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Common client questions for a trainee accountant?

Trainee accountant looking to build confidence on how to answer client questions well

Didn't find your answer?

I am a trainee accountant in the UK wanting to improve my knowledge so I can answer client questions with confidence.

Could you please just give me some general areas to read up on and examples of common client questions so I can feel more confident in my ability to give advice. A recent client question example being 'how can I withdraw money from my business most tax efficiently?' I have now read all about this area and believe I can confidently answer if asked again.

I am looking for similar specific areas/questions an accountant is expected to give excellent advice on, and areas I am likely to be asked questions on from clients in the future. 

I am just looking to learn and develop as much as I can.

Many thanks 
 

 

Replies (53)

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By bernard michael
15th Jan 2021 08:53

This is a serious answer for the future. When the pubs reopen find the local"Man Down The Pub" and listen to the advice and type of questions he deals with and be prepared for similar queries. BUT with the correct answers

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
15th Jan 2021 08:55

sheesh, trainee accountants should not be let loose on clients without an escort. Its unfair to you, the client and will damage your businesses reputation. The fact you are asking this suggests you have a poor training environment. You simply wont learn well in a poor environment.

You should very much look to who is training you to support you properly, and 'sit in' with them on client calls as you develop your knowledge, and get feedback from them about the question you wanted to ask about the client (ie the ones you put on file for your senior to ask) and what was appropriate, and what answers they got, plus of course all the ones you didn't know to ask. This is part of the competent training of staff. If your firm does not do it.......they aint much good..........always look to train in a good firm.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 10:04

Concur

Either bad training environment or a desire to run before....

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 10:47

It was really just asking for some general areas that crop up often so I can do some extra reading outside of work and familiarise myself with common problems clients ask about. Trying to learn and do my job as best as I can.

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Replying to Gd338:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 10:54

Here are a few:

I cannot have made £30,000 profit there is only £2,000 in the bank.( sole trader)

I cannot have a £5,000 tax bill I only had a wage of £15,000 (from a sole trader/partner)

Why is your fee larger than my tax bill?

My mate John says his accountant allows him to deduct XXXXXXXXX(insert as required)

I don't understand (to nearly everything you say)

Lots more in similar vein.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 13:02

YOU WERE WARNED BY AWEB
post anon and you will get less help

WHY ANON

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 13:20

This is my first post on this website, just looking for some general advice.

Didn’t really see what difference posting my name publicly makes to somebody willing to answer my question and offer some advice.

Besides, I am no longer anon due to my replies to posts on this thread.

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Replying to Gd338:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
16th Jan 2021 11:31

Quote:
Didn’t really see what difference posting my name publicly makes to somebody willing to answer my question and offer some advice.

The post a question page includes a note that Anonymous is "reserved for sensitive content that you need help with but don't want people to know who you are." Also the default is to show the profile name, so you have to select it. If you are genuinely saying that you did not notice any of that, then that does not bode well in a career requiring attention to detail.

But, ignoring all that for now, members here do not like abuse of anonymous. There is a long history of abuse of the facility (which is arguably the case in your post). Doing it just sets you off on the wrong foot.

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Gd338
16th Jan 2021 12:12

Didn’t say I didn’t see it - I did. Just didn’t see the issue with wanting to remain private as I do in my general life anyway - all I wanted from this was some general quick advice if it was on offer.

As it was my first post I wasn’t aware of this ‘long history of abuse’ you say - hence why my replies are no longer anon.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
16th Jan 2021 12:49

Ahha, I did warn you about the welcome ritual for new boys. Aweb's version of the Haka.

Try not to mention Brexit, whatever you do :)

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Replying to Gd338:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
17th Jan 2021 10:51

Quote:

Didn’t say I didn’t see it - I did. Just didn’t see the issue with wanting to remain private as I do in my general life anyway - all I wanted from this was some general quick advice if it was on offer.


Presumably your name is not Gd338. Was a pseudonym not enough privacy for you? But, as you say, you are new here. You will know better next time.

However, to take this back to your original question, this is another reason why you should not be answering client queries at present. Advice to clients sometimes involves telling them that they cannot do things. To do that you need to be able to understand and interpret the rules correctly. Go back and read that sentence I quoted about using anonymous again. Based on your interpretation EVERY question would qualify for use of anonymous. Does that sound right to you?

