Think like an immigrant

Thomas Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist who works with the New York Times. He was in Australia recently and gave a speech in Melbourne. Without getting bogged down into the details of the speech, Thomas used a wonderful analogy of 3 ways in which people, should be thinking about their work & professional lives. Upon reflection, these 3 ways provide a useful framework for accountants engaged in professional practice to keep their sense of meaning, purpose and effectiveness razor sharp.

The first way is to think like an immigrant.

An immigrant, by definition, is a stranger in a new land. By and large an immigrant has no local knowledge, network of relationships and is owed nothing by anyone. What does it mean to think like an immigrant? It means that you have to make it happen – no one is going to do it for you. As a professional accountant this is a great mindset to have – taking nothing for granted and expecting that you are only as good as your current game. I’ve met way too many Accounting Partners, Directors, Senior Managers, Managers and even some Graduates whom for some reason operate their professional lives with a sense of entitlement. Be it a big client that they won a few years ago, extra post-grad education they have gained or a glowing performance review too many people are caught up in an expectation bubble that they are doing just fine and their firm/peers and even clients owe them a living.

In this post-GFC era, losing a valued client or being asked by your firm to pull up stumps and move on may only be an email, phone call or a quick meeting away.

By thinking like an immigrant, and taking on the fresh challenge every so often of proving yourself to those around you is a good discipline for any professional.

Tune into the next couple of posts to see what other characters you need to think like!

All my best,

James E

 

 

 

Why accountancy is not boring!

In the same vain as my last post – here is an article from our friends @ Monty Python as to why accountancy is not boring:

First let me say how very pleased I was to be asked on the 4th inst. to write an article on why accountancy is not boring. I feel very very strongly that there are many people who may think that accountancy is boring, but they would be wrong, for it is not at all boring, as I hope to show you in this article, which is, as I intimated earlier, a pleasure to write.

I think I can do little worse than begin this article by describing why accountancy is not boring as far as I am concerned, and then, perhaps, go on to a more general discussion of why accountancy as a whole is not boring. As soon as I awake in the morning it is not boring. I get up at 7.16, and my wife Irene, an ex-schoolteacher, gets up shortly afterwards at 7.22. Breakfast is far from boring and soon I am ready to leave the house. Irene, a keen Rotarian, hands me my briefcase and rolled umbrella at 7.53, and I leave the house seconds later. It is a short walk to Sutton station, but by no means a boring one. There is so much to see, including Mr Edgeworth, who also works at Robinson Partners. Mr Edgeworth is an extremely interesting man, and was in Uxbridge during the war. Then there is a train journey of 2 2 minutes to London Bridge, one of British Rail’s main London terminal, where we accountants mingle for a moment with stockbrokers and other accountants from all walks of life.

I think that many of the people to whom accountancy appears boring think that all accountants are the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some accountants are chartered, but very many others are certified. I am a certified accountant, as indeed is Mr Edgeworth, whom I told you about earlier. However, in the next office to mine is a Mr Manners, who is a chartered accountant, and, incidentally, a keen Rotarian. However, Mr Edgeworth and I get on extremely well with Mr Manners, despite the slight prestige superiority of his position. Mr Edgeworth, in fact, gets on with Mr Manners extremely well, and if there are two spaces at lunch it is more than likely he will sit with Mr Manners. So far, as you can see, accoun- tancy is not boring. During the morning there are a hundred and one things to do. A secretary may pop in with details of an urgent audit. This happened in 1967 and again last year. On the other hand, the phone may ring, or there may be details of a new superannuation scheme to mull over. The time flies by in this not at all boring way, and it is soon, when there is only 1 hour to go before Mrs Jackson brings round the tea urn. Mrs Jackson is just one of the many people involved in accountancy who give the lie to those who say it is a boring profession. Even a solicitor or a surveyor would find Mrs Jackson a most interesting person. At 10.00am, having drunk an interesting cup of tea, I put my cup on the tray and then…( 18 pages deleted here – Ed .) .. and once the light is turned out by Irene, a very keen Rotarian, I am left to think about how extremely un-boring my day has been, being an accountant. Finally may I say how extremely grateful I am to your book for so generously allowing me so much space. (Sorry, Putey ! – Ed.)

