Can we really be business advisers?

The Practitioner
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Do accountants want to be business advisers? asks Mark Lee at (By the way Mark, we spell it with an e in this country!)

Fiona McManus thinks so in her interesting two part series at
And she reckons you can get paid for it too!

This is an interesting debate, it's a topic that has had me thinking for a while. Who are we to call ourselves 'business advisers'? How is a beancounter qualified to tell a business owner how to run his business? To call yourself 'accountants and business advisers' mixes up a qualification that you studied hard for over many years, with a collection of stuff you simply picked up along the way after you qualified.

Which is not to say that many accountants don't fulfil these two roles extremely well, but I suspect they are the minority. The best business advisers are probably those who have spent time out in business, perhaps running their own business or working at a senior level in a business. And let's not forget that an accountancy practice is a business of course. Some of the best business advisers I have met are partners in successful smaller practices – 3-6 partner firms – who have lived all aspects of running a small business themselves – financial management, employment issues, change management, restructuring, taking over other practices, dealing with incoming and outgoing partners, etc. They have a wealth of valuable skills they can communicate to their clients.

But don't send me a young CA from a top 4 firm who has just spent the last 5-6 years auditing PLC bank reconciliations and tell me he's a business adviser – even if he does have an MBA!

If you want to develop your people to give wider business advice you need to get them trained. The national practice development groups like SWAT and 2020 offer training and resources on all sorts of added-value services. The professional bodies, on the other hand, seem very reluctant to offer much in the way of training outside of the strict professional disciplines of accounts, audit and tax. Alternatively you could look outside the profession at postgraduate level management training. Many local colleges offer such courses at NVQ levels 5 and upwards on a flexible learning basis, and will tailor them to use your work experience as part of the assessment. I have been following a management diploma course this year and have introduced a number of really useful changes in internal and client procedures as a result of some of the project work I have done on performance and quality management – it's the perfect combination, get a qualification and get the client to pay you for doing it! 

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02nd Dec 2009 20:24

I agree with some aspects of your post.

I have seen so many firms who call themselves accountants and business advisers that it really has no impact any more. The problem is I don't really know a single one who gives good business advice, at least not at a good enough level of expertise to justify the title.

I am extremely keen to offer more pro active business advice to my clients, and feel I am perfectly suited to this because I have seen some of the best sales, management, marketing and human resources gurus speak, and have had a lot of coaching and mentoring from some leading business coaches myself. I think another thing that makes this a perfect service for me is that I am an entrepreneur myself, and love all things relating to businesses. It probably explains why audit never appealed to me when I was training!

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02nd Dec 2009 20:29

Partners as business advisers

It would be intereresting to know more about the changes you've made and what you've learned that wasn't covered by your prior training and CPE.

I'm not entirely sure how much relevant experience an accountancy firm partner has compared to an SME owner. Unless they've started their own practice, few of them have had to hustle very hard to sell their product or market themselves.


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04th Dec 2009 13:25


As a CIMA member in practice who has spent 32 years in business and the last 7 in practice, I feel well qualified to give business advice.  Since business is about making money, accountancy is a good basis for understanding how a business works, but further skills are needed in order to be able to give business advice.



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07th Dec 2009 17:58


I am similar, with 31 yrs in various businesses, working from the bottom to the top in both small and much larger firms and now 7 years in my own practice.  I have no problem supporting clients with business advice because I have a thorough knowledge of it.  My problem was in getting best practice methods for preparing and reviewing clients' accounts and files.  Thank goodness for SWAT and 2020 because my institute didn't have very much to offer in Practice Management.

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