'interesting' is when we're talking 'shop'.

People may say a website for accountants, discussing and reading about accountancy would be boring, but I find it very interesting

Could be worse?

The Black Knight | | Permalink

You could have been an engineer and how boring are they?

The trick is to leave the technical bit behind closed doors.

I think the boring accountant thing is really about us being "too clever by half" and because we can do black magic like comprehension and maths.(or arithmetic as we would call it)

You will never satisfy a client who thinks you add up for a living and are expensive doing that.

Although perhaps the point is that the good client wanted an accountant to help with his business, tax and accounts and apart from the initial impression, he probably doesn't care what you wear or even if you are boring or not.

There were some valid points in Marks article about not being perceived as boring.....As he says To be interesting, be interested.

It is quite difficult when to do your role properly you have to answer easy questions with complex answers or several answers and cover your behind at the same time and then argue against the advice they received in the pub that was better. Sometimes you just watch their eyes glaze over and you reach the conclusion they are never going to grasp what you have just explained.

hypnotherapy may be the answer    1 thanks

npreynolds | | Permalink

Providing hypnotherapy services i think might be interesting, i think i would be good  at it, i think i'm a natural. People often fall asleep when i am talking to them.

You can see why the    1 thanks

DominicAhern | | Permalink

You can see why the stereotype exists. Many of the compliance and rule based issues accountants advise on are inherently tedious.

Accountants make a lot of effort to train and then continue to be well informed and it's very difficult for 'lay' folk to feel engaged.

I think the convergence of accounting standards and emphasis on the principal based approach is helpful in being able to communicate accounting treatments. It's just a shame we still have to deal with HMRC's arcane rules around taxation.

I guess the key theme above about communication and engagement is key. Easier said than done, and also a challenge to find accountants that are as happy to have their head in a book and quiver as they discover technical nuggets as they are to engage on their clients' level.

So sad to hear that    2 thanks

debbie pearce | | Permalink

So sad to hear that accountants are so bored, I love what I do and think I can talk tax to those who want to know in an interesting way.

I had to give a 10 minute presentation at a networking event recently and it was clear that my fellow networkers were not looking forward to it - expecting it to be boring.

It only took a few anecdotes from tax history to brighten it up and I was complimented on how interesting tax can be.

Thanks Mark for an interesting article

Paul Scholes's picture

It's not all gloom Debbie    1 thanks

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

You are right to punch a bit of a whole in the doom & gloom and, despite what I say above, I do still have those moments you describe above, for example, when a client is completely lost or stressed on an issue and I can put their mind at rest.

There is also a world of difference in being a boring and bored accountant. 

I'm in the latter category (I think) probably because, after years of non-stop numbers & tax, I've found there's other things of interest out there and that a day or two (or three) of my time might be better spent, more fulfilling and certainly more valuable (in a non-cash way), working on them.

After many years of my kids & wife telling me to get a life, the penny has finally dropped. But that's me now, not 30-40 years ago.

On the topic of being boring as an industry, my approach to meeting new people has always been to not mention that I'm an accountant, until forced to do so.  Have a chat about other stuff, interests and even tell jokes to at least give the impression you're normal, then drop the bombshell. The best reaction I've ever had is "you're joking!"

petersaxton's picture

Balance    3 thanks

petersaxton | | Permalink

I know I'm the last person to be lecturing about balance as I've been an extremist all my life!

Paul, I'd certainly say you are not boring but I don't think you should be bored either. You can still enjoy accounting as well as other things in your life as I am sure Debbie does, too.

Paul Scholes's picture

Thanks Peter

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Nice try again.  As I say above I don't think I was born to it, I just got started on the crazy, sexy accounting rollercoaster all those years ago and it's so difficult to get off!

I'm thinking I need to find something constructive to do rather than help and watch others do it.

Good weekend

 

 

"Accountancy was my life.....

leon0001 | | Permalink

......... until I discovered Smirnoff."

A partner in my old firm still had this poster on his wall around 15 years ago. I wonder if you can still get copies? 

petersaxton's picture

Wonder no more

petersaxton | | Permalink
excelaccountz's picture

what is boring?

excelaccountz | | Permalink

If an accountant can speak to his clients about how is business going, what marketing they do, how do they get information about product / service profitability, HR issues & how to mitigate it, the client will be interested to explain.

Once an interest is created, see whether you can give a solution to their problems on the surface level for them to arrive at the solution themselves.

Year end accounts preparation, tax (unless pro actively done) are done after the event has happened, which do not take precedence.

Srinivas Ram

Excel Accountants, Leeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

srinivas is right

npreynolds | | Permalink

Hi

I agree with you srinivas.

there is a bigger picture you know.

if we accountants in practise focus on compliance services, clients will not value the service. We will be boring. If we provide added value advice, advice on how to improve profitability, liquidity and such like then clients will hang on every word.

people like to answer questions about themselves and their business, they feel comfortable answering those questions.

