Should accountants worry about their image?

Geoff Trickey, managing director at Psychological Consultancy, examines whether the profession has a ‘boring’ image because of the type of person it attracts and whether this is actually to its advantage. 

All the major professions have developed a public persona, sometimes painstakingly honing an image created over decades or even centuries. For the banks, a Portland stone edifice in classical style architecture was de rigeur; a metaphor for permanence and security. Today it is futuristic architecture that cuts the mustard and, since deregulation and the new bonus culture, Porsches are the preferred accessory. Rogue traders, Frankenstein bonds and endless mis-selling sagas have precipitated a transformation that has been accompanied by a fall from the peaks of wisdom and probity to their current pariah status.

The image of the medical profession is also experiencing something of a setback as services become less personal, less accessible and increasingly uncertain in quality. Gone are the days of infinite public gratitude when everything from a scratch to a fever could be cured with life-saving antibiotics. Nowadays, headlines like ‘Doctors paid £3,000 per shift’ and ‘16,000 GPs are being paid six-figure sums’, ‘more than 600 doctors on more than £200,000’, do little to foster public affection. The clergy hasn’t fared much better, but we won’t go into that.

While many professions seem intent on pursuing the Gerald Ratner school of public relations, accountants remain relatively unscathed. There are some detractors though. An American psychologist suggests limitations in emotional intelligence. Apparently, that means that “accountants are much poorer at working out how they and other people are feeling; they also have very constant moods”. So accountants are less self-obsessed, less emotionally intrusive and more stable than most – when compared with the reputation of other professions, that doesn’t sound too bad does it?

But what kind of image should the accountancy profession pursue? Personally, I like the idea that...

 

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Comments
Paul Scholes's picture

People certainly make my place

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Thanks Geoff - very thought provoking.

The paragraph beginning "There is an argument that "the people make the place"...." would be a great preface for a whole book. 

There is no doubt that "unemotional objectivity" has been seen as a cornerstone of how we go about things, however the majority of humans (clients) that need that approach, tend to need it in short spaces of time, ie in a 10 minute phone call or an hour's meeting, then they get on with the emotional side of their lives at work, rest & play.

My problem therefore is how to maintain that disconnected approach for all those 10 minutes and hours that fill my day and the truth is I can't, and don't want to.  So my "place" is now filled with people who want normal relationships, with only a few odd 10 minutes of accountant.

The status quo of accountancy held on for as long as it could but, as you indicate, change & life have a way of infiltrating and disrupting even the tightest of communities and in my practice life, this is evidenced by the need to adapt or wither, ie by getting more involved in clients' working lives, rather than their bookkeeping.

So the square hole that I used to struggle fitting is finally giving way....just in time for retirement!

Old Greying Accountant's picture

That is a lot of words ...    3 thanks

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... to state the bleedin' obvious - methinks perhaps it is not accountants that are boring!

Whilst there are still  some areas of constraint, society on the whole moving away from boxes, it is only the ineffectual that insist on labelling and grouping, more are becoming enlightened, technology helps this. The beauty of the human is the ability to act randomly and just when you think you understand someone they will go off on an unexpected tangent.

Generally now people are not defined by what they do but what they are.

In any event, boring is subjective, boring is anything you don't like doing or have no interest in, and boring people are those who do or talk about such things

bookmarklee's picture

There are many positive attributes to the descriptor '

bookmarklee | | Permalink

I have addressed this issue in a number of articles on AccountingWEB and in many talks for accountants. In my experience few accountants consider themselves boring (in a negative way) and have only limited interest in exploring why others perceive them this way.

I fail to see any relevance    1 thanks

Lship | | Permalink

I fail to see any relevance to any of this, how can it possibly add any benefit/value to working practice or life.

Surely if all accountants are perceived as boring then clients accept that this is the way it is, equally I don't think 'my accountant was a bit dull' would rank highly on reasons given by a client for switching to a new one.

 

Then again I've never been into the psychological theory side of things, so perhaps just don't get it.

