Ten signs you may be a bad accountant

May 10, 2023 | Client service, Sole practitioners

This personal list simply reflects my experience and views.

None of these qualities are about efficiency vs inefficiency, nor about old-style vs new-style and it’s certainly not about qualified vs unqualified.

You may think some of the qualities listed below are obvious – but you may also be surprised how easy it is to fall into the related traps. Or you may disagree of course. In which case, by all means let me know. I love getting feedback on my posts – even from accountants who disagree with my take on things.

And of course if you do ‘fail’ any of these tests, all is not lost. You can either decide that they don’t matter to you. Or you can resolve to change how you operate if, on reflection, you agree that it would be beneficial to do so.

So, with that preamble, here are ten signs that would suggest to me that you may be a bad accountant:

In my opinion, what do bad accountants do?

1 – They misrepresent their qualifications
Why should anyone trust an accountant who claims to be qualified when they are not, or who claims to be a member of a body to which they do not belong.
What about those who claim that membership of a particular group or body constitutes a qualification even though membership does not depend on a period of study or exams?

2 – They claim to have more experience than they do
Again this speaks to the issue of trust. There is a big difference, in my mind, between those accountants who offer a wide range of services knowing that they will outsource some work, compared with those who pretend to be more experienced than they are.

Some accountants may feel insecure about their limited experience; others have the confidence to be open, honest and truthful.

3 – They are unaware of what they don’t know
This is more a consequence of ‘unconscious incompetence’. If an accountant doesn’t know what they don’t know, they won’t know when to stop and get a second opinion before telling a client what to do or when predicting the outcome of their dispute with HMRC.

This is dangerous and often leads to protracted negotiations with the accountant trying to resolve things the way they predicted even though a specialist would have known better from the outset.

How does anyone know what they don’t know? It’s more a question of getting a good balance between:
(a) Confidence that we have a good broad range of knowledge on a specific topic, and keeping uptodate so we can expect to be aware of recent changes, and
(b) Arrogantly assuming that we know everything and failing to attempt to keep up-to-speed on recent developments

4 – They wing it
There’s a difference between following your gut and guessing how to resolve a client’s issue. Past experiences will invariably impact the advice that accountants give clients. The mistake comes when an accountant recognises that their experiences to date are insufficient but that they will extrapolate and give definitive advice anyway, without checking up first and without any caveats.

5 – They do not keep up-to-date
There is no excuse for this now, if ever there was. Much of what accountants need to keep up-to-date is now available by way of email updates, online newsletters as well as the more conventional training course providers who offer webinars as an option alongside classroom style lectures and updates.

6 – They miss deadlines

7 – They boost their time-based fees by being inefficient
Another issue of trust. The facility for accountants to charge more when they are inefficient is one reason why so many clients try to avoid paying time-based fees. Sometimes the accountant may not even be aware they are inefficient; after all there is no incentive to find faster ways to do things when paid by the hour.

8 – They do not clarify the scope of the work they will do
Client service again. Often there will be a perception gap as between what the client expects and what the accountant is willing to do – without increasing the fees.

Even worse are those accountants who disrespect their clients and try to rip them off with exorbitant charges or who undertake extra work without raising the question of additional fees until afterwards.

9 – They have insufficient back up and business continuity plans
Whether an accountant relies on the cloud, computer servers in their office or a hosted solution it is crucial they have adequate back up processes in place. Beyond this is the need for the accountant to have a plan to enable them to access all client data etc in the event that physical files, the primary software or online storage facilities cease to be available.

10 – They work entirely alone
I worry about accountants who have no colleagues, back-up, support, or readily accessible facility to provide any of this when needed. Working entirely alone with little day to day communication beyond clients and HMRC is likely to cause accountants to become quite blinkered, dogmatic and insular. Indeed such an approach could well lead to many of the other qualities listed above.

It’s also one of the reasons why some isolated accountants choose to engage me for 1-2-1 mentoring support.

Sadly it is the bad accountants who invariably have or generate a bad reputation. I wouldn’t care but for the impact this has on the rest of the profession.

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