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What makes a great accountant

Posted 8 years ago in Advisors by Guest
Posted by Guest

Guest post by Greg Sheehan, Chief Executive of Rightway.

I have the privilege of talking with loads of people around New Zealand and overseas around what makes a great accountant. Quite simply when you find one they’ll revolutionize the performance of your business and give you a massive leg up against your competition.

Back when I was CFO of Nike Australia I remember my CEO saying something that fundamentally shifted my perception of what the accountant is there to do. “Greg your job is not just about managing the numbers, it’s about helping me manage the entire performance of the company.” Game shifter!

So given I get asked the question about the great accountant constantly, here’s my cheat sheet of what to look for:

  1. Firstly they’re awesome at the high level conceptual stuff as well as the detail.  Getting excited with you about your vision and helping turn that into a tangible plan is a finely honed skill. They love whiteboards and are always drawing weird bubble diagrams that help turn what’s in your head into a roadmap for your future.
  2. Do they know how to grow their own business? If they don’t, then what credibility do they have in helping you grow yours? Great accountants can prove they know how to do it themselves. Business is about growth. It’s about change. It’s about being brave. Sometimes its flipping stuff upside down. Does your Accountant demonstrate they can do it themselves? It’s a fair question and a damn good indicator of whether they can help you.
  3. They’re accountants. They should have financial mastery. They need to be able to grab a balance sheet or a P&L and “know it” it like a seasoned musician can read music. The great ones can take a look at the numbers and within seconds put their finger on the core health of the business. The most critical part of financial mastery is cash. Understanding what will happen to it and how it should be used is as important as knowing where it’s gone already. The good ones work with cash not with concepts.
  4. What’s a business model? If the accountant doesn’t know the answer then grab your coat. A true pro knows that getting your business model right will often be your competitive edge.  If you’re starting your business from scratch then nailing this early will make a massive difference to your outcomes. Tweaking the current business model may also be needed from time to time.
  5. Can you have a beer with them? Sadly the common cartoon character of an accountant is of some middle-aged bloke, more conservative than the rural vicar. However the best are considered – not conservative. Life’s too short to be conservative. They need to call a spade a spade and yet always drop down on the side of optimism and adventure. They need to encourage at all times. To be your coach. To be the guy who claps feverishly from the sidelines. There are other times when life throws up a real pile of poo and they become your trusted confidant and shoulder.
  6. Your best asset is your team. Does your accountant get that? If so can they help? Building an awesome kick arse team all focused on the same ultimate objective is powerful beyond belief.  Your Accountant needs to be a people person and to know how to get the best from those you have in your squad.
  7. Can they help you build revenue? Our RightWay Regional Partners always start a conversation around revenue growth with the statement “Lets start with what your customer really wants and work backwards from there”. Do you sell directly to consumers and therefore need to build a strong brand that people fall in love with?  Are you a B2B business in which case relationships, a sales process and pipeline are far more valuable?
  8. Are they easy to do business with? Do they price their services up-front so you don’t get surprised? Do they allow you to pay monthly to ease the burden on your precious cash? Do they have people dedicated to helping you grow and develop your business throughout the year, or is your accountant impossible to get hold of?
  9. Do they have an excellent handle on the tax and other legislative requirements? These are constantly changing and can catch out the unwary. A great accountant should create the simplest and most effective tax structure that meets the needs of the owners and whether profits or losses are in the organization’s future.
  10. They should use Xero or go home! The world’s best accountants are shifting the expectations of their customers by embracing the power of the cloud. The outcomes for their SME customers are revolutionary. Xero now sits at the centre of an ecosystem of other software that helicopters the adviser (the world class accountant) into the centre of the business cockpit. All for the cost of the weekly drinks and nibbles.

Is this what you have with your accountant?