My cat has 4 legs. Dogs have 4 legs, therefore my cat is a dog.    3 thanks

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

One accountant is dull/boring therefore all accountants are dull/boring.

Why worry about “image”. You are who and what you are, some are dull, some are colourful characters, some of quiet and thoughtful, others are gregarious and the life & soul of the party. There are all sorts of accountants, just as there are all sorts of clients. The secret, if there is one, is matching up the clients with the type of accountant that suits them.

As for trying to change your image, surely that borders on being dishonest as you are deliberately giving your client’s a false impression.  

BKD's picture

Giving your client's what a false impression?    3 thanks

BKD | | Permalink

Life in the old dog wrote:

you are deliberately giving your client’s a false impression

Really?

Tom 7000's picture

salesmans rule no 1

Tom 7000 | | Permalink

As a client facing accountant, you are first and foremost the salesman for the business.

As the salesman you must follow the teachings of Drover ( well he's called Alan but everyone calls him Drover for some reason)

His rule number one as a salesman is that it doesnt matter what  'product' you are selling fundamentally you are selling HAPPINESS. When the client walks out of the door or indeed the internal client ( ie staff member) You want them to be happy.

 

If everyone is happy, sales and profits follow.

Did anybody hear the one about substance vs form?

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

Did anybody hear the old one about concerning oneself with the SUBSTANCE of the accounts that you were looking at or auditing, rather than being bamboozled merely by their FORM?

Are people more concerned with their REPUTATION than with their INTEGRITY?

Perhaps if more people concerned themselves with delivering a good and honest SERVICE TO THEIR CLIENTS than with PR and Window Dressing, then our Profession would be a far healthier place.

I'm disappointed that a supposed Psychologist is diverting everybody's attention of focussing their energies on navel gazing, rather than with serving.

Maybe we like it this way!    1 thanks

Vaughan Blake1 | | Permalink

"All the major professions have developed a public persona, sometimes painstakingly honing an image created over decades or even centuries."

Geoff, maybe accountants have too!

Safe, steady, reliable and yes, perhaps boring.  But if you look at the people behind the somewhat generic heading of 'accountant' the reality is that they come in all shapes, sizes and personas.

I do wonder if accountants were seen as boring before Monty Python, or were we just categorised alongside high street bankers, solicitors etc?

The American psychologist is basically describing high level autism.  I have always suspected that statistically the top 5% of the population by intelligence, includes a disproportionately high autistic percentage.    is basically describing high level au 

 

 

Apostrophe    1 thanks

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

BKD wrote:

Life in the old dog wrote:

you are deliberately giving your client’s a false impression

Really?

It seems some certainly conform with the preconception of accountants being pedantic to the point of obsession.

BKD's picture

"Pedantic" ...    2 thanks

BKD | | Permalink

... is my middle name (and I wear it with pride).

But I believe that a punctuation mark that is the preserve of the greengrocer has no place in a forum for professionals.

On Autism......

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

On Autism, and Asperger's Syndrome.....

"Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people." - from www.autism.org.uk - site of The National Autistic Society.

It there a cure?

"There is no know cure for autism. This does not mean, however, that nothing can be done for a person with autism. There is a growing movement within adults with autism who don't think of "curing" autism but, instead, of celebrating difference."

So stop being pedantic, and celebrate difference!

Or recognise a problem, and see how it's effects can be minimised......that is perhaps a more responsible approach.....

 

BKD's picture

Celebrate?

BKD | | Permalink

No, I'm not going to celebrate one of the most common and annoying grammatical errors (of which, by the way, you too are guilty).

stepurhan's picture

Odd spelling    1 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

BKD wrote:
... is my middle name (and I wear it with pride).
Your middle initial is K. Does this mean you are actually Kedantic? :-)

Grammar Pedantry Syndrome

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

O damn, I bunged in an inverted comma by mistake....

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

O damn, I bunged in an inverted comma by mistake....where it didn't belong, in the context of the use of the word....

I'm Guilty as Charged, M'Lud!

