Lessons for accountants from….dentists

A number of people have mentioned in conversation recently how much it costs to go to the dentist.  In each case their dentists are getting close to retirement and their longstanding patients are stating to look for someone new. The patients are shocked at how much more they have to pay their new dentist.

Their automatic assumption is that their old dentist was out of touch with what his contemporaries were charging. They feel that they’ve been fortunate to get away with paying very low fees for so long. Now their dentists are retiring they have no option but to pay commercial rates.  They specifically do not want to try to find another older out of touch dentist. They assume that a new dentist will be more uptodate, use newer procedures and be around for some time into the future.

None of the people who have shared these stories with me have considered telling their old dentist that he’s been undercharging them.

Is there a lesson here for accountants I wonder? Especially those who have kept their fees unreasonably low for many years? When you retire your clients will find that they cannot secure the same quality of service without paying more commercial fees.  In the mean time the only person to lose out is you.

There may be other lessons we can learn from the analogy. When you choose a new dentist what do you look for? Do you think about their professional qualifications? Do you make assumptions about their competence, experience and ability? Would it matter if they promise a personal service? (What other type is there?).   What REALLY matters to you when you are recommended or choose a new dentist? What REALLY matters to prospective clients when they are recommended or choose you as their accountant?

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Confidence is good – but not if it's naive or deceitful

Years ago when I joined a new firm I remember an audit partner telling me about two tax managers in his team.  He preferred ‘Dana’ because she always knew the answers. He didn’t like ‘Sarah’ as much because she was less sure of the answers to questions he posed and often wanted to check with a tax partner.

I expressed the view that ‘Sarah’ was probably the better tax adviser as she was more cautious. ‘Dana’ was probably more dangerous as it was likely that she was overstating her real knowledge if she never needed to seek a second opinion.  I suggested that she was either naive or being deceitful. I suspected the latter. No decent tax adviser ever knows all the answers  – even after researching them alone. It’s  a sad consequence of our overly complex tax system that all too often we cannot give absolute advice as to tax consequences or accurately predict HMRC’s reaction to transactions.

The audit partner understood what I was saying and started to adopt a more open minded approach to the two tax managers. Within a few months he realised that ‘Dana’ had indeed been offering definitive advice that would come back to bite him and the firm at a  future date. He also had another colleague check back and offer a second opinion on earlier advice provided by Dana. As I had suspected Dana’s advice was often quite flaky and could have caused all sorts of problems in the future.   The partner started to rely more on Sarah and encouraged her to develop her approach so that it was more commercial.

The fact is that audit partners and general practitioners generally want their staff to be constructive and commercial. Being cautious is good upto a point but ultimately it is the partner who makes the decisions. If you are always overly cautious you may be seen to be uncommercial. So you need to develop confidence in your own knowledge and ability but this should not come from bravado.

It is generally the partners or the business owner who should decide on the level of risk they want to take when it comes to advising clients. Give them the information so that they can make such decisions.

Equally you should never present unresearched technical advice as if it were gospel. So, even if you have to advise in a hurry, qualify your advice if it is unchecked. At worst you will be given more time to research things. At best the person who runs the practice or the department can decide whether further research is required. Failure to do this may be naive and dangerous for the practice; The other possibilities are that you are a genius or are being deceitful which will rarely help your career ambitions in the long run.

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Confidence is good – but not if it’s naive or deceitful

Years ago when I joined a new firm I remember an audit partner telling me about two tax managers in his team.  He preferred ‘Dana’ because she always knew the answers. He didn’t like ‘Sarah’ as much because she was less sure of the answers to questions he posed and often wanted to check with a tax partner.

I expressed the view that ‘Sarah’ was probably the better tax adviser as she was more cautious. ‘Dana’ was probably more dangerous as it was likely that she was overstating her real knowledge if she never needed to seek a second opinion.  I suggested that she was either naive or being deceitful. I suspected the latter. No decent tax adviser ever knows all the answers  – even after researching them alone. It’s  a sad consequence of our overly complex tax system that all too often we cannot give absolute advice as to tax consequences or accurately predict HMRC’s reaction to transactions.

The audit partner understood what I was saying and started to adopt a more open minded approach to the two tax managers. Within a few months he realised that ‘Dana’ had indeed been offering definitive advice that would come back to bite him and the firm at a  future date. He also had another colleague check back and offer a second opinion on earlier advice provided by Dana. As I had suspected Dana’s advice was often quite flaky and could have caused all sorts of problems in the future.   The partner started to rely more on Sarah and encouraged her to develop her approach so that it was more commercial.

The fact is that audit partners and general practitioners generally want their staff to be constructive and commercial. Being cautious is good upto a point but ultimately it is the partner who makes the decisions. If you are always overly cautious you may be seen to be uncommercial. So you need to develop confidence in your own knowledge and ability but this should not come from bravado.

It is generally the partners or the business owner who should decide on the level of risk they want to take when it comes to advising clients. Give them the information so that they can make such decisions.

Equally you should never present unresearched technical advice as if it were gospel. So, even if you have to advise in a hurry, qualify your advice if it is unchecked. At worst you will be given more time to research things. At best the person who runs the practice or the department can decide whether further research is required. Failure to do this may be naive and dangerous for the practice; The other possibilities are that you are a genius or are being deceitful which will rarely help your career ambitions in the long run.

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