My Accountant is frustrating me
Let’s face it, we all have those moments when we are deeply dissatisfied with our service providers - mostly it’s telephone companies and internet providers. But many accountants are not very far in terms of coming up short.
Over the last 2-months, we have been speaking with a host of normal company-folk to understand what frustrates them the most about the lot of us.
Here’s the top list of complaints we heard:
Everyone needs to be reassured about their business. When you are not a numbers person, you need validation to see where your business is headed - financially. When accountants fail to step up to that shoes, it’s deeply frustrating to business owners. There is information galore on the internet about KPIs and ratios and benchmarks you should achieve. But how is that relative to your clients’ business?
Finance guys - take charge!! If you know what’s out there, take the time to communicate.
How are we solving this?
100% cloud. Yes all your numbers need to be where you can see them - FAST!
When we put our clients on Xero, they always own their subscriptions - so your financial information is always with you. We don’t own it
We ask you to describe your biggest pain points before you are onboarded. Nothing over the top, just want to understand where we can add maximum value
How did our clients react?
Like an absolute charm. 85% clients have stayed with us for more than 3 years (that’s about how long we’ve been alive)
Pricing for bits and bobs
We were on the phone with an acquaintance of ours last week. They are not a client (for now), just a bunch of guys we know and like from our co-working space. They were explaining to us how disappointed they were that their Accountants send them an invoice at the end of the year with additional costs they were not aware of.
We needed to understand this scenario in detail. From our own experience, we couldn’t quite believe that a professional wouldn’t advise clients of possible charges before raising an invoice on them. Their initial quote looked a bit like this,
Annual accounts and tax filing - XXXX
Self-assessment taxes for Directors - XXX
“ADHOC Bits and bobs” - XXX
Yes, that says there “could” be additional charges. But, the client did not understand what it meant. As they asked their Accountants for additional support / advice through the year, the “bits and bobs” kept adding on.
How are we solving this?
Universal Accountant’s truth - sometimes when we pick up work, there is more to it than initially imagined.
The common additional work we handle is corrections to previous work performed, company secretarial support or SEIS applications. We are upfront about additional costs.
Transparency is important to us as we are here to build a customer base for the long term. Trust is 2-ways.
Here’s an extract from an email we sent a client:
The client agreed to my above email.
And once the job was done, we had some good news for the client,
The reason why we are bringing it to the forefront is because a lot of professionals are reluctant to speak about their pricing. We admit it is a difficult thing to gauge, before we see what you need done. Nevertheless, we understand how important knowing what something will cost is for our clients.
In line with giving our clients that transparency, our pricing page is now under construction and we’ll share it with you soon.
Let’s be honest here, everyone loves to show-off - at least a little bit. We honestly do not believe that accountants use more jargon than other professionals (ever spoken to a Surveyor?)
But therein could be the problem. While we might be “talking normal” when we say “per tax laws you can’t claim depreciation only capital allowances”; you might be wondering - what does that even mean, or how does that matter to me?
How are we solving this?
It was a long journey out of jargon land. Circa 2014, I was attending a networking event in Singapore. The topic was “writing in plain English” and the presenter - Shirley Taylor. When she showed examples of “not good writing” it literally looked like my emails leaked. I openly admitted to writing long-winded emails and to the benefit of all, we reworked some of those sentences.
Thankfully, it has improved ions since then...
An example - My 2014 email would read,
"Please find below, the instances where you might find that certain business expenses are not tax deductible"
Fast forward to 2019, it would usually read,
"Here are some expenses that HMRC doesn’t allow… "
Businesses are full of challenges. Adding anxiety to that by sending out emails that require a tax dictionary is not fun for anyone. We are taking a conscious effort to minimise technicalities in our client communications.
Closing paperwork/compliance too close to comfort
This seems to be one of the most common issues people have with their Accountants. Excerpt from normal folk convo,
“It’s very close to comfort and especially noticing this for our VAT returns. We are fairly cash organised. Had we know our VAT bill around 2-weeks before the due dates, that would enable us to use that cash elsewhere”, comments from a small agency owner in Bournemouth who wishes to remain anonymous.
Small businesses can always use cash to run ads, pick up a new product or even move it away to a higher interest earning deposit account. Not having enough knowledge about upcoming outflows is inefficient.
How are we solving this?
Primarily put processes in place. We always have a “you expect - we expect” chat at the start of any engagement. If a business expects us to deliver cash forecasting, that’s what we need to do. But it’s equally important to have an honest tete-a-tete to see what are the impediments to this.
Did clients like it?
THEY LOVED IT!!
We were very surprised by how much clients appreciated processes. When we first started doing this, we were concerned that people might be put off by it. Quite the contrary, people are happy to adhere to process, help to solve financial queries faster and get to the important bits - how to get the numbers that actually help my business.
From frustrating to awesome….What can we do to make you feel better?
Businesses; like people; have certain personality - sometimes you don’t get along with someone for purely personal reasons. If there are business reasons why your accountant is not working for you, look at alternatives. It has to start with you,
As a business, what do you need in an Accountant? Someone who would help comply with the law and largely leaves you alone or you need constant guidance and nudges about your numbers. The kind of finance guy you need for both are different.
When you buy anything for personal use, you hardly buy the first thing you see - you take time. At the minimal, pick up the phone and speak to the person concerned directly and always ask to speak to the person who would be dealing with your company before making a decision.
If you have an Accountant and are having problems, speak out. You need to let them know you feel things are not going well. This might change the working relationship completely.
No success there? It's all right, you can talk to us. We never shy away from a real conversation. Call us!
I’ll leave this quote from Shindler’s list to conclude,
~ My father was fond of saying you need three things in life. A good doctor, a forgiving priest and a clever accountant. The first two, I’ve never had much use for”
Additional reference material - this brilliant post from The Profitable Firm