The Evolution of the Accountant

There is no doubt accountants need to evolve.

The accounting industry is going through massive change in response to compliance automation, tax simplification and an increasing demand from clients for more proactive services.  Contrary to popular opinion (or fake news), I am not of the view that we are talking about a revolution here - the modern accountant will not become redundant; they simply need to evolve into better coaches.  

Here are my top three areas where this evolution is needed:

  1. A shift from reactive to proactive services.
  2. Less advising and more coaching.
  3. Coaching skill development.

ONE: Proactive vs. Reactive.

During my 20 years in Public Practice, I would ask prospective clients what they were looking for in an accountant.  Just about every one would say they wanted a more proactive accountant.  

But with over 350 clients, a large team and a general absence of telepathy how can we be more proactive?  The answer is really quite simple.  

Create opportunities for your clients to engage with you on multiple levels.  Run educational events (small and large scale), offer complimentary meetings, write blogs and newsletters, keep your websites fresh (and free of 'Accountanese'!) and engage with your clients by phone or face to face as often as you can.  The more one-to-many interactions you create, the greater your client reach and the fewer demands there will be on your precious time.  

​You can't anticipate your client's every move.

However, you must not let this be an excuse for not engaging.  Educate your clients about what works and what doesn’t.  The experiences of your most (and least) successful clients are anecdotes that need to be shared, anonymously of course, with your existing clients.  Many of your clients don’t know what they don’t know - it’s your job to teach them how to run a better business.  These events position you as an expert and a coach without any need for product pushing or hard selling.

The call to action from these interactions with your clients should be for them to engage in a service with you.  Services such as The Business Development Trifecta - an annual Business Plan, annual Forecast and ongoing reporting and accountability.  In other words, proactive high level chargeable work.

TWO: Less Advising, More Coaching.

Traditional accountants think clients come to them to be told what to do - how much tax or GST to pay, and how they can structure their business to pay less tax.  After all, that's how we were trained, and this is what traditional clients have come to expect.  But in the proactive accounting world clients want so much more. 

Clients want to know how to make more money, free up their time and reduce their stress levels.  Of course, we have no magic bullets.  We need to understand the context behind the problems and challenges our clients are experiencing.  Then, we must drill beneath the symptoms to find the root causes.  There is only one way for us to do this: simply ask our clients better questions.  Stop advising and start coaching.

My top five reasons accountants should coach more:

  1. Symptoms vs root causes.  We’re often looking for quick answers due to time pressures, but quick answers are usually band aids masking the symptoms.  We don’t put band aids on top of skin cancers.  We need to understand the root causes of our client's problems.  
  2. The need to synergise. 1 + 1 = 5.  Your client's expertise combined with your own expertise yields a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.
  3. Empower others, instead of creating dependency.  Coaching provides enduring value as opposed to one off advice.  It builds capacity in others, while developing their leadership skills.
  4. Context before content.  Seek first to understand what is happening before giving an answer.  If you jump to the solution (giving off the cuff advice) you'll often misinterpret the underlying problem.
  5. Accountability.  We need to help others take ownership of the problem AND the solution.  Simply telling someone what to do (advising) doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it.  The client needs to understand why they need to do what they need to do.  If they develop the solution in conjunction with you, they're more likely to implement.  As a coach we must follow up.  This may require a reminder as to why the person chose this particular course of action.

​THREE: Coaching Skill Development.

We now know we need to be more proactive and how to do this.  We also know we need to stop advising and start coaching.  So, how do we develop these coaching skills that will be essential as part of our modern service?  

Here are eight coaching fundamentals:

  1. Get clear on the goal.  What is your client really wanting to achieve?
  2. Understand the current situation.  Never judge the person or situation.  Seek first to understand.
  3. Ask better questions.  One question at a time.  Provide time for responses and don’t interrupt with your own view - no matter how sure you are that you have the right answer.  Ask open-ended questions which encourage conversation, not closed questions which could block conversations.  And NEVER ask leading questions which hint at the answer you’re looking for.
  4. Listen.  This means sometimes you need to be silent.
  5. Don’t jump to conclusions.  You need to get the full context of the situation.
  6. Paraphrase.  Summarise what your client has said and ask them if you have interpreted them correctly.
  7. Identify options and evaluate.  Work together to identify alternative courses of action and which ones are preferred.
  8. Agree on accountability and consequences of inaction.  Lock in the actions with a name and due date.  Agree what will happen if the actions are not completed.

Just as you learned to be an advisor through your studies and continuing professional development, so too can you become a better coach.  Invest the time in your own development as a truly proactive modern accountant.

‘It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, it’s the most adaptable to change.’

- Charles Darwin


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