And the information they provide allows us accountants to help clients to run their business better and allow them to reach their business and personal goals. But accountants have to know "how things are going"  for their clients before they can provide added.

Business people look forward, they plan for the future. If all the accountant does is look back, count the beans, report the score, then they will bore.

And it so much more enjoyable and rewarding to add value.

 

 

 

 

 

petersaxton's picture

How much?

petersaxton | | Permalink

How much will clients pay for the service you suggest?

johnjenkins's picture

@npreynolds and srinivas

johnjenkins | | Permalink

you're not on the Bob Harper payroll are you?

excelaccountz's picture

fee levels

excelaccountz | | Permalink

To answer to your query Peter Saxton, I tend to do it while talking over phone or discussing about client issues.  

We are not going to become management consultants but pointing your client in the right direction.  If they benefited, then this can be used as an opportunity for increase in fee levels next year by justifying cost savings to them.

Excel Acoountants, Leeds

WWW.ExcelAccountz.co.uk

 

 

 

 

petersaxton's picture

I think most accountants

petersaxton | | Permalink

give some advice like that.

To give really effective advice you need to understand their market a lot more and most clients understand their market better than an accountant. To advice a client properly would involve a lot of extra fees. Would the client be willing to pay for this advice?

Paul Scholes's picture

Being bored & doing things properly

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

If you enjoy compliance work, there's enough around, you make OK fees and - whether they see you as boring or not - your clients appreciate what you do, then the only reason to stop or shift gear/direction would be if any of those 4 elements was at risk.

This is what happened to me some time ago and so the compliance work is as low and efficient as I can get it and what I saw - and is described abbove - as "added value" work 10 years ago is now just work and, whilst I understand how others may find that exciting and a challenge I now also find it boring. Hey ho

Peter - is that a rhetorical question or your own experience?  If the latter do you tell your clients you can't act properly for them? 

Obviously you don't push advice/services where they are not wanted or needed but surely there's a case for identifying where a client might benefit from extra advice/services and, at least, giving them the option?

johnjenkins's picture

But doesn't giving

johnjenkins | | Permalink

client options come naturally without thinking of it as "extra value"?

petersaxton's picture

not rhetorical

petersaxton | | Permalink

I may charge £500 to £1,500 for accounts and tax. To give proper advice I would have to charge a lot more. I don't think it's a question of not acting properly. Most, if not all, of my clients wouldn't want to pay that.

petersaxton's picture

My experience

petersaxton | | Permalink

I used to know an accountant who would obtain consultancy work via the Institute of Directors. He would meet the clients and quite often he saw that they needed an accountant so he would bring me in.

We would have meetings and it was decided that tasks would be set to be done before the next meeting.

When the next meeting took place the consultant and myself would bring along the work that we had done as agreed but without fail the client had not done what they had been set. The clients tasks were usually less onerous but still vital. After a few of these meetings invariably the client decided that it was pointless paying the consultant without making sufficient progress and got rid of him!

fees for added value

npreynolds | | Permalink

Are clients happy to pay?

Yes

i think it is important to label the service. Clients have to percieve this is a separate service. 

We attend as trusted advisers board meetings of corporate clients. Clients ask for advice on specific business development. I have advised recently a client who plans to sell shares in a company where a shareholder agreement and personal guarantees complicate matters. Another client wanted advice on timing, tax implications, structuring and the commercial considerations for the shareholder agreement in relation to a gift of shares to a helpful  friend.Clients know they should consult us before they start letting property. Clients know we need to meet or at least discuss planning issues before their year end.

So whether we attend a board meeting or give ad hoc advice the client knows they are paying, We accountant i think have to give clear message to clients on fees for added value advice.

 

 

Paul Scholes's picture

Acting improperly?

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

John - yes, identifying a possible avenue for a client and letting them know about it and the likely cost of doing it, is just acting properly for the client, whether or not it's you that provides the service or the client takes it up.

Peter, I'm going to assume you've asked clients and so, by saying you are not acting properly, ie you are acting improperly(?) you mean they have said they are not interested.

In reality, unless you filter your clients and only act for robots, and in a country where nothing much changes, then there will always be a spectrum of advice & work, whether it's only within compliance or incorporates other routine or adhoc services (eg business management advice),  so again I just see this as "work" and what might be "added value" to one client might be "accountancy" to another.

petersaxton's picture

Don't make it up

petersaxton | | Permalink

"by saying you are not acting properly, ie you are acting improperly(?) you mean they have said they are not interested."

When did I say I was not acting properly?

You seem to be doing a Bob Harper.