Accountants are naturally cautious about involving third party advisers. They don’t want to be forced to bill their clients more than last year. They also don’t want to bear the cost of seeking a second opinion.

This atitude means that some accountants muddle along and avoid admitting to clients that they have limited experience in certain areas. They allow and even encourage clients to assume that their accountant can advise on all areas of finance, business and tax. In taking this approach the accountant may take the risk of advising on specialist matters outside of their day-to-day experience.

Other accountants simply avoid advising on such issues even if they suspect that these could be to their clients’ benefit. And, despite the risk of negligence claims and of being reported to their professional body, this approach appears to pay off.

Few clients are aware of the ‘better’ advice they could be receiving. Few clients will know that their accountant’s advice is untested and based on out of date knowledge. And even fewer will be aware that their accountant actually has no first hand experience of dealing with similar problems or issues for other clients.

Why do so many accountants feel that it is a sign of weakness or incompetence to admit that they require specialist help? By way of analogy no one expects their local GP to be an expert in all areas of medicine and health. Indeed we would be pretty worried if a GP suggested we hop up on the bed so that they can open us up and have a look inside to see what’s troubling us. We expect to be referred to specialists and to different specialists for different ailments.

The best accountants operate on a similar basis. They ensure that their clients know the limits of their expertise. They have built up trust so that their clients are happy to talk to a specialist when necessary. And they have made clear to their clients that extra work and extra advice means additional fees.

What’s your approach?

I will continue this theme in my next blog post. In the meantime, if you want to get in touch with specialist tax advisers who can help you when issues arise outside of your day to day experience – simply go to the Tax Advice Network.

The above comments are taken from my contribution to a report, ‘GRF is killing the profession‘,  published by Bob Harper in 2011. He says it contains contributions from “leading thinkers, advisers and consultants to the accounting profession.”  (Ron Baker, Bob Harper, Dennis Howlett, Mark Lee, Mark Lloydbottom, Michael McKerlie, Finola McManus, Steve Pipe and Paul Shrimpling)