Accounting Firms – are all created equal? (part 1 of 3)

In my travels in and around the professional services market I’m often asked … “Are accounting firms pretty much the same?” My short (and long answer) is a definite no.

As both a client myself, and speaking to many, many other clients of accounting firms all around Australia the way that accounting firms engage, serve and build relationships in their respective markets can be very different.

Different is fine. Human beings are different so it follows that the way accounting firms operate is also different. However, great accounting firms share some common elements. In the next 3 posts I’ll be sharing the top 3 elements, to my mind, of great accounting firms. They aren’t in any order of importance or significance.

1. Its all about people
Great accounting firms promote their people, not necessarily their brand. Leaving the Big 4 firms to one side and the valuable role they play in thought leadership for the profession (not just in Australia but globally), people buy from people. People don’t per se buy from brands. Brands, to a large extent, are treated as a hygiene factor by clients since they represent a certain level & standard of risk management, corporate governance, methodology and investment in the training and development of their partners & staff.

People buy from people. If I’m in the market to buy accounting services I don’t go into the main street of a city CBD, stand in front of a tall building and shout out, “Mr KPMG, I would like some advice on best practice in debt collection techniques please” That would just be silly (although quite amusing). Rather, I would seek out someone, via reputation or referral, who was an expert in the area and who I believed, after meeting with them, could help me. Depending upon my circumstances (if say I was CFO of a top 100 listed company I would probably need to use a Big 4 firm to keep the board, banks and shareholders happy), it would be secondary about which firm the expert was with. Brand would not be the most important thing to me. Most CFO’s I speak with believe and practice the same thing.

Great firms foster and support their people. Great firms provide the environment and appropriate support so their partners and staff can serve and build deeper and more intimate relationships with their clients. Great firms are more interested in sustainable relationships over the long term rather than short-term monetary gains.

Make sure to tune into the next post for part 2 in the “created equal” mini-series.

Bye for now,

James E

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