I'm dreadfully sorry that I did not in time to correct it see the inadvertent error of my devious way....

Please, Please, Show Me Mercy!

Don't hang me; just Transport me to The Antipodes... word is that Bondi Beach is OK.....

Boring!

Briar | | Permalink

zzzzz...

ShirleyM's picture

If BKD is ked-antic    1 thanks

ShirleyM | | Permalink

... then some people must be kid-antic, as they try to kid us a lot!

Pedanticism abounds in accountancy. It is a desire to have things done correctly, which I think is a good trait in an accountant.

BKD's picture

Not so odd ...

BKD | | Permalink

stepurhan wrote:

BKD wrote:
... is my middle name (and I wear it with pride).
Your middle initial is K. Does this mean you are actually Kedantic? :-)

... if you consider my German background ;¬)

Flash Gordon's picture

Acceptance not cure - Asperger's and Autism    1 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

Why should anyone need curing just because they're different from the majority? If everyone was identical it would be a very dull place. We all have different talents, just some of us like to keep them a bit more to ourselves...

Hello again, Flash of the Different Talents.....

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

Hello again, Flash of the Different Talents....

Sure, life would be very BORING if we were all homogenous.

But communication difficulties can and do impede an individual's capacity to function effectively in areas of that communication; the only people for whom communication impediments do not matter at all are hermits.

Thesis: Hermits do not make Good Accountants.

I know many people who work as Speech Therapists and as other sorts of Therapists, especially working with children, who can transform a person's chances in life at the best time to do so, when they are young. Communication skills CAN be worked on beneficially.

I am having a problem with somebody that is perfectly agreeable in himself as a person, but in respect of whom his communication difficulties are leading to acute problems in the group of which he is the leader.

Important discussions are simply NOT taking place. That is a REAL problem .... my efforts to facilitate were somewhat unrewarding....

Flash Gordon's picture

Agree but...

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I totally agree that communication difficulties do impede functioning but part of that is surely because society as a whole expects everyone to follow the majority's modes of communication and has less patience with those who need to use a different method? For example, an accountant's clients are likely to want to be able to ring up, meet with, email, or write letters to said accountant - a range of methods to suit a range of clients. An accountant (like me) who struggles with phone calls and meetings to such an extent that they don't offer that facility is going to struggle to attract clients. In an ideal world I'd be able to say 'I prefer email' and clients wouldn't be put off by that because they'd accept that everyone is different but in reality people just think 'weirdo'... (If that doesn't make much sense you can blame my communication difficulties!)

Some communication skills can be worked on and improved, without a doubt. But not all. And sometimes they shouldn't need to be i.e. different is just as good.

Some hermits make good accountants; they just don't do so well on the client interaction :)

Regarding your issue - have you tried asking the person how he thinks communication could be improved from his perspective? He may feel that he's being expected to conform to everyone else's methods and actually an alternative way might suit him better and solve the group's problems... 

 

Shocking

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

As someone who is physically disabled and has campaigned against discrimination against the disabled, I consider the comment by BKD suggesting others have  mental disability to be highly offensive.

BKD's picture

Haud yer wheesht    1 thanks

BKD | | Permalink

Life in the old dog wrote:

I consider the comment by BKD suggesting others have  mental disability to be highly offensive.

You started it

Flash Gordon's picture

Shocking?    2 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

What's wrong with acknowledging that some people suffer from mental illness? It might remove the stigma that's attached to it. As someone who could be considered to have a mental disability (Asperger's (awaiting an official diagnosis), suspected Social Anxiety (I'm less convinced), and 'mild' OCD) I don't find it remotely offensive. 

Anyway, to go back to the original article I actually waded through the rather long (for my attention span) complimentary assessment and I'd have to say it reminded me a lot of the various Asperger's tests I've done of late so it didn't really tell me much new. I was hoping I'd get to the end and it would say 'yep, you don't do parties, you're not much keen on people, you should be a .......' but it didn't. No doubt you have to fork out money for that bit.

stepurhan's picture

Pot and kettle    3 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

Life in the old dog wrote:
As someone who is physically disabled and has campaigned against discrimination against the disabled, I consider the comment by BKD suggesting others have  mental disability to be highly offensive.
As BKD said, you can hardly claim foul after posting this.