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Replying to stepurhan:
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By Gd338
17th Jan 2021 11:49

No that is not my name - however I entered some personal details when signing up, that in the moment I thought would be less hassle to click the anonymous button than having to read the regulations about what is shown publicly or not - especially when it is only for the hopes of receiving some general pointers about probably the only question I’ll ask on this website.

I can tell this anon rule is very important to you as it seems to be mentioned in every comment; but I can also assure you that by choosing not to delve into the rules of an online forum, that this will have zero bearing on my quality of work within the workplace, or my potential with clients in the future - as I place a lot more importance on that than this website.

I thought this platform was simply an additional possible resource of information that may help or may not, but didn’t see any harm in asking.

Anyway, I think I’ve got everything on offer out of this so will just leave it there I think.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By Paul Crowley
17th Jan 2021 12:19

You read it and ignored the rules of this site, despite not actually showing your name.
Hence you thought the rules for the site do not apply for you

What you need to get to grips with is how to tell clients that the rules they read DO APPLY TO THEM.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
17th Jan 2021 12:41

I think that some rules and their consequences are slightly less important than others but I guess we are just built differently.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By Paul Crowley
16th Jan 2021 18:58

Responders look to aim advice at the person
Prior questions and threads contribute to give a clue.
NOTE the comment of flooring a junior by asking clients trade

If you were an experienced accountant you would know why that question gets asked and why accountants very rarely use Anon, and only for the genuine purposes specified by Aweb

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
16th Jan 2021 19:21

Well I am now aware - noted I was a trainee accountant twice in my post mind. I wouldn’t have used anon if I knew it would’ve been such a focus of the post.

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By Youareatit
15th Jan 2021 09:15

I have some fabulous resources that I could email to you, but you are hiding so I cannot.

You need to be generally confident in yourself not to hide in the first instance. Before being let loose on clients in any shape or form, as you cannot hide from them.

(Besides the fact that rules for anon do not cover this scenario)

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
15th Jan 2021 09:54

I recall telling a client she had a whacking VAT rebate a-coming the first time I was exposed to a VAT retailers' scheme. She went ahead and bought a second hand car on the strength of my youthful advice. Later, upon being told by a grown-up there was no rebate, she swore blue murder at me.

OP, you could do a lot worse than read these Aweb columns. These are real-life issues being defined, discussed, and often solved; frequently the sort of grey areas that clients are unable to fathom out for themselves. Sign up properly, watch and learn. Eventually you'll join in, even if it is only to join DJKL in a chorus or two of Scotland the Brave. And don't be too put off by the welcoming roasting you'll receive; it's something of a tradition here to initiate newbies :)

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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 10:07

Do not assume you need to give instant answers.
Any worthy question needs research
I would be pi55ed of a junior here considered himself qualified to give tax advice in any area outside his normal remit

The firm needs to be the person giving advice, not you, a trainee

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By SteveHa
15th Jan 2021 10:15

I second this. Despite nearly 40 years working in tax, unless I know 100% that I have the correct answer in my head, I will wait and dive into legislation before answering client (or, indeed, partner's) questions.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 11:07

And clients are not looking for instant answers

Never had a problem saying that the Q needed research

BUT I have had problems with numpties guessing answers
I actually overhead one such telling a client that yes, interest on the mortgage is allowable deduction against CGT.
On challenge' well he asked so I had to give an answer '

Experience is the tool
Tells you when you know, when to look up and when client is just wasting time trying to look clever

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By SteveHa
15th Jan 2021 11:10

Ahhhh. I miss MIRAS. Eliminated a lot of those types of questions.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Dib
15th Jan 2021 13:20

I thought Miras was a god who turned the quantum of some tax reliefs and limits to stone until they became eroded by the sands of time...

...er, I mean by inflation!

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Paul Crowley
17th Jan 2021 12:23

Back in the days when £25,000 was considered to be a BIG mortgage

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
17th Jan 2021 13:06

The days- my first house purchase age 25 in 1985 was just under £15,000, as it transpired by convoluted route it became my father's (we swapped houses with a cash settlement in his favour), and we sold it from his estate in 2013 for £168,000.

