Not all Accountants are business advisers

Dec 3, 2009 | Business Strategy

AccountingWeb recently ran a series of articles about accountants as business advisers. My contribution as Consultant Practice Editor approached the subject from an unusual angle.

There is already plenty of material that seeks to persuade accountants that they need to become better business advisers, and how they could do this.

My article was titled: Do accountants want to be business advisors?

I felt vindicated in my stance both by the comments added by readers and also by the number of times the article was ‘viewed’ – it was consistently running at about 3 times the number of people reading the related piece about ‘How to be a business adviser’.

Here’s an extract:

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Although many accountants describe themselves as ‘accountants and business advisers’, I have a suspicion that general practice accountants typically fall into one of four camps when it comes to the provision of business advice to clients:

  • It’s a no go area: The accountant’s business experience is limited and perhaps they don’t feel that confident with the idea of providing business advice.
  • Personal experience: The accountant is willing and able to share their own experiences of business over the years, perhaps drawn in part from working with other clients.
  • What others say: The accountant offers advice based on what they have read in books, magazines and websites and possibly what they recall from their studies and from attending seminars and conferences. However, their level of interest in developing this area of skill is much lower than their desire to keep up to date with technical knowledge.
  • A systemised approach: The accountant has bought into a programme that assists them in adopting a structured approach to the provision of business advice and either they actively promote the service to their clients or they shy away from doing so and quit the programme.

If I were still in practice I’d like to think that I would probably move up the scale into the fourth category above. Others are happier lower down the scale, and that’s fine as long as their clients are not expecting anything more. Time and again I hear business owners complaining that their accountants fail to provide business and tax advice; they simply do the books, produce tax returns and tell the client how much tax to pay.

Only a relatively small number of accountants seem to be willing to experiment with the systemised approach, however there is plenty of pressure on the others to do this or to beef up their approach and provide business advice, as well as to learn how they can get paid for doing so.

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