Life in the old dog wrote:
I found this article quite enlightening    http://www.omg-facts.com/Fun+Facts/Theres-a-syndrome-that-causes-people-to/58266
At least BKD's link was to a medical site of sorts. I hardly think a site calling itself "OMG Facts" is a reliable source of health information. I also cannot help thinking that calling something a syndrome does not make it a mental condition. I could invent "Liking to Eat When You're Hungry Syndrome", a syndrome that affects a huge proportion of the population, though few people have been "diagnosed" with it, I think you will find most people who get wound up about grammar are, in fact, very aware of it. That's not the same as saying it is a mental condition beyond the most broad definition of "it happens within the brain".

Meanwhile real medical conditions, such as depression which I have suffered from, are considered taboo subjects. That is a discrimination that needs addressing.

Flash Gordon's picture

OMG    2 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I suffer from 'Liking to Eat When You're Hungry Syndrome' too, and 'Liking to Eat When You're Not Hungry But Merely Comfort Eating Syndrome' too!

Agree that a syndrome isn't necessarily a mental condition - unfortunately genuine syndromes tend to be seen as such though and then treated with the same stigma. Why depression is still so stigmatised in this day and age is beyond me given the numbers who experience it. Though I don't think that the numbers who claim to have it (or stress), because it makes a convenient excuse for a few days off work, are helping. Now if you say (correctly) that you have depression you're either disbelieved or treated like a leper (or, my personal favourite, told to 'pull yourself together' or 'what have you got to be depressed about?')

 

What is mental illness

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

 

The link I provided was to a site which is clearly "tongue in cheek" and intended to be such. The site provided in reply was obviously not intended in a light hearted way.

 

Picking up the theme of “mental illness” I actually believe that everyone, and I do mean everyone, has something that others might describe as a “mental illness”.  After all, who is to say what is “normal”.

 

Are phobias a form of mental illness? After all it’s not “normal” to be afraid of something that can’t hurt you yet almost everyone has a phobia about something.

 

I am claustrophobic, and that is a condition that is totally misunderstood. Put me in a small room without windows and I am fine, but, put me in a large airy room and lock the door and that is different. People think claustrophobia is fear of confined spaces, it is not, it’s fear of being “trapped”. Situations where you cannot immediately “escape” like being stuck in a supermarket queue or a traffic jam can cause an attack.

 

In short any obsessive or compulsive behaviour becomes a mental illness if it causes behaviour to deviate from what would be considered “normal” by the majority.  

Hello again Flash and    1 thanks

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

Hello again Flash and Stepurham,

For me you both illustrate how irrelevant, in a critical way, disability or illness is, along with all the usual suspects such as gender, class, status, creed, sexual orientation etc, etc

For me it's your behaviour towards others that is all important, which shows a default respect for and acceptance of others as thy are. You have not been embittered by your own struggles, but have built on your own sometimes very painful experiences so as to develop understanding as to how it is or may be for others. For me that is plain uplifting, an I regard you as open and honest people, that I would naturally be interested to work with.

I note in contrast that there are also people that I would never contemplate working with, and who, through their behaviour towards me and others, have long since used up their right to any respect of mine.

You both refer to potentially stigmatising conditions of your own in the Mental / Psychological Health neck of the woods, and somebody else has referred to his or her stigmatising Physical Condition. Stepurham refers, very appropriately, to "taboo subjects".

I make it my everyday business to vigorously challenge such taboos, which can just be based on the fear of the unknown, and of what is not understood: if HE or SHE can suffer depression, then what's to stop ME going that way?