The biggest increase in percentage terms I have personally seen was a colleague's dad who bought his house in circa 1957 for £2,500 and it sold about four years ago for near £500,000

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 11:20

Rather than every answer I give being ‘I’ll need to get back to you on that’, I’d at least like to be able to point clients in the right direction or give some sort of rough answer which is on the right lines.

Of course as I have already done recently, if I wasn’t sure I would answer what I think, but then say I will double check this with my manager. It the fact I don’t want to just come across as completely clueless by not being able to give any sort of answer at all.

Even simple things like knowing the amount of dividends you can draw tax free, or the knowing the different tax bands and thresholds, payment deadlines for corporation tax etc - it is this type of information I was hoping the more experienced could advise is useful to know and should read up on - rather than trying to give out poor advice that would negatively impact my clients business.

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Replying to Gd338:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 11:43

Re tax bands and rates a handy tax card in your pocket is useful, or carry Whillans everywhere, regarding say safe dividends your answers need to be qualified, unless you have a handle on their other income you could say something they rely on that is incorrect, you also need to fully understand for instance how the nil rate band for dividends interacts with the higher rate band, tax is moving parts, knowing little bits without appreciating how the bits mesh together can mislead, so snippets of tax knowledge can be dangerous, you need critical mass.

My suggestion is do lots and lots of exam type question tax calcs, reading is fine as far as it goes but doing questions, looking at model answers for me was how I learned (until HMG, as they do, change the legislation yet again)

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 12:01

Thanks for your reply DJKL.

Yes I recently started studying ACCA too so I’ll be doing lots of exam questions - was just really looking for useful information to know.

My post may sound like my boss has just dropped me into client meetings and expects me to know all the answers etc - it’s not like this at all.

I just wanted to do some extra reading outside of work myself and was looking for places to start.

Although I may not be able to answer client queries, I do have the sense not to just guess and give an incorrect answer. I will always follow up and make sure something is correct, but it would be nice to be able to have some sort of idea and follow it up with ‘let me just double check this and get back to you on that’ rather than simply saying ‘sorry I can’t answer that’.

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Replying to Gd338:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 12:37

I did not get to go to clients by myself for the first 12 months of my apprenticeship, even then it was just audit work where the programmes had been signed off by a senior/manager before I went, I asked clients questions but really did not answer any they asked (not sure they did ask), formal client meetings always had senior/manager/partner, same re year two though maybe I would get to ask the odd question at the meetings, year three started to get more tax exposure and started seeing smaller clients by myself, but more clearing points re accounts, asking questions, gathering information.

Whilst all a long time ago now I suspect I was about four years in before I was really answering client questions re tax, offering advice.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 12:44

Do clients really want a rough answer?
They can get that in seconds on the interwebnet
If you answer you are expected by client to be an expert
Clients even think a call to HMRC will give an accurate answer
SPOILER alert
HMRC wrong more than right.

As said above
FIRST BIT OF WORK
Read every question and every reply on any answers. You will be surprised at how often tax experts disagree.

Tax law is decided by Tax tribunals

SECOND BIT OF WORK

Subscribe to TAXATION magazine and read the tribunal cases.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By gogzyb
17th Jan 2021 16:31

Quote:

Rather than every answer I give being ‘I’ll need to get back to you on that’, I’d at least like to be able to point clients in the right direction or give some sort of rough answer which is on the right lines.

Of course as I have already done recently, if I wasn’t sure I would answer what I think, but then say I will double check this with my manager. It the fact I don’t want to just come across as completely clueless by not being able to give any sort of answer at all.

Even simple things like knowing the amount of dividends you can draw tax free, or the knowing the different tax bands and thresholds, payment deadlines for corporation tax etc - it is this type of information I was hoping the more experienced could advise is useful to know and should read up on - rather than trying to give out poor advice that would negatively impact my clients business.

A key to being a successful accountant (or tax adviser) is realising that there is VALUE to the questions you are being asked. If you simply fire an answer at clients without proper research, how much do you think your firm can fee for that 6 minute conversation?

If properly researched and written advice is provided to the client, how much do you think your firm can fee for that 6 minute conversation?

If you recognise that there is value to the advice that we provide, you will do well in your career. If you think that you should be able to provide an instant response to every client query, you will not go very far in your career.

