I too often hear from partners in accounting firms the excuse that ‘my team members are not capable of doing value added work’ as a reason for partners not visiting clients and undertaking sales visits. And yet many of the partners uttering this excuse have qualified accountants on their team. I refuse to believe that qualified CAs or CPAs are incapable of being involved in delivering business improvement related services (e.g. cash flows, budgets, KPI monitoring, revenue and profitability analysis, testing and measuring new ideas with a client, what-if analysis and scenario planning etc.) My evidence is based upon the fact that I have done this myself as a senior accountant and manager and I know of many others who have done the same. Here’s my diagnosis (and hence the title of the article.)
In the goal for maximum efficiency, I believe many firms have become lazy. Slash the hours to the minimum required to do the job with the necessary quality control. Here are some likely outcomes:
- Your accountants do not have time to even think about the client’s business
- They are unlikely to ask the client any probing questions to uncover unmet needs for fear of blowing the budget
- Client service drops
- Client needs remain unmet
- Accountants do not develop the necessary commercial acumen to step up and become involved in higher value work, should it arise
When I was in practice we had a performance standard whereby a three year analytical review of the client’s business had to be on file before a partner would accept the file and before the end of job meeting with the client. It made accountants talk to clients and get at the very least a first cut analysis of why, for example, gross margin had fallen by 3% or why sales had increased by 28%.
The key point here is that accountants need to focus EXTERNALLY (on their clients) rather than internally (on their own efficiencies.) What else could accountants do to lift the value they provide to clients during the course of doing the year end compliance work?