Accountants have acted as trusted advisors for many years
Due to the dramatic changes in both the way businesses as a whole, and accountants in particular are working more from home, we are being told that we should embrace software and digital reporting tools to help advise our clients and give added value.
Well some accountants have actually been giving added value as trusted advisors for a very long time! In the past we used our experience, knowledge, heavy books on tax and a pencil to give the often very valuable advice to our clients on all aspects of their businesses, and in part this is why I do what I do now.
As long as there has been money, there has been someone to advise on it!
History is full of instances where Kings and Queens have made decisions purely on where they can fill their tax coffers, and whilst most laws were made to ‘help’ and ‘protect’ people, back as far as the doomsday book, the record keeping was to help decisions around tax income!
Interestingly, the first profession of Chartered Accountants was created by Queen Victoria in 1854, giving a royal seal of approval to the Institute of Accountants in Scotland, also the first women were allowed to register with the ACCA in 1909, even before we got the vote in 1918!
Some of my earliest memories were of how my parents fortunes with their business were deeply affected by the advice given by the accountants and advisors they dealt with. Back in the 1970s equipped with his knowledge a notepad and pen, a very wise accountant would often listen to my parents ideas, and problems and then tell them what information they needed to gather and then how to move forward.
Having seen this for myself and then having to manage my own business in the past, I know first hand just how important it is to have a professional on the end of the phone who can answer the questions which effect the decisions you make.
Far from being something new for accountants to engage in with their clients, I think that the recent pandemic which is still sending shock waves through the business world has just reminded us what we are here for, and it isn’t just filing tax returns and making your business compliant, it is being there to listen to them and guide them when they could be making decisions which have dramatic effects on their lives and the lives of their employees.
Yes we are extremely lucky now, the heavy tomes of ‘Tolleys Tax Guides’ and ‘Accepted Accounting Principles’ are replaced by online reference manuals (which come at a price – advice can have a cost!), the online HMRC manuals are gradually replacing the long phone calls to them for advice and forms to create, change and close companies (along with every thing else!), but still it is to us our clients will come for the answers, or at least they should!
Old Sage manuals – they used to be heavier than War and Peace!
Are more accountants ready to pick up the phone?
More than once I have been contacted and the conversation starts with ‘I already have an accountant to do my accounts, but could you help me with…!’ this is great for me, I am always happy to help with advice and put people in touch with others who specialise in areas of grants, loans or investments etc, but it does make me ask the question – why aren’t other accountants as ready to help?
In the last 30 years or so, Accountancy has grown into big business with ever tighter reporting requirements and tax deadlines, and the profession has responded admirably I would say, having to learn new tax systems, filing systems and software which seems to change annually before explaining it to our clients and helping them with their tax issues in their turn. But it has also moved away from the face to face meeting, being able to do everything remotely the average accountant can go years without meeting their client in person at all!
Having seen the positive results of a good advisor, and sometimes negative results of a bad one I was keen to do this job for that very reason – to help and advise, but I often found I was in the minority. Many people I worked with and trained with were happier running reports and reconciling accounts and did not want the interaction with the client for fear of saying the wrong thing.
This was quite understandable and I had this very fear when I first started training in credit control, I went six months before I picked up the phone! My supervisor said that at some point I had to talk to clients to get the money in! Of course she may have regretted it later, as I could chat for ages – as all of my current clients know!
Now due to the many dilemmas and issues created for business owners by the pandemic, more and more of us accountants are finding that we have to pick up the phone, Zoom or email and advise our clients, we have the tools to do it with and more are being developed all the time to help with planning and development to enable us to assist our clients. Like the Bionic man, we have the technology and we have the tools!
I don’t think of it as ‘Value Added’ to me it is all part of what I do, my clients come to me to help their business, not just file their accounts. I also know I am not alone, I have many friends and colleagues in the profession who think the same way and who enjoy engaging with their clients and helping them and I think I can speak for most of them when I say this isn’t something new – it is just what we do!