Trusted Advisor is About the Work, Not the Title

Trusted Advisor is About the Work, Not the Title

Many accounting professionals believe they are THE trusted advisor the client comes to for advice and guidance on business financial matters.  Having fully bought into the messaging about the value of the accounting and tax work, these professionals are feeling pretty relaxed about their client engagements.  They believe the client will come to them with questions and provide the opportunity to deliver advice or work.  And each year  many clients return to get their taxes prepared or financial statements produced, and even new clients may appear.  But the work remains largely the same – financial statements and tax returns, and addressing additional needs only when the client brings it up, which isn’t all that frequently.

happy_clientOn the other hand, there are professionals who recognize that a proactive approach to helping clients results in better and richer client engagements and better-performing client businesses.  These professionals are truly the business advisors to the client – the trusted partners who understand the variety of conditions which impact business performance and care to make sure they are properly addressed.  This advisor not only reports but makes recommendations and provides guidance on certain situations or processes which are essential in the business model.  These professionals recognize that the bookkeeping and operational information collection is not simply a means to an end; these professionals understand that these foundational processes and the information they encompass are the important details which reflect the true performance of the business… details which no summary report can fully describe.

Having more direct participation in clients’ financial systems is a highly successful component of practice building, helping the firm to mine opportunities that may be hidden in current or new client engagements.  This does not mean that the accounting professional becomes part of client operations or workflows.  Rather, it suggests that the accounting professional understand these aspects of client operations and assist in the development of necessary controls and processes involving data collection or validation.  It may include the implementation of KPI and benchmarking solutions to help identify problems and map improvements, or it may involve the installation of a solution to improve the importing of orders and other transactions into the system, improving the efficiency in processing the information while at the same time reducing the potential for manual data input errors.

Regardless of the depth of direct involvement in client systems, professionals can more fully benefit from every client engagement by providing some level of training, consulting or supporting service in addition to compliance and reporting work.  Services may be aligned toward helping clients set up or support their own in-house bookkeeping and controllership responsibilities, or they may be more suited to providing real-time guidance and review of client business performance data. Either way, the quality of the financial information derived is generally far better and requires less work to adjust and report on.

The key is recognizing that the work involved – whether it is through training, regular process and data reviews, or more direct participation – is not intended to simply streamline reporting on outcomes.  The work the trusted advisor performs is intended to help the client save money and improve business and financial performance, and the practice is rewarded with higher value billable services and a much increased opportunity to engage the clientele in other efforts.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?


State of the Union: The Irrelevance of Good Accounting?

State of the Union: The Irrelevance of Good Accounting?

financeI’m a little concerned, and any professional in accounting and finance who works with small businesses should be just a little concerned, too.  Why?  Because there is a belief out there that some nifty software and Internet Of Things (IoT) approach to finance will ultimately eliminate the need for a small business to work with skilled, trained accounting professionals.  Remember the marketing slogan introduced by Intuit with QuickBooks – the one that suggested that, “if you can write a check, you can do your own books”?  Most accountants will tell you that it is not true, and the ability to operate a product like QuickBooks does not magically turn poor accounting and bookkeeping information into good business data.  In fact, it most frequently enables bad information to turn into bad business decisions – quickly.

DIY bookkeeping solutions have been around for a while, so why the distress about it now? Up until this point, it hadn’t been so overtly stated to small business owners that having less-than-great accounting data is very much OK, and that the role accounting professionals play in small business finances is more of a burden than benefit.  Consider the statement made by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address:

“Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford”

If I’m an accounting professional, I am pretty steamed up about that statement because I know how screwy business accounting data gets when the work is done by folks without the proper training.  Incorrect or improper accounting treatment can make a big difference when it comes to filing those taxes mentioned…. and not in a good way.  That transaction on the bank statement… Is it a cost of goods sold or a regular business expense? Is it an asset or supply item? Is it a reimbursement or revenue?  Is the payroll deduction before or after taxes?  Is that even a viable payroll deduction item?  These questions and more arise frequently in a small business, and the treatment for these items is improper as often as not.

There is a big value in what a trained accounting professional can offer a small business owner, and the value often translates to eliminating unnecessary tax burdens and the delivery of accurate reporting – both of which are really important when it comes to actually trying to grow a healthy and sustainable business.

Small businesses are often considered to be the fuel powering our economy.  Doesn’t it make sense for us all to recognize that smarter businesses are likely to be more successful, and that more successful small businesses means growth in the economy?  The importance of good fiscal and financial management and reporting – in business and in government – is not something to minimize, and suggesting that it takes no intervention or skill to do the job properly reflects poorly not only on the person saying it, but on the entire establishment.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?