Are you a trusted accountant?

I was doing research on a book project the other day and came across a most interesting article on the web. Although it was originally published in April last year – its lessons are still pertinent. It talks about the position of trust that accountants have in the business community as well as some other professions. The full article appeared in Brisbane Business News – see http://www.brisbanebusinessnews.com.au/process/myviews/bbn_article.html?articleId=1685

A SURVEY of more than 600 Australian and 240 New Zealand business owners conducted by an accountancy, financial planning and law association has discovered that accountants are the most trusted advisers when it comes to business advice. The MSI Global Alliance March 2011 survey scanned a range of business and personal financial advice areas, where participants were able to select their lawyer, accountant, bank, business coach or financial planner.

While much has been written about the lack of professionalism of financial planners, participants rated them as the most trusted source of retirement planning advice (40 per cent) with accountants following closely behind on 37 per cent. This rated accountants highly despite the fact individual accountants are not allowed to offer investment advice to clients.

The banks, on the other hand, were harshly rated with only 10 per cent of participants agreeing that they are the most trusted source of advice when it comes to business finance and retirement planning. It also asked participants to comment on how each category of adviser could improve.

ACCOUNTANTS

Common perceptions

• In advice terms, too focused on past performance, not the future
• Do not like to leave their offices
• Partners in firms can be inaccessible

Suggested improvements

• Don’t charge for face-to-face meetings. It stops clients going to their accountant for advice and disables a proactive client-adviser relationship
• Visit clients in their offices. The fees will flow.
• Focus on assisting with forward planning and business strategy rather than being retrospective

LAWYERS

Common perceptions

• Fees always end up being higher than quoted
• ‘Legalese’ is difficult to understand and lawyers do not compensate their language for clients

Suggested improvements

• Estimate the work to be done and associated fees more clearly upfront
• Communicate immediately with clients if additional fees will need to be charged
• Breakdown fees charged more clearly
• Talk in a language that is easy to understand
• Be more proactive and instigate client meetings on matters such as estate planning

BUSINESS COACHES

Common perceptions

• Lack of formal qualification/credibility
• Rely on self-help books more than genuine experience with business

Suggested improvements

• An ‘institute’ is required that can regulate and accredit business coaches
• Focus more on coaching budgeting/savings planning

FINANCIAL PLANNERS 

Common perceptions

• Still charge commission, dressed up as a ‘percentage of funds under advice’
• There is no uniform qualification for financial planners, reducing their credibility
• Push clients into funds from which they receive the highest commission

Suggested improvements

• Charge a dollar based fee-for-service
• Clearer analysis and distribution of super fund performance compared with other funds
• Clients would consider performance fees when performance is better than market averages
• Be transparent and offer more individualised recommendations than managed portfolios from other financial institutions

What do the CEOs and MDs Really Want from Accountants & others

I’ve been working on a new book the  few weeks titled “What do the Bosses Really Want?” the subtitle of which is: conversations with CEO’s, MD’s & Business Owners about what they really want from accountants, lawyers, consultants and others who sell them advice. 

The premise of the book is quite simple. When someone reaches the exalted station in their working or business life called CEO,  Managing Director and/or business owner they suddenly appear on all manner of marketing lists, databases & radars. Then the inevitable happens – they are inundated by people who want to sell something – them products and/or services. A good chunk of this selling frenzy is committed to the provision of advice; advice to help these important people better operate, grow and on occasion exit their business.

I’m in the early stages of interviewing the no.1s in all manner of businesses and industries from ball bearing distribution to ice cream manufacture to event management and everything else in between but already there have been some interesting red flags being waved.

Only yesterday I was meeting with the CEO & co-owner of a gourmet food producer. The business employs around 25 people and has been in business for more than 20 years. I was interviewing this chap for the above book and was again reminded just how much professionals like accountants fall into the same old traps time and time and time again. As a person who has worked with the accounting profession for more years than I care to remember it frustrates the absolute heck out of me!

Tune into the next post to read.

See you next time,

James E