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Replying to SteveHa:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 11:15

Besides, if you look thoughtful, steeple your fingers, frown, do the whole routine, you may be able to get away with charging for the advice, if it comes straight out the client will:

a. place no value on it, you did not need to work to give it (Ignoring the x years of reading etc you undertook)

b. be more likely to forget, not understand, misapply then blame you.

There is a lot to be said for writing.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By gogzyb
17th Jan 2021 16:34

Just realised that I gave exactly the same response that you did - providing an instant response to clients not only devalues our knowledge, it creates an expectation that all queries will receive an instant answer at no additional fee.

When a client queried a fee note and asked how long a particular issue took to resolve, one of my wise partners said "28 years so far"...

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By JD
15th Jan 2021 10:36

+ 1 for comments above.

I have floored many a trainee with the simple but obvious question of - ''What is the nature of the clients trade or business''

Once you note what the client is actually doing, their wider circumstances, along with gaining a suitable level of professional experience, the sort of questions you need to consider when completing your work or when you are in front a client will start to become much clearer.

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By Ian Bee
15th Jan 2021 11:37

Some firms have a policy of taking more junior staff along to client meetings. That is usually good training for seeing how you are expected to react to client's questions. It's also useful for the partner/manager who has someone to take notes.

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Replying to Ian Bee:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 11:46

And also can observe his/her trainee and their abilities. (or lack of them)

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 11:54

Also it is at this point when I am in a meeting with my boss, I feel that extra reading outside of work is only going to improve my ability within a meeting which was really the point in my post.

I think from some replies, some feel I am trying to get ahead of myself however I just can’t see the harm in wanting to read about common areas which combined with my studies surely can only improve my ability in the future?

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Replying to Gd338:
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By memyself-eye
15th Jan 2021 12:18

It helps to know your clients well - I have a retiring publican whose pub has been closed most of the year - he's expecting little or no tax fore that reason. Err not quite - he's being getting grants galore and with no staff to pay, no stock to purchase, no rates to pay and reduced utilities his expenses are minimal but his 'profit' will probably be more than usual - a lot more.
Why? will be the only question on his lips - anticipating that is what you will learn young skywalker!

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Replying to Gd338:
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By Paul Crowley
15th Jan 2021 12:48

In the future yes

BUT NOW
Any answers given in writing copied to manager

A junior giving tax advice that will be relied upon is a PII nightmare for the firm than takes the risk

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 12:54

Agreed.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 13:01

Yes - I have been doing this when emailed. I will draft an email and send it to my manager before sending out to client.

Maybe I haven’t worded my post how I meant it.

I am not looking to be giving out poor advice about something I know very little about.

I am really looking to begin additional reading which I can do every evening to eventually build my knowledge and understanding along with my studies and gained experience.

For example yesterday I trained a client on how to use Xero on a Zoom call, something I am very comfortable with. Following this, I was asked a couple of questions which I did end up saying ‘sorry please let me check with my manager and get back to you’. It is as this point I would like to have some foundational knowledge firstly to improve my general understanding, but secondly so I can offer some sort of input (which I will still follow up with ‘please let me check’), but I feel like it is a way of transitioning to eventually having the sound knowledge to advise accurately and confidently.

By saying I am not ready to offer advice is fine, but I was just looking to put in some time reading to help me for when I am at the stage to do so.

I don’t think it’s going to be a case of going from not being capable of offering advice to suddenly able - I am looking to take steps to get there as part of a process and thought some advice on useful places to start from people who have ‘been there and done that’ would help.

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Replying to Gd338:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 12:56

Certainly read, digest, absorb, I used to read The Accountants Magazine (ICAS students got if for free) and subscribed to Accountancy (The ICAEW back then) every month (though they were actually worth reading back then), I then moved on to devouring office copies of Taxation (used to take them home and read in bath), I read up on Trust administration (I got made a third named trustee of a number of trusts by my father so thought it sensible) plus financial pages of a quality paper (back then The Times), but just because you have read does not mean you are equipped to pass on this knowledge to clients, at best your passing on knowledge should (presuming training is still three years) in year two be to year one trainees and in year three to year two trainees. (Supervision is a skill, one that I acknowledge I was not the best)

You also need to observe over time the difficult client conversations with partners, the ones where the client gets annoyed, and learn how managers/partners deal with these.

