What makes a great accountant?

We talk about what makes a great accountant and what to look for as an entreprenuer? What qualities will help you take your small business to the next level?

As an entrepreneur growing a business, one of the necessary evils is tracking your financials. What are the numbers and what story do they tell? If you’re working with a professional accountant, I’m certain, at some point, you were having a conversation with them and they spouted off terms such as, cash vs accrual basis, general ledger, capitalization, amortization, and many others that sounded foreign. You smiled and nodded like you knew exactly what was just said. But, inside your head, that little voice was saying, “what the hell is he talking about?”. I know, I’ve caught myself on several occasions having to stop and do a mental check-in with myself. My internal dialog goes a little something like this “Oh shit, he’s giving me that deer in headlights, blank stare. I need to do something quick, before I lose him completely. I need to reiterate that so he actually understands my message.” I’ve witnessed it first hand, multiple times, with clients of all demographics and backgrounds. Especially in my early years, I had that big headed high of accomplishment after passing my CPA exam that led to a somewhat patronizing attitude that I had to prove to everyone in the world that I’m the smartest CPA and I know everything there is to know. Well, story for another day, but that is the exact opposite approach you should take if you want to succeed as a really great accountant.

Let’s face it, for some that frame of mind never changes. Accountants can be intimidating. Many can be stiff, ridged, and arrogant. They aren’t always the best at picking up on social cues or reading the body language of the human right in front of them. This can be somewhat off-putting to you, the client. Which makes it incredibly difficult and frustrating when you need someone who you can fully trust with your most sensitive financial information. So what makes a great accountant? To help you pick your ideal advisor, I’ve created a list of some of the characteristics to look for. 

    1. Great communication – Communication is the foundational key to success in any business or relationship. With open, honest communication the foundation of failure is being set. No matter how weird, awkward, or hard a conversation may be, in order to succeed, you must be open and honest in your communication about it. I’ve seen so many problems and failures happen due to the lack of good, understandable communication. Most all of these things could have been prevented or eliminated completely if the proper communication was there. So carefully examine the communication habits of a potential accountant (or anyone for that matter) before making your final selection. Run some tests. How well do they explain something in understandable terms? What type of language are they using? Do they ever stop to listen and ask you questions? 
    2. High standard of integrity – An accountant should be your most trusted advisor. They hold your most sensitive information. They need to be highly confidential and ethical in their nature. They need to own their mistakes and communicate with open honesty. There is absolutely no room for half-assers in accounting. They should always uphold their promises and commitments. 
    3. Detail orientedFinances are complex. There are many, many layers and nothing is ever black and white. Each industry, business, and client has its own unique set of traits. That is why an accountant needs to be very intune with all the details and complexities that are a part of your situation. Being very detailed oriented allows them to see things that others wouldn’t. It diminishes surprises and opens the door for opportunities. 
    4. CreativityPiggy-backing off the last characteristic description, accountants should be creative in their thinking. Client problems aren’t black and white or textbook cases. Accountants need to think out of the box to innovate fresh solutions. They need to be able to find the opportunities and create ways to maximize on them. This fresh, creativity thinking is what will help you accelerate your success and, if you have a creative tax accountant, save you a huge amount in taxes.
    5. Flexible and adaptableIt’s so much easier and far more enjoyable to deal with an accountant who brings about a calm energy that can be flexible and roll with the punches. Many accountants are up tight and very much by the book, taking the attitude of ‘change is bad and if it’s not broken don’t fix it’. In our fast paced, ever advancing world, a great accountant needs to be able to adapt and take advantage of the advancements in technology. They need to be able to embrace change and be flexible to ever changing situations. 

I hope that this helps you to know what to look for in your accountant and trusted advisor. My hope for you, the client, is that you find your perfect accountant and gain a better understanding of this remarkably valuable industry of accounting. And if you are an accountant reading this, my hope for you is that more and more of you will adapt these characteristics so that, over time, together, we can change the face of the industry, get rid of those ridiculous stereotypes, and thrive for ourselves and our clients. 

Until next time, stay curious!

Nikki Bushaw, CPA