Need we say more?

See you next post,

James E

Accounting jokes

As I think I’ve said before … life is just too short and one should have a laugh at one’s self. Here are two jokes I found on the web: one for accountants in professional practice; the other for those who have turned their back on the profession and entered industry! Enjoy.

Joke 1

Three partners in an accounting firm go out to lunch. They are the audit partner, the tax partner and the senior partner. One of them sees a brass lamp lying in the gutter. Curious, they pick it up and give it a rub. Instantly, a genie appears. “You know the deal,” says the genie. “Three wishes. But seeing there are three of you, you can have one wish each.” “Great,” says the audit partner. “Take me to the Whitsunday Islands, give me a blonde and an endless supply of XXXX and leave me there for ever.” Pouf! There is a flash of light, a puff of smoke and he is gone. “Now me,” says the tax partner. “Take me to the Cook Islands, give me two blondes and an endless supply of offshore tax schemes and leave me there for ever.” Pouf! There is a flash of light, a puff of smoke and he is gone. The genie turns to the senior partner. “And what do you want?” “I want those two back in the office straight after lunch.”

Joke 2

An accountant applies for the position of Chief Financial Officer. There are a number of candidates and he is called in for an interview. They ask him a number of questions and one of the panel suddenly says “What is nine multiplied by four?” He thinks quickly and says “Thirty five.” When the interview is over he goes outside, takes out his calculator and finds the correct answer is not thirty five. He thinks “Well, I blew that” and goes home very disappointed. Next day he is rung up and told he has got the job. “Wonderful,” he says, “but what about nine multiplied by four? My answer wasn’t right” “We know, but of all the candidates you came the closest.”

See you next post for some more jokes.

Keep well and bye for now.

James E

Top 10 things SME clients want

From time to time I read material on the web that is very good. I came across a site for a business called Xero. I’ve never heard of them but one of their staff, Hamish Edwards wrote a blog post recently that I enjoyed reading and gives very good advice to accountants working in public practice everywhere. I’ve used the full text for the first 5 and just shown the headings for the 2nd 5. You can visit the full text of the post by visiting http://blog.xero.com/2011/09/top-10-things-smes-want-from-their-accountant/

In order of importance (according to Hamish)

  1. Get my tax done right
    Predictable perhaps, but for most SMEs this is their biggest priority. Your clients don’t understand tax so they rely on accountants to get it right and they prefer not to have issues with a tax authority, let alone be investigated
  2. Be proactive
    SMEs don’t really have huge amounts of time to sit back and think about how to make their business better. They want their accountant to keep an eye on stuff and alert them to things that can help. Hard to do when you have 500+ clients, I know. Luckily there are great software applications like Xero that make it easier.
  3. Wow me
    Everyone loves an unexpected service or result. We have to think of ways to Wow our clients. It can be anything from remembering their child is playing in an upcoming football tournament to being invited to a one-on-one breakfast for a catch up. Remember in the professional services game, the relationship is everything. It takes work though.
  4. Return my calls
    Okay this is customer service 101 and I know you’re busy, but you must communicate with your clients in a timely manner. If you don’t, no matter how good you are, they will get frustrated and start looking elsewhere. Make this a priority every day.
  5. Help me improve my cashflow
    Cash is King and the lifeblood of any business and yet it is generally the scarcest resource they have. Anything you can do to help your client to better understand how cash moves through their business, and ways to improve this, will benefit them. If you haven’t already, take a look at the Cash Summary report in Xero.
  6. Save me tax
  7. Don’t send me a surprise bill
  8. Know my game plan
  9. I wanna be treated well no matter how small
  10. Be nice to my staff

See you next time,

James E

The 3 Amigos

We left the last post with the story of 3 accounting partners serving a particular client very well for around 10 years and not even asking once for a referral or introduction t another business owner or CFO.

