Are You An Accountant?

Over the years I have been in many situations, meeting people for the first time and telling them what I do for a living. The phrase used to generally be “I’m an accountant, but not that type of accountant”, to which I would generally get a blank look and sometimes a request to elaborate further.

Many people’s first and foremost contact with accountants is at tax time and it seems to have become the primary service the general population associate with my industry. As a Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants I can happily say that my focus has never been in the areas traditionally delivered by my esteemed colleagues in practice such as tax and audit among a number of others. There is nothing wrong with those areas of the industry but not really where I have wanted to be.

Management Accounting, and the strategic business leadership that derives from it, on the other hand seems to be what floats my boat. I have always enjoyed getting involved with the Operations guys and take a perverse pleasure from turning their natural suspicion into mutual respect when they see how I can help them to deliver. I turn from one of “Them” into an “almost one of Us”.

The whole “my institute is better than your institute” amuses me to a certain degree but is also quite sad in that accountants seem to have to justify their position in the industry by trying to belittle those who are different in terms of the focus of their qualification. It also reek’s of the schoolyard “my dad is bigger than your dad” mentality. This seems to be quite prevalent in the UK between CA’s, ACCA’s and ACMA’s and even here in Australia between CA’s and CPA’s. My view has always been that the different qualifications are all about focus and the work being done and not about whose qualification is better.

My final MBA dissertation was based on what my institute call The CIMA Difference and whether it truly gives our members better career options compared to other institutes. 20,000 words later and the upshot for me was that no it didn’t in terms of breadth of a general accounting career (ACCA, I felt, was a better option compered to CIMA or ICAEW for UK based accountants unsure of what path they wanted to follow) but that for those who were wholly focussed on either working or consulting as strategic finance leaders in industry then it did give the focus of study and experience required to make a difference. Likewise, for those wanting a career in public practice with a focus on areas such as Tax, Audit, Corporate Finance or M&A etc. the ICAEW was, based on my research, a better option.

These days I simply tell people what I do and leave it at that unless they enquire further. The general comment I get when in non-work clothes is of non-belief (apparently I look like a tradie when in shorts and t-shirt and not an accountant) so taking my brown cardigan off once in a while is generally a good thing.

For small business owners who feel that they need some specialist support from a finance professional it is important you ensure you get someone with the right mix of skills and experience for the work that you are looking to get done. If you need help with tax planning then make sure that you get an experienced and knowledgeable tax professional, believe me, they are worth their weight in gold. If you are looking to grow your business and need funding, ensure that you use the skills of an accountant well versed in the field of corporate finance. If you are looking for help in making sure your business is operating in the most efficient and effective manner and that you have adequate control over the business then ensure that you use a consultant that has strong experience of these areas. Many practices will offer this service via a virtual CFO offering but not all of them will have actually spent time “in the trenches” in small business and have dealt with the day to day issues that arise on a regular basis first hand. A CFO consultant who has actually built a career on such work will have seen and dealt with many of the issues you see and on numerous occasions. That experience can be invaluable in helping you plan, manage and run your business.