In my training (Hodgson Impey) UK trainees from all over the UK got sent on firm courses for say a week at Hull or Warwick University, most of this was technical but some was things like public speaking, role playing audit interviews (partners as clients), while smaller firms may not be able to do this ,sitting in quietly at meetings observing is very important to assist adoption of such soft skills.

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Replying to DJKL:
By SteveHa
15th Jan 2021 13:03

Quote:

You also need to observe over time the difficult client conversations with partners, the ones where the client gets annoyed, and learn how managers/partners deal with these.

And, conversely, the difficult conversations with partners/managers when you have to tell them "No, you can't do that". I have something of a reputation both where I am now and where I was previously for repeatedly telling the partners that what they are proposing is a non-starter, to the point that they get surprised when I say "yes, that will be fine".

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Replying to SteveHa:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
15th Jan 2021 13:16

That is what I am known for in my inhouse role, the owners saw me as a pall of gloom approaching their cunning plans, eventually I solved it via a slightly raised voice discussion, I pointed out they paid me for what I knew but if it made them happier I would just agree with everything they proposed but frankly if they wanted to go that way not much point having me there, my role was to protect them from themselves and it was not me devising obstructions to their cunning plans but generally HMG and the world.

While they still think I am a half glass empty sort over the years they have come to appreciate that I am not trying to be obstructive but am merely listing the pros and cons of a course of action they are floating.

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
15th Jan 2021 12:57

At the risk of sounding like I'm putting you down, most clients will expect you to be clueless at your level.

I do admire the desire to learn more and hope it serves you well in the future. The problem is that, at your level, there is too much you don't know. As you will see time and again on here, people often end up asking the wrong question because they misunderstood what is relevant. Reading up will only get you so far if you don't have the background knowledge to understand how what you are reading fits in with everything else.

By all means read articles on here or in accountancy publications to expand your knowledge. Just don't attempt to answer questions with it until you have broader experience.

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By insolventnl
15th Jan 2021 13:54

I think your initiative is great but why not use that with your manager. Here, yes you might get pointers but I know if I was your manager, you coming up to me and showing that you want to be ahead of the game and hence asking what can I do extra would be something that can help you in promotion, salary increase etc.

Why not explore that route and who better then your line manager to direct you as they would know exactly the sort of questions you will be asked depending on your clientele

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Replying to insolventnl:
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By Gd338
15th Jan 2021 14:02

Many thanks for your reply. I think I may just do that.

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Replying to Gd338:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
15th Jan 2021 18:58

One trick the panel have overlooked telling you is to become the go-to person in your firm by developing an expertise in something. With me it was payroll early days, although later on I didn't much like being put in to bat on the sticky wicket of redundancies. Later spreadsheets, back in the days when the partners couldn't find the computer's on switch.

How about MTD? Or trading with Europe post-Brexit, perhaps. Financial modelling would be my personal choice. Good hunting!

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By Kaylee100
15th Jan 2021 19:42

One question small sole trader clients often ask is "if I made that profit, where did it go? "

The answer lies, of course, in the Balance Sheet changes from last year to this year.

You can make a spreadsheet, plug in the two Balance Sheets to calculate the negative and positive movements to lead to a total thats the profit. Then, for most clients to understand, describe those changes in easy to understand terminology. Such as

You drew £x in drawings
You increased investment in assets £x
You decreased investment in stock - £x

I agree with others that you shouldnt be let loose on clients like this, for you and their own safety. However its good you are interested in adding value. The first key to that is understanding what clients are interested in and well done for asking.

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Replying to Kaylee100:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
15th Jan 2021 20:40

Be careful with that one. I once got a roasting for showing a client how to construct an end-of-month balance sheet by plugging in his company's opening B.S. figures from the previous month, inserting the current end-of-month's stock, bank, debtors & creditors figures; deduct 20% tax, and thereby auto-calculate his company's profit available for dividend distribution for the month (ie the forced figure of accumulated P&L).

Result: one happy client, and one rather peed off senior partner because the client decided he no longer needed our services for monthly management accounts for that purpose. Ouch! Lesson learnt: try not to show off!

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