The reasons this CFO I was chatting with gave me for why he thinks accountants are not good at being on the front foot when it comes to be business development, for me, was quite telling. He shared with me two reasons:

1. Insecurity Most accountants are, by nature, not comfortable with moving outside areas they either don’t have much experience in or have not been specifically trained for. The classic example here is business development, sales & marketing. Accountants of course have to do it, but they don’t like doing it and unfortunately it shows.

2. They are first and foremost technicians. The CFO made an interesting comment that in his opinion the majority of accountants in public practice see themselves as technical & subject matter experts. Highly trained professionals who are paid for their expertise and advice. A lot of them see “selling” as being too crass and beneath them. Such an attitude can sometimes be clothed in arrogance and an inability to reach out to clients.

Now, the above thoughts aren’t mine – they belong to a CFO with more than 25 years experience working in commerce & industry. I would like to think he knows a thing or two!

See you next time,

James E

You must be joking!

The part of my role I enjoy the most is meeting new people. Given the type of work I do I tend to meet with a lot of partners in professional service firms, business owners and CEOs/CFOs/CIOs and even some UFOs – sorry I just couldn’t help myself 🙂

Yesterday I met with the CFO of the Australian subsidiary of an international product/services organisation. The business is doing very well, with their local operation generating revenue of $300m+.

This particular CFO & I were chatting over coffee talking about how his organisation used the services of accounting firms. He told me that they use three firms – all well-known names in the top 20 firms in Australia. One firm he uses for audit, one for tax and the other for specialist consulting needs. This CFO has been using these three firms for close to 10 years and has been (and still is) very happy with their work and service. This CFO can be easily characterised as a “satisfied client.” He then told me, given the quality of their work, that he would be more than willing to refer them to other CFOs and business owners/executives whom may be interested in using their services. I of course then asked the obvious question, “How many times have the partners from the three firms you use have asked you for an introduction or referral?”

The CFO’s reply, “Zero James … Zero” I quickly retorted said that he must be joking. Unfortunately he was not.

Here we have three partners from the big end of the accounting profession with a client that they have served well and is pleased with their work for close to 10 years and they haven’t asked even once for an introduction? This is madness.

I asked the CFO why was this the case? He shared with me some interesting insights which I’ll share with you next post.

Keep well,

James E.

Give it to me straight (please)

We have all heard the old saying – “give it to me straight.”

Usually in the movies someone is sitting in a doctors office on a chair on one side of the desk with the doctor sitting on the other side.  The doctor looks worried, is fidgety and is searching for the right words to use. The patient (usually a man) calmly asks the doctor to “give it to me straight.”

The doctor replies, “Bob … I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first?”

Bob says, “Give me the good news Doc”

Doctor replies, “You have one week to live”

“What? One week to live! That’s the good news? What on earth is the bad news?, Bob shouts out.

The Doctor sheepishly admits, “The bad news is … I meant to tell you the good news last week”

Funny story, but unfortunately many clients of accountants, are victims of not being told the bad news early enough.

A good friend of mine is a management consultant.  He is highly skilled and experienced and earns a very good living. Being self-employed he has to fulfill the usual compliance requirements for operating a small business. As you know, in Australia one of these requirements is to lodge a quarterly business activity statement (BAS). Along with lodging the documentation there is usually an amount of tax payable.

For some strange reason my friend hadn’t lodged his BAS’s for 12 consecutive quarters. For some strange reason his accountant didn’t remind or raise the issue with my friend not until one day four years later he had a difficult chat with his client. Needless to sy it was not a nice discussion – the outcome of which was a bunch of fines, interest on what was owing, and the balance of the tax payable – a truckload of money and a blemished record with the Tax Office.

