Thoughts: The Accountant as Ambassador
November 30, 2020
By Mark Meinberg
Since the beginnings of civilization, there have been people recognized as ambassadors – those trusted, established people, who have earned a great deal of respect from those in control and power. Chosen to represent a family, chieftain, or country; who earned this office and honor through their judgment and stature. Fast forward to the Italian Renaissance, when Luca Pacioli codified the double-entry system, and all of a sudden we had – demonstrably -- people who could honestly and objectively attest to the financial status of an entity. At this point, our conversation about history ends – rather, let’s discuss the consideration and importance of accountants as ambassadors for their clients.
All businesses, big and small, recognize the necessity of having a financial professional who has the knowledge and experience to provide them with sound advice. And it goes beyond Signore Pacioli’s breakthrough – industry and service line knowledge is just as important, as is representation of the client. Most critically, the relationship has to ‘work.’
So ask these questions: As a client, do you consider your accountant as your ambassador? Or, as an accountant, are you recognizing and acting on opportunities to bring both your knowledge and your position to bear to help your clients? Though times have changed, there are certain constants. With that in mind, here are three things clients should expect from their accountant – and three responsibilities the accountant must assume for the client.
Three things I, as the client, need to know about my accountant/ambassador:
- How well do they know me and my business? Certainly I need my ambassador to be up-to-speed on my financial standing; my cash flow and accounts payable and revenue and tax status. But I also need them to understand the cyclical nature of my company and industry. If I’m a Christmas tree farmer, they’ve got to understand that my revenues are going to be concentrated, but my accounts payable are going to be spread out over the year. Do they she have the expertise to help me manage this?
- What type of experience and temperament does my ambassador have? I’m a young, progress-minded entrepreneur. Does my accountant want (or not want) calls from me every time I have a question? Can they rein me in if I start to go too far off the beaten path? Do they have the know-how to show me how to get back on the road? And, especially today – are they truly available in a virtual world? Do they have some type of platform where we can safely share sensitive information?
- What does my ambassador’s portfolio of clients look like – do they all look like me, or are they spread across multiple industries and stages of business maturity? Do they have clients in ancillary industries? Can they represent me in my environment? If my company works in a very specialized, regimented industry, I need my accountant/ambassador to have that expertise. But if I’m in a service-oriented business that focuses on B2B, it’d be great to have someone who knew about some of the industries I want to provide services in – and the ability to make a few introductions wouldn’t hurt either.
Three things the accountant/ambassador needs to do for their clients:
- Instill confidence in the client that they are ably and professionally represented. Demonstrate knowledge of the client’s financial and business situation as well as certain industry indicators that may be important. Be present for the client -- from filing deadlines and bank meetings to virtual cups of coffee at virtual chamber mixers or even, eventually, a hot dog at the ballpark.
- Be sharp, attentive, and insightful. Recognize key moments and developments; stay up-to-date on critical developments – IRS pronouncements, tax court decisions, SEC announcements -- that can impact the client and share insights that can help them. Leading to…
- Be an effective communicator. Often, accountants have expertise in developments the client may not even be aware of – the accountant has the knowledge, and the ambassador shares it and makes sure the client understands why it’s important. It’s also the accountant’s responsibility to communicate for the client, as much as to the client – at the bank, with the attorney, perhaps with the client’s clients or vendors. And be aware that communication is a two-way street – listening to the client is critically important. If the client lets slip that a deadline falls on their daughter’s birthday, file that information and hang onto it – you don’t want to be stepping in front of a piñata to get a signature on a form.