Traditional accounting services are not meeting the needs of business owners. In fact, when I was talking with a CEO recently, he told me, “I’m going to fire my accountant.”
When I asked why, he said:
“Accountants see in red and black. They do my numbers, and they don’t tell me what to do about my business. They need to stand in my shoes and see what it’s like to worry about cash flow, to have to pay my employees, and to have to figure out what to do tomorrow. I’m staying up at night, trying to make decisions, and my accountant is just telling me if the numbers are red or black. He doesn’t even understand what that number means for me and my business. And that’s what I care about.”
That’s how every business owner feels right now -- they’ve never faced as much disruption in their businesses and their lives as they have in the past few years. And it isn’t just COVID-related stress. Lingering challenges include the shift to remote work, hiring and staffing challenges, exponential technology advances, regulatory changes, new digital currencies and stock market fluctuations.
During COVID-19, we accountants had a real opportunity to be a hero for our clients. We embraced uncertainty. We saved companies, kept employees paid and as a result, enabled many families to stay in their homes. So how do we keep the momentum going?
We like stability, safety, repeatability, and checklists. COVID forced us to embrace uncertainty. No one had timely references to read, much less a checklist that told us how PPP benefits would be implemented.
Uncertainty is where businesses are living right now, and that’s where we have the opportunity to help. We want to make a difference for our clients. And that difference doesn’t come from tax and accounting alone; it comes from relationships and advice. That’s where our value is.
Clients don’t just want to know what they did six weeks ago or even yesterday. They want to know what to do tomorrow. They want us to help them plan for the future.
But the problem is that we’ve taught our clients that the people who are good at numbers won’t talk to them, or if we do, it’s in a way that they won’t understand. We trained them to expect us to be poor communicators who speak a foreign language of GAAP and worse, code sections. It’s time to re-educate our current and potential clients about what is possible from us as accountants and to start delivering actionable insights.
We don’t need more data; we need to make that data into something actionable. We need to think less about the past and more about the future. We need to think less about efficiency and more about value. We need to ask questions. We may be experts in our field, but the clients are the experts in their business, and we need to learn from them just as they can learn from us. We need to hold our clients and ourselves accountable—it’s almost in our name, after all.
When we embrace uncertainty, and truly become partners in our clients’ business success we’re helping owners create the lives of their dreams. As a result, we get to build the lives of OUR dreams. That’s the promise, and it starts with a different way of thinking about the work that we do.
About Geni Whitehouse, CPA, CITP, CSPM
A multi-tasking southerner-turned-Californian, Geni helps accountants become Level 5 advisors through The Impactful Advisor, works as a winery consultant at Brotemarkle, Davis & Co, and writes for accounting industry events and publications at Even A Nerd.
A regular keynote presenter at events around the world, Geni is also the co-founder of a remote bookkeeping business at SolveServices and author of How to Make a Boring Subject Interesting: 52 Ways Even a Nerd Can Be Heard.