I've been a Metal Health Service User for 22 years, although I am now heading for discharge from that NHS Trust that has served me and cared for me so well, albeit with the odd glitch; I just wish that such Trusts could be called "Mental and Psychological Health Trusts". I have a DPhil, even a Chair in depression, although I finally nailed its primary source, so that I do not anticipate adding to my historical count of three suicide attempts, which are par for the course in respect of where I came from.

"Where I came from" is the subject of what seems to be the Greatest Taboo of All Time; the NSPCC regards it as "not illustrative of our work and scope".

The Head of Child Protection there also wrote "Unfortunately NSPCC is not able to use your story or art work at this present time, however we will keep it on file for future reference."

Stepurham, that's a bit like going to a Psychiatrist or Psychologist who blandly asserts that they simply regard depression as a sign of weakness, and that you should pull yourself together. Get a grip on yourself! Such people simply deny the understandings and facts of that condition, which has many and varied origins.

Separately, calling ChildLine: "I'm beginning to think that something really, really, awful happened to me a long time ago."

NSPCC: "Sorry, that is not within your scope, so we can't help you. We don't do that sort of stuff. Go away."

Child?

-

 

Flash Gordon's picture

Disagree    2 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

Life in the old dog wrote:

In short any obsessive or compulsive behaviour becomes a mental illness if it causes behaviour to deviate from what would be considered “normal” by the majority. 

I'd disagree and would suggest that obsessive or compulsive behaviour only becomes a 'mental illness' when it impacts the individual's life to an extent that it causes suffering or distress. For example, I list what I have in my kitchen cupboards - I have a type-written list and cross items off as they're used (it covers my freezer too, but not my fridge). Now I'm pretty sure that the majority would say that's not normal (you're probably all reading this and rolling your eyes, that's fine). I'm pretty obsessive about it. But I wouldn't class it as mental illness as it's not causing me any worry or distress (well, I'll admit where I've crossed things off and it's no longer as neat does bother me slightly, and I'm a tad agrieved that despite my list I still have things that are out of date). Now if I got distressed at the thought of my list being wrong and had a meltdown, then I'd say it had crossed the boundary into the realms of illness.

It may also interest you to learn that I have my cupboards organised by types of food e.g. I have a section for Chinese, a section for Italian, and so on. I had to expand into other cupboards to fit everything in neatly rather than it being crammed in but it was worth it. I spent quite a few happy moments after that, opening and shutting the cupboard doors just to admire the view! 

And now I'm due at a fitting for my new white jacket - apparently straps at the back are all the rage :) 

Flash Gordon's picture

Mental v Psychological    2 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I can't help thinking that there might be less stigma if it were referred to as Psychological Health rather than Mental Health (difficulties in spelling aside). Mental is often used as an insult or as a negative - 'he was acting mental' (poor grammar I know), 'you're mental'. Who's going to use 'you're psychological' as a playground insult?! 

 

BKD's picture

Is hypocrisy sign of a mental illness?    2 thanks

BKD | | Permalink

Life in the old dog wrote:

The link I provided was to a site which is clearly "tongue in cheek" and intended to be such.

Yeah, right

Life in the old dog wrote:

The site provided in reply was obviously not intended in a light hearted way.

I'll decide whether or not my comment was intended in a light hearted way. Your interpretation of it says more about you than it does about me. As it happens, a number of folk found it quite amusing.

 

Falsh, did you see the Commons film of the MP with acute OCD?

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

Flash, did you see the Commons film of the MP with acute OCD?

It was shown about, say, a year ago, and I'm sure that it will be on You Tube, except that I can't remember his name. Another MP referred eloquently of his own suffering with depression.

He is an MP, and a husband, and a dad, and he delightfully and divinely described one of his light switch routines, which, if he messes it up, he has to re-start....Numbers that are powers of 2 were involved, if I remember right.... another mathematician.....

So his life is another personal triumph over adversity; I would have him as my MP any day. He understands how things can be for people in reality.

-

And on the list front, I recently moved home, and switched from a big branch of Tesco to the local large Sainsburys.

That is such a pain; my Word Document shopping list that is ordered to suit the aisle layout of the old Tesco is no longer any good!

