How confident can you afford to be?

Oct 15, 2013 | Professional Negligence

Not all accountants are full of confidence. And some of those who come across as confident are not – or should not be.

There’s an understandable desire to come across as confident in our profession. After all, who would want an accountant who seems unable to give confident replies to questions and requests for information?

In my experience accountants exhibit one of 3 different types of confidence:

1  Justifiably confident – Where they have the requisite experience and the knowledge. And they know what they don’t know and have the confidence to recognise this. I don’t know if it was ever reasonable to expect an accountant to know everything. These days it is more important than ever to manage client expectations. You may have some specialist knowledge and expertise but just like a GP, you sometimes need your clients to speak with a consultant or specialist – or you can do it on their behalf.

2  Overly-confident – Where they have an ability to cover up their lack of knowledge and in so doing take the risk that their client will find out after things go wrong (which they will)

3 Self delusionally confident – Where they exhibit confidence that is not warranted but are not consciously aware of their lack of knowledge.

And, of course there are also those accountants who lack self-confidence – Where they do not inspire confidence in their abilities and advice. Sometimes this attitude and approach can contribute to the perception that an accountant is boring.  An accountant’s lack of confidence is often most apparent, ironically, when they are perceived to be reluctant or hesitant to discuss fees.

When clients need or ask for advice that is outside your comfort zone (eg: on customs related issues) do you bluff it? Might you be overly confident? Or worse, self-delusionally confident? Both carry the risk of you providing negligent advice to clients.

One tip here; it won’t always work but it can help reduce the number of occasions when you take such risks: Imagine that the client whom you are advising is your mum, dad, brother, sister or close friend. Someone you really care about. Would you be prepared for them to act on the basis of your ‘confident’ views? If not, perhaps you should get a second opinion before giving definitive advice. And if you want a second opinion on tax matters, you’ll find a convenient vetted expert source through the


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