Entrepreneurs share thoughts on their accountants
During my annual networking ski trip this month, I interviewed some of my fellow skiers. I chose those who run their own businesses and encouraged them to share their views as to provide useful insights for AccountingWEB members.
This article is the first of a series of three based on the responses, views and advice shared by my interviewees.
Firstly, I asked them for their instinctive replies to the question:
“What is the most frustrating thing your accountant does?”
Yes, I know I could have asked them to tell me what they liked about their accountants but that’s what we hear most often. I felt that their instinctive replies to my question about frustrations would offer more value to AccountingWEB members.
Most of my interviewees were immediately able to identify frustrations, but thankfully this feeling wasn’t universal. Some are very happy to recommend their accountants and occasionally do so without being asked. More on this in part two of this series.
I have endeavoured to share 10 of the replies exactly as they were spoken:
1. “He works too close to the deadlines. For example, I sent him all the information he needed for my accounts and tax return by the start of September, But I heard nothing of substance until the first week of January. Everything was done in time but I would have liked more notice of how much tax I was going to have pay at the end of the month.”
2. “Charging me by reference to how much time she spends doing stuff. I would much prefer to just pay for the job that needs doing. I don’t care if it takes her four or six hours.”
3. “I believe that almost every accountant can deliver far more added value to their clients than they currently do. Yes, this requires a slightly different mindset but I believe that genuinely helping clients to run better businesses is what clients really want. This is a golden opportunity for those accountants who recognise what needs to be done.”
4. “They’re not great at communicating with me and aren’t always available when I want to speak to them. I want to get them on my terms. Sometimes they are slow to respond when we ask for things. There have been times when it has taken them weeks or months to complete the action points from meetings we have had with them.”
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5. “They are not being proactive and give me no advice unless I ask for it. I have asked many times for monthly KPI financial figures and a commentary showing how I am doing. My accountant simply tells me to log on to the accounting system as the figures I want are there. We use Kashflow. But I’m not an accountant. I want him to interpret and explain the figures to me.”
6. “I wish they would give me a heads up on how much I owe HMRC at least a year in advance. And shouldn’t they be telling me how much salary to take? I’m now with Baker Tilly but I was originally with [one of the small predecessors]. My main contact has been there throughout but he left recently after 25 years. Baker Tilly then sent me a huge bill out of the blue. When I questioned this they explained it was a big catch up across all areas of work. I eventually agreed to pay on condition that I will not do so if it ever happens again.”
7. “I was recommended to a particular guy in the firm who I speak to every now and then. But he seems to pass all my work down to someone else who passes it on further down the line. And this more junior person sends me emails that go into great detail about numbers I can’t easily follow. I find it confusing and would much prefer someone to explain things to me on the phone. But I assume the junior guy isn’t allowed to call me.”
8. “Easy. They seem to be beholden to HMRC and always seem to focus only on complying with the tax laws and rules. It’s a conspiracy. They do make an effort to compensate for this and that's why I'm with them. I’m talking here about money flow rather than tax avoidance.”
9. “ I went to him on a recommendation without checking he understood my type of business. He doesn’t, so after 18 months of frustrations I’m moving to a new accountant next month. The current guy’s practice also isn’t computerised and he’s not into online bookkeeping.”
10. “He’s a one man band so if he’s not there I can’t talk to him, but that is quite rare. Also everything is bespoke, which sounds good. In practice this means there aren't many processes that simplify things. So everything feels like’s it more complicated than it needs to be.”
I’d love to think that none of the above frustrations could apply to AccountingWEB members. If they do, then hang your head in shame.
We might think that some of these frustrations are unreasonable. For example, to be constantly available, to offer pro-active advice to people with the simplest of affairs and to reduce the tax bills of businesses that offer no obvious opportunities for such.
When this issue comes up during mentoring conversations with accountants I stress that what matters is the client’s perception, as their perception is their reality.
The skill comes in learning how to help clients to recognise that you are doing your best to help them, that you are thinking about how you can reduce their tax bill and how they can legally beat the tax man.
If you’re not around when they call you need to help them feel that you called back promptly and didn’t let things slide; that you’re on their side, and that you understand and want to help them succeed in their business.
The language you use in conversations, emails and forms/checklists all contribute to your clients’ perceptions. How confident are you that your clients aren’t harbouring unspoken frustrations that could mean they move to a new accountant in the near future?
Most of the 15 or so networking skiers I interviewed for this series preferred to remain anonymous in case their accountants could identify themselves.
Others who also kindly agreed to be interviewed and who were happy to be identified were:
- Robert Craven – Business author and expert adviser
- Barnaby Wynter – branding expert and marketing speaker
- Mike Jennings – Owner of business parks and entrepreneur
- Robert Fenton – Serial entrepreneur
- Chantal Cornelius – Small business marketing expert
- Chris Iles – Network marketer of health and beauty products
- Siam Kidd – Ethical and realistic forex trader and trainer
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and a speaker at conferences and in-house events, helping accountants become more memorable, win more work and secure more referrals. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists who provide support to smaller practices.
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