 

Will I be bothered to wander around the new supermarket with my clipboard...? I was once observed by a manager doing so, and he in good humour said that he would bet the aisles reorganised....

Flash Gordon's picture

@ Henry

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I didn't see it, no. I'll have a look...

And yes, I bet you will wander round and change your list! I would. It makes perfect sense to have a list ordered. Of course, in an ideal world, the powers that set out supermarket layouts would actually do so with a bit of common sense so you're not putting fruit at the bottom of the trolley and then progressing to the aisles with heavy items and having to juggle everything. Or maybe a layered trolley would be handy, then you could put the tomatoes at the bottom and the heavy stuff on top without squashing anything, and then at the checkout you have the heavy stuff going through first for packing. I'm a genius!

 

Hail, Flash, fellow Genius and Logician....    1 thanks

Henry Hampton | | Permalink

Hello, Flash, fellow Genius and Logician...

I could handle the heavy / squashy aspect in my Local List, and did so - I headed off to the booze an other fluids aisles first, in defiance of the store layout.

And I have an "App" in mind - you set it up, ad then AT HOME you see what you need in a logical HOME order, and when you get to the Supermarket, it re-orders the list in aisle order, where you have overwritten the natural aisle numerical order with the sensible order that you want, with heavy items first; the wine, the beer, and the mineral water.....

Then the shop is almost complete....with just a few solids to pick up....

I think that I have found at least the whole video of the Commons Debate, by searching on House of Commons debate on metal health it was back in 2012, although very memorable.

The irony of it

Life in the old dog | | Permalink

I love the idea of the Commons debating mental health. Talk about "physician heal thyself". Having heard the noise from the opposition benches during the budget today I can't decide whether parliament reminds me more of a kindergarten or an asylum.

stepurhan's picture

Serious and frivolous mental illness    2 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

Flash Gordon wrote:
I suffer from 'Liking to Eat When You're Hungry Syndrome' too, and 'Liking to Eat When You're Not Hungry But Merely Comfort Eating Syndrome' too!
I have a treatment regime so you no longer have to suffer. Just send me your bank details and I'll take the astronomical fees required. :-)

Life in the old dog wrote:
The link I provided was to a site which is clearly "tongue in cheek" and intended to be such. The site provided in reply was obviously not intended in a light hearted way.
Let me have a look at the link again. Yes, it does indeed use the word "Facts" twice. So, regardless of whether the presentation was humorous or not, the link is presenting this "syndrome" as a fact, not something that has been invented for a laugh. So, on the basis of the post as given, you were accusing someone of having a mental illness that "factually" exists. Posts can only be judged by what you put in them. See what I did above to indicate that I don't really have a treatment regime for a syndrome I invented.

Quote:
In short any obsessive or compulsive behaviour becomes a mental illness if it causes behaviour to deviate from what would be considered “normal” by the majority.
I cannot object to this more strongly. Deviating from what society considers normal is NOT a mental illness. I put on a silly wig, "played" an inflatable guitar and sang a rewrite of the Foo Fighters The Pretender last week. Judging by the reaction from the audience, this is not generally considered "normal behaviour" but it also did no-one any harm, and their applause at the end indicated they found it very entertaining.

I agree with Flash on this, with one slight extension. A mental illness is one that results in harm (physical or mental) to the sufferer or others, or increases the risks of harm unnecessarily. Some activities come with a risk and engaging in them is not a mental illness if you take sensible precautions and accept the risks that cannot be avoided. Engaging in those activities in a way that endangers you or others may well be.

Medicalising perfectly normal, if slightly odd, behaviour, is part of why real mental illness is dealt with so poorly. Sufferers just need to "change their way of thinking", "snap out of it", "get a grip". The reality of mental illness is that these are not an option, and getting the help you need is tricky when others don't want to talk about it. By calling everything a mental illness, and thinking treatment is as simple as these invented illnesses, real suffering gets lost in the noise.

Flash Gordon's picture

@ stepurhan    1 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

Very well expressed.