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Who are accountants’ trusted advisers?

2nd Feb 2018

Accountants are often cited as the number one business adviser for small businesses. Reports and research from ICAEW as recently as 2014 and IFAC in 2016 back this. But who do accountants see as their trusted advisers? Who do you turn to for advice and to grow as a business owner?

When I quizzed an accountant, who shall remain anonymous, on this recently, they replied: “Not any of my partners that’s for sure!” Another accountant quipped: “I Google everything.” And while the sentiment might ring true, research on LinkedIn reflects other options.

A highly structured approach

For some like Kevin Whitehouse, owner of Prime Entry, highly structured business coaching is the popular route: “We use a number of Elite coaching and mastermind groups, regular time together with experts from a variety of industries and monthly coaching calls. It's all about the accountability and implementation,” he said.

The use of coaches is repeatedly cited; AccountingWEB contributor Della Hudson noted: “My business coach and the collaboration group she facilitated for us” as being a prime example, and does reflect that many find reassurance and results linked to working in a structured way.

Clients as advisers

However, Christopher Vines, an assistant manager at Price Bailey, sees the benefits of coaching as an approach but regards clients as a valuable source of insight and support: “I have a very close relationship and friendship with some of my clients, so most definitely I value their input and honesty.”

In previous conversations it’s easy to see a degree of tension in accountants seeing clients as a source of advice; however, given that strong ties accountants form with clients over the years it’s perhaps no surprise that there is a high level of trust that grows with it. And trust is ultimately at the heart of this conversation.

Turning to other accountants

This level of trust builds between peers in other firms too. Will Farnell from Farnell Clarke commented: “For me it's probably my peers. It's certainly where I get most value when I get to chat with other innovative firms in my network. Lots of structured (and semi-structured) forums and environments where you get chance to chat about what's going on but equally I will pick up the phone and chat to those I respect.”

The existence of various membership organisations has always been testament of networking in this way, and although their reputation goes up and down over time, one of their major benefits has always been to provide the basis for discussion and sharing between individuals from different firms.

However, the thankfully irrepressible Carl Reader from Dennis and Turnbull doesn’t see that this in itself brings any benefit. “I do speak to other firms, but in honesty, the better ideas come from looking at businesses in other industries. Quite a few firms just regurgitate what they've been told by a software vendor or a CPD lecturer, with the ‘adviser’ having never been in business themselves.”

But working with accounting specialists on a more one-on-one basis works well, and can provide considerable direct value, as Margaret Thornton, tax and strategy director at Morgan Cameron explained: “For many years, until we sold our business, Mark Lloydbottom was our mentor - best thing we ever did was ask him to advise us.” Lloydbottom is a long standing specialist working with accountants globally (and to ease Reader’s mind, someone who has built up and sold several highly profitable businesses including an accounting practice).

A broad base to call upon

Reader revealed how his broader network helps to fill the gaps. “I've got an informal ‘non-exec’ board for advice in their own area. For example, in change management, legal matters, employee engagement, marketing etc it's a team of about 30 who might get called on 10 times in a year, or once. They are just mates, who also call on me when needed”.

Such an approach echoes how many CFOs operate with a broad network, called upon usually regarding specific challenges, and used as a starting point for advice and insight before deciding on more formal engagements.

The Soaring Falcon practice-owner Alex Falcon-Huerta, for example, relies on a less structured but no less complete mix. “I speak to people in the industry all the time. Also, close friends who have successful businesses, mentors, clients, ACCA, Xero. So many people offer support”.

Know, like and trust

The underlying themes revert back to finding those you know, like and trust, respect, and has the expertise or specialism that you need.

And in the end, Glynn Davison from Harlands concludes that accountants are not so dissimilar to their clients in this way.

“Accounting practices are businesses and we need to think at the same level as the best leaders. I’ve been a member of Vistage for three years now and it shapes your thinking. You need someone outside of the accountancy sector to push you to think outside of the accountancy box. It’s a private advisory group for CEOs and MDs and has been hugely valuable for my learning as a leader and our business as a whole - we now understand how little we actually knew about business growth, and help our clients understand that about themselves too. Numbers are only ever a part of the business growth journey!”

Thinking about the outcomes here is also the consistent theme. Whether it’s the ‘needs must’ of a specific hot challenge, preparing your business for a specific outcome like maximising value at time of sale, fuelling your passion for knowledge and new ideas, or working through a formal structure on a range of business growth areas.

Your adviser is who you need at the right time with the right insight.

Who is your trusted adviser? Do you rely on the same mentors mentioned above, or have we missed someone?

Replies (9)

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By Tom 7000
06th Feb 2018 10:50

Personally, I ask the mother of my children. If I just follow that advice I find it all works out nicely. I wonder if any of our other readers do that?

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Replying to Tom 7000:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
06th Feb 2018 11:40

Eminently sensible...

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Replying to Tom 7000:
By North East Accountant
07th Feb 2018 08:53

Great idea.

My wife makes all the decisions on the personal side and just tells me what to do. That way I can never be wrong.

On the business side it helps to find someone who has been there, done that and got the T shirt.

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By johnjenkins
06th Feb 2018 10:50

Richard, are you Bob incognito???????????????
What a load of.........
Who do you turn to my lovely when your alone with the banker?
I don't have to say anything else do I.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
By David Gordon FCCA
06th Feb 2018 11:12

You mean alone with a real live banker!!
Most of the ones I deal with these days, are attached to the wall with a three-pin plug.

Thanks (1)
Replying to johnjenkins:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
06th Feb 2018 11:39

I don't know, but Bob Incognito sounds like the lead singer of a band from the 70s - and that's definitely not me.

Other than that, asking those setting up new firms or have set up firms in the last few years, raised the question up. It's not always easy to know where to go to and where to get advice and insight - especially if they don't trust those that reinforce the approach to practice that they are trying to move away from.

Now.. Sleazy P Martini was always a rock star name I coveted.

Thanks (1)
Replying to rsergeant:
By johnjenkins
06th Feb 2018 11:52

Must say I'm a Guns and Roses fan and perhaps a bit of Metallica.
The problem I have with your article, Richard, is that we are the people that business turn to and that's how it should be, because we should know the answers. If we don't then we haven't done our job properly. If we are advising mega corps and we can't advise ourselves then we must be in a very sorry state.
Perhaps we should tweet Donald to see what he thinks.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
Hallerud at Easter
07th Feb 2018 17:08

No need for that, John, I already post on here.

Donald without a The

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Replying to DJKL:
By johnjenkins
08th Feb 2018 08:50

You're not related are you? and where are your troosers?

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