The Australian Rugby Union

Here are some thoughts from Ashley Selwood, CFO, Australian Rugby Union in response to the question: What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant?

The times that we’ve engaged an external accountant have been mainly around projects. We’ve tended to engage accountants and others for project-type work, so they’d come in to complete a specific task. There has been some advice from time to time on tax issues, but we’re a not-for-profi t, so although we don’t pay tax we still have tax issues. We’ve still got fringe benefits, GST and the like. My comments are around where we’ve engaged accountants on the basis of projects.

Set against this background, one of the attributes I’d look for is the ability for the person (or persons) to sit down and spend the time up-front getting to know our business. In my experience, many accountants use predefined work processes, templates, checklists, software and so on. This is good and helps in a lot of business settings such as audit
However, 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 10 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.

With sport, people understand it or think they do. What they don’t understand is the business of sport, which is why we are engaging them in the fi rst place. The challenge, in our case, is that the core of our business is run on six Saturday nights during the year. We play six test matches annually against countries from around the world and we drive all our revenue for the year from those six matches.
When you’re sitting down and talking to an accountant and looking at what attributes you want them to have, you want them to set aside their preconceived ideas and get to really know what our business is about before they start, and get into the process of providing the advice or whatever the work they need to do.

I have an example – it wasn’t with an accountant but with a consultant – where we were three meetings into the work when something came up and I started to explain a little bit more about our business, and this person, who was taking copious notes, actually admitted after the end the meeting, “I wish I had known that earlier”.
We were already three meetings into the work and when I started explaining some of these things that they didn’t realise – like six Saturday nights; we deal in six currencies every day; all that sort of stuff – they didn’t know that because they hadn’t spent the time up-front to get to know the business. They’d walked in, they had their template, they thought they knew all about rugby. Needless to say, I was not impressed with how they ran the project.