Profoundly important accountants

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This is the first article in a major new series. In it Steve Pipe quantifies the profound difference accountants are making to businesses, lives and society. He reveals the services that make the greatest difference and explains how to use the findings to transform your practice and your life.

I have always feared that the accounting profession doesn’t value itself highly enough, and have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard my fellow accountants say things like “but we are only accountants”. As a result, the truth about what we really are – a tremendous force for good – has remained largely hidden.

So I have just finished leading an 18 month research project which has culminated in the publication of the book “The world’s most inspiring accountants”.

The aim of the research was to properly understand the impact that accountants are making. And it turns out that impact is quite simply extraordinary in both its range and scale. Indeed, the research suggests that, apart from the medical profession, there is probably no other group making such a big difference to the lives of so many people. And certainly not to their businesses.

Representative firms

The book features case studies from 57 firms in eight countries. Those 57 represent the profession as a whole in the sense that they prove that accountants everywhere can and do make a profound difference. And also in the sense that they are just like the vast majority of firms in terms of size, structure and clients.

For example, the 57 firms featured:

  • Are predominantly small firms – with 71% having one or two partners or teams of less than 10 people
  • Come from every continent in the world – Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas
  • Serve clients of every type and size – although most of them are the same type of small and medium sized businesses that every other accountant also serves
  • Are run by accountants with all types of backgrounds – from school leavers to corporate big hitters, young mothers to the almost retired

And since there is clearly nothing unique about them, if they can do inspiring things, so can every other accountant in the world.

Making a profound difference to businesses

Because they focus on less than 60 clients, the case studies barely scratch the surface of the contribution accountants across the world are making.

Even so, this very small sample of the profession has helped to generate ALL of the following economic success:

  • 19 businesses saved from extinction
  • Four new businesses launched – one of which grew to more than £3m in 24 months
  • 562 jobs created or saved
  • Sales increases of 33%, 169% and, in one case, £1.8m
  • Profit increases of 142%, 273% and, in at least one case, more than £700,000
  • Turn losses as big as £100,000 into profits as high as £600,000
  • Transform cashflow – in one case turning £300,000 of borrowing into £630,000 positive cash balances
  • Win better customers and charge better prices
  • Make it possible for one business to invest £200,000 in new equipment to improve productivity
  • Raise £1.5m to fund a management buyout and future expansion
  • Lift a client out of “special measures” and back into mainstream banking
  • Give employees a pay-rise for the first time in five years

But it doesn’t end there…

Making a profound difference to people

The same clients have also benefited profoundly at a personal level. For example, some of the ways their accountants were able to make a difference to them personally included:

  • Improving work-life balance – in one case an entrepreneur’s workload was slashed from 80 to just 10 hours a week
  • Helping several clients own their dream homes – including one overlooking the sea on a beautiful Greek island
  • Preventing several other clients from losing their homes
  • Restoring family harmony – and preventing business disagreements tearing a family apart
  • Helping an exiting entrepreneur to pass on his business in a way that secured his own financial future, and created exciting new opportunities for the management team
  • Restoring the self-esteem of a son who thought he was going to lose the business his father had worked so hard to build
  • Obtaining an extra £250,000 insurance pay out for an Alzheimer’s sufferer
  • Making it possible for a young business owner and his wife to adopt a child
  • Generating the funds to pay for expensive medical treatment
  • Preventing financial blackmail ruining a client’s business and life
  • Dealing with a client’s end of life financial issues, so that he and his wife could make the most of their last few precious days together
  • Keeping a business going while its founder coped with life-threatening cancer
  • Transforming the lives and prospects of junior team members, by helping them to “step up” in their careers
  • Turning their clients’ business and personal dreams into reality
  • Giving them a new sense of purpose and worth
  • And in several cases, also turning them into millionaires

However, it doesn’t even stop there.

Having a profound social impact

The research also proves that accountants are having a profound social impact. For example, the case studies include evidence of:

  • Almost £1m of cash raised for worthy causes
  • 225,000 hours of help provided on a pro bono basis
  • At least two charities founded by firms of accountants – one of which has already saved 550 young girls in Cambodia from sex trafficking  
  • £280,000 of grant funding raised to prevent a much needed community facility closing
  • The lives of 9,653,329 people in need being made a little bit better by accountants using Buy1GIVE1 to connect with, and “micro-give” to, causes that resonate with them

How you can do the same

All of these extraordinary impacts have been made by a very small number of accountants with a very small number of clients.

The next article in the series will reveal precisely how they have done it.  In addition it will list the exact services involved; prove that every accountant is capable of replicating their success; and explain how to use the research findings to transform the reputation, client base and results of your firm.

If you want further insights and proof before then, read one of the case studies from the book.

Steve Pipe is a leading researcher and co-author of the book ‘The world’s most inspiring accountants’. For more inspirational insights from his research, you can hear Steve Pipe at Accountex 2016 on 11-12 May.

About Steve Pipe

Steve pipe

Steve is an FCA who is passionate about the profession. Often described as one of the world's leading strategists for the accounting profession, he has had helped hundreds of UK practices.

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28th Apr 2016 08:17

Inspired?

Does anybody else find this as inspiring as I do?

As I said above, apart from the medical profession there is probably no other group making such a big difference to the lives of so many people.

And, to me, that is a really uplifting fact. 

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28th Apr 2016 08:34

So proud

I personally am thrilled to be featured in this book - not only because I have worked very hard to enrich the lives of my clients since I started my practice, but also to be a part of this project which really shows how we as accountants CAN make such a huge difference.

I must say the book is a huge eye-opener for anyone that thinks accountants 'just produce accounts' and this book demonstrates that fact perfectly - since my first day in practice I wanted to be so much more than just a 'number cruncher' and with my inclusion in this book it feels like I have come full circle.

It's always rewarding when your bank rec balances, but that pales into insignificance when you hear your client say that what you've done has changed their life.

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28th Apr 2016 09:16

Great read Steve. Totally agree that some accountants don't value their service offerings enough. Accountants really do make such a difference to their clients businesses. This book will certainly help the accounting profession to increase their revenue streams. Looking forward to reading the case studies too. Always good to see how it works in real life. 

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09th May 2016 10:17

If any accountant in practice reads this book and is not inspired by the difference they can make then surely it’s time to call it a day.

In fact, as inspiring a read it is for accountants, it’s an even more inspiring for business owners. Whatever their circumstances there are powerful examples, one after another, of simple steps taken to transform businesses and their owners’ lives.

I love how Steve brought home the reality behind the numbers. It’s all too easy for accountants to submerge themselves in the figures without understanding their implications to their clients. People don’t go into business to make money. They go into business to put their children through private school, buy that bigger house, free themselves from 9-5 or a hundred other reasons. Steve shows that to truly serve your clients, you must make time to understand their worlds and dreams.

If you don’t appreciate your clients’ current situations and goals how can you help them achieve? And if they don’t associate you with their success, you are destined to be replaceable.

What makes it so powerful is that Steve has resisted the temptation to position the accountants as the heroes. The business owners rightly play the Luke Skywalker role and their drive shines through throughout. The accountants are more the Obi Wan Kenobi, (apologies for the Stars Wars talk) the mentor bringing light and clarity, enabling business owners to fulfil their potential.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book is we now start every morning by taking it in turn to read a chapter and then talk it through.

Never mind inspiring accountants, as the owner of a accountancy practice growth agency it’s by far the most inspiring book I’ve read.

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