A question for you … “Who is at fault … the client or the accountant? Legally its the client. Morally it maybe the accountant.

What do you think?

See you next post.

James E.

The subtle art of negotiation (2 of 2)

Last post I referred to Brad’s use of a “wonderful device” in his negotiations with clients. So what is this device? Put simply it is distance. By distance I mean another person which Brad needs to refer back to and check with before committing himself and his firm to anything.

By helping other partners provide services to a large client, Brad has created at least one other person within that account whom he can use as someone he needs to check with and consult before making any decisions when it comes to project scope or fees. Professional accountants (at the partner level in particular) often fall into the trap of saying yes on the spot or being caught by over-committing when a client puts pressure on them in a meeting. What Brad has done is to create distance by having another partner doing work in the same organisation to whom he can “defer” decisions. This is is how it works.

Let’s say, Brad has been asked by his client to make the fee in his proposal sharper and include some extra items at the lower price. Brad can then say something along the lines, “Mr/Mrs Client, thank you for asking the question. However, I need to discuss your request with my other colleague who is the lead partner for this account. I’ll come back to you with an informed response”

By having this other person to defer to, Brad has created sufficient distance and given himself more time to develop a informed, creative & innovative approach and not respond in the heat of the moment and give away too much.

I you’re a partner keep the above in mind when engaged in your next negotiation. It might just save you some time & money!

Until next time,

James E

 

The subtle art of negotiation (1 of 2)

Recently I caught up with an old university friend of mine who is now a senior partner at one of the big 4 accounting firms working in the areas of mergers & acquisitions. We had a great catch up over coffee & raisin toast. To protect the innocent lets call my friend Brad as in Brad Pitt. I’m sure he’d like that!

Brad made mention of very useful tactic when it came to working with large clients. Big accounting firms tend to have multiple relationships with their corporate clients with certain partners wanting to protect their “turf” and not wanting other partners to get in on the act. Its sad to say but unfortunately its true.

However, my mate Brad has come up a clever & innovative approach. He seeks out the other partners working within a particular organisation and helps them win more business with the client in their respective areas. By so doing he builds the relationships he has with other partners in the firm and fosters the reputation of being a team player. All good stuff! However, the real genius in Brad’s approach is the subtle creation of a wonderful device that is critical in any negotiation with existing clients or when chasing new business.

What is this so-called “wonderful device”?  Tune into the next post to find out.

Keep well,

James

Try not to be an ASS!

Over the course of the last year I have I have met with and interviewed dozens of CFOs. Although they come from different backgrounds and work with organisations in a variety of industries it is quite amazing to note the common threads they have in their thinking of working with external accounting firms. One such thread is the importance of understanding the client’s business and not assuming anything.

Here is a quote from Ashley Selwood, CFO, Australian Rugby Union.

… I find at times that external accountants already have some preconceived ideas about what the solution is before they spend the time to actually get to know our business.  We’re a sport and nine out of ten people who walk in the door are either followers of Rugby or at the very least know a bit about Rugby.  When you’re dealing with sport there’s a lot more heart than head involved and sometimes people will walk in the door as a consultant or an accountant and the first thing they’ll do is spend an hour telling you what’s wrong with the Wallabies! Once you get through that, they always seem to have quite fixed ideas of what the solutions are without actually spending the time to get to know our business. In my view this is a fundamental mistake. It not only applies to accountants but all other external professional consultants irrespective of their discipline.

Ashley goes on further to cite some interesting examples of how  accountants have come into the business and not really taken the time and effort to invest in really understanding their business. Too often accountants assume too much without first asking their client questions. As my dad used to say to me when I was growing up (and still does) when you ASSUME you make an ASS of U and ME!

The morale of this post – don’t be an ASS!  (or a donkey for the non-Americans out there).

All my best

James E