Gayle Buchanan
November 28, 2013 at 3.23 pm

Nice one Greg, just fired mine for the second time in 25yrs … still doesn’t use Xero’s single ledger – looking forward to talking the same language with my newbie Xero FA (plus I drink with him often!) gotta love that

Jon Jenkins
November 28, 2013 at 10.13 pm

Great article but I would add that tech/Xero add-ons are now also a massive part of the role we play and would add that if your accountant does not keep up with that then you are probably missing something.

November 29, 2013 at 9.02 am

Caution hipsters: Pride comes before a fall…

Your novel ideal accountant is not a real man, he’s a suspended adolescent.

Stephen Burns
November 29, 2013 at 7.46 pm

Great article Greg. We are looking forward to evaluating the Australian Tax module. Xero – any update on this??

Gino Vannilo
December 3, 2013 at 9.02 am

What happens to all the ‘conservative’ accountants who taught us our craft?
Should they be advised to evacuate the planet and make way for the ‘rock n roll’ accountants?

Diane Crawford-Errington
December 3, 2013 at 11.33 am

Great article Greg. Gets you thinking

Michael Connolly
January 3, 2016 at 4.21 am

Wow great article – 100% agree!

Steven Pastel
December 4, 2013 at 9.50 am

“The world’s best accountants use Xero” – isn’t that jumping the gun, cowboys? Let’s wait and see. I know of some ultra-daggy cardigan-wearing accountants who use Xero, which disproves your theory…it’s not as scientific as you think. There are vicars using Xero too – which dismantles your theory – fancy that!

December 4, 2013 at 12.17 pm

I think most of the elements are there but the explanations sometimes fall a bit short. I’m just reading Mark Bouris’ book “What It Takes”. Point 2, for example, falls far short of his analysis. Business is not necessarily about growth – some people buy themselves a job and are looking for a good income and stability. If you give “growth” advice to such a person, you could be putting his/her whole business model at risk. Point 4 – Business Model – is not enough. The accountant should have a grasp of the client’s industry dynamics (see Porter’s 5 forces framework), and her/his ability to differentiate from other competitors or build a competitive edge. Point 10 is controversial at the moment, it’s hardly industry standard. Xero is being touted widely but the features and not the real benefits tend to come out. Nevertheless, a good article with many worthwhile points.

Greg Sheehan
December 5, 2013 at 6.49 am

It’s great to see all these comments. Of course one article can never entirely capture all of the valid points, however its terrific to see the discussion rolling on how to be a better, more well rounded adviser to the world of small business.

December 5, 2013 at 10.36 pm

Good article, snappy and soundbitey (if there is such a word). As an adviser (because I’m more than just an accountant!) I agree, both with the article and Greg’s additional post that there is more to be aware of.

October 13, 2014 at 3.57 am

This article sets the bar high for all prospective accountants but it is one that we will aim to achieve. Great article and thank you.

Neil Utsha Joshi
January 25, 2015 at 5.48 pm

and why only Xero?
why not any other software?
I would not judge anyone as a good or bad accountant based on #10, thats BS.

March 3, 2015 at 3.28 am

When I Was A Kid I Always Dream Of Being An Accountant, Despite That Am not Good In Mathematics But I Still Love And Understand Accounting When Being Thought To Me, I wanna Study Accountancy In The University, Please Advice Me On The Steps To Take. To Become A Good Accountant.

victoria unachukwu
April 7, 2015 at 12.54 am

great accountants i will say are made and not born. there are some sacrifices u have to make or forgone alternative to achieve something great. all u need first is to have passion for it…

Michael Connolly
January 3, 2016 at 4.19 am

Great article Greg! I also think accountants should share their passion with their clients. A great accountant cares as much about his clients firm as he/she would care about his firm.

Jasper Walkom
July 20, 2016 at 10.07 pm

Good article!!!! Thank you for sharing it’s useful.

Alice Carroll
February 27, 2020 at 6.29 am

You made a great point about measure an accountant’s competence by looking at their own ability to grow a business. I think any profession that takes pride in its services that include guidance and counsel in any way should have the experience to back up their professional opinions. Looking for the best accountant should be my number one priority once I start looking into building my own business someday.


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