Historically an accountant has been described in many ways. One light-hearted definition is "someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had, in a way you don’t understand." But change is afoot.
No doubt you’ve heard a few accountant jokes before. We're the first to admit that occasionally they have a ring of truth to them - that accountants sometimes spend time doing things their clients don’t understand.
Every profession has its own ‘brand’ – its own reputation based on years of client experiences. Accountants’ numerical skills are obviously important. But they don’t, by themselves, make for a great accountant or business advisor. In fact, much of the basic tax and compliance work is already being made more efficient by the latest technology.
Numbers come to life and influence business decision-making when they are available in real-time and presented in a way that helps clients identify and focus on the important key drivers in their business. This enables us to identify and explain the likely impact of particular actions – or inaction – and translate the financial information into plain English to help identify business opportunities and manage risk.
A problem, though, is that assessments of your business advisor's ‘passion’, ‘best tools’ and ‘right advice’ can be a bit subjective. Therefore, here are some useful questions to ask for a more objective view of the value your accountant is adding to your business.
- Have they embraced technology? And do they ultilise technology to help you manage your financial affairs in real time using cloud-based accounting platforms, financial dashboards, and industry specific software solutions?
- Software solutions like Xero allow businesses to access real time financial information to make accurate decisions. If your accounting software is used solely for filing tax returns, then you’re probably limiting your financial visibility.
- Financial dashboards are a great tool to visualise financial information using graphics and charts. Dashboards can add another perspective to the normal numbers, often providing financial insights that might not normally be obtainable through the standard financial statements.
- There is no shortage of industry specific software solutions available. Whether you want to automate your inventory system and link it to your website, or, if you’re in the trades and looking to back cost, manage your jobs and employees better or just want to spend less time on admin tasks there is likely a solution for your business.
- Do they behave like they’re a stakeholder in your business? In other words, does it seem like they have skin in your game – are they on the front foot in identifying opportunities and threats to “their” investment.
- Do you feel you have the benefit of an advisory board? Because relatively few businesses have a formal board or advisory board at their disposal, an accountant should be able to bring the sort of ‘360-degree’ perspective that comes from an advisory board.
- Are they thinking about your future as much as your now? Future scenario planning is ultimately more important than historical record keeping, and it is your accountant’s role to keep at least one eye on the future.
- Are they playing to your personal strengths? Doing so requires a good understanding of you as a person, your motivations, your goals, and an honest upfront relationship.
- Do they help you know how you stand, in relative terms? It’s one thing to know how you’re doing within your business, but it’s just as important to have a sense of how you stack up against your industry. You might feel like you’re getting the most from your business, but are you? In working with a range of businesses in a range of sectors, your accountant is an ideal position to help benchmark your performance and highlight the impact of small incremental changes in key areas to help you work smarter rather than harder.
If you’d like to discuss any of this or have any other business issues, please feel free to contact Sam Grice at Ashton Wheelans. Chamber members get a free one hour discussion.