The most important thing

I’m assuming, if you’re reading this article, that you’re an accountant or at least working in the industry in some capacity. Let me ask you a question … “As an accountant what is the most important thing you do for your clients?”  Over the years I’ve been given any number of responses to this question.

Some say, “Keep my clients safe and compliant”.

Others say,  “Make their lives easier”.

While many say, “Get them a big tax refund”.

However, the most common response I receive to this fundamental question is, “to add value”. Like most business-speak terms, to add value just rolls off the tongue. It sounds right and makes people who hear it (at least at first) believe that everything is going to be ok and that you’re the right person for the job.

However, what does adding value really mean? We all know what adding means so let’s focus on the value bit. What is value to your client? Is your GEN Y self-employed IT contractor client wanting the same value as your 40+ years TAFE teacher? What about the single mother working two jobs or the construction company owner employing 100 staff?

It’s obvious that value means different things to different people. So how do you determine what is valuable for your clients and prospects? The answer is incredibly simple – you ask them.

A few months ago Thomson Reuters published a book I wrote titled, What do Accounting Clients Really Want?The book is a series of 20 interviews of people who buy accounting services for their respective businesses.  Statistically, of course, a pool of 20 interviews means nothing, however, 20 in-depth personal conversations does.  Overwhelmingly, the people I interviewed want their accountants/advisors to invest in a meaningful relationship with them. They don’t mean the odd lunch and/or drinks after work; but rather a relationship that tells them (i.e. the client) that you have their best interests in your mind and heart. By having a close relationship you can truly determine what is of value to them and what isn’t.

Kym Warner is the CFO of The Coffee Club – a national chain of coffee franchises generating over $320m revenue annually. When I asked her,  “What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant? Her reply was simple

… for me it’s about the relationship. I want to know that I can build a relationship with them…

Kym relayed the story of her first day as CFO for The Coffee Club and her relationship with her new external accountant.

It’s the relationship that we’ve built. I think the fact that when I started, my second day was the first day of our audit partner; we’ve really built a bunch of knowledge together.  We’ve shared the improvements in the business, so she understands where we’ve come from.  The partner herself is a lovely lady.  Very professional, knowledgeable and commercial. If we have any toing and froing, I can talk openly and honestly with her, which is great, because everything they do has to be reported to their sister firm in Thailand, which is where our investors are based.  I think this partner has a real empathy for my position; she seems to understand the pressures I’m under.  I want our auditors to be honest and ethical, and sensitive enough so my role is not undermined with the board and stakeholders within the business.

It’s the relationship rather than the process that means more to your clients than anything else.  What they are really after is someone who can connect with them.  A conversation with a client over a cup of coffee will do more to deepen the relationship than sitting at a computer in your office.  Don’t believe it?  Why don’t you try it a couple of times – you may just surprise yourself!

For more information please visit