There are two types of accountant and finance professional, those that ensure the appropriate controls and compliance are in place so that the numbers are accurate and consistent – let’s call this preserving value, and then there are those who are coming out from behind their desks, engaging with the business on meaningful problems, solving them, being a trusted sparring partner and financial mentor – let’s call this creating and capturing more value. So what’s stopping us all doing this?
Well it’s to do with our image as a profession. Think about it as accountants and finance professionals we’ve had many thousands of years recording transactions, some of us can even build up an entire business from a box full of receipts or a shopping bag of transactions, so imagine what we could do it given other non-financial type data, and imagine what we could do if we started combining the financials and non-financials together (like the cost of customer retention or impact of service failure rates on earnings per share).
Low expectations historically
As accountants and finance professionals we’re pretty darn good at preserving and safeguarding company assets with our technical compliance and controllership skills, and as such, we’ve not really expected any more from ourselves and likewise some of our organisations have been slow to expect more from us. This is why they do not proactively come to us because they don’t know any better.
Complicated spreadsheet and terminology
Also we talk in terms of rev rec standards, lease accounting, NPVs, ROIs, EBITDAs, GMs, GAAP, etc…. We hide behind complicated spreadsheets that we deliberately design complicated making it difficult for others to decipher them. As accountants we’re the brunt of many jokes, and
if you wish to get out of talking to people at a dinner party just say you’re an accountant. Conversation just stops, I’ve tried this, for fun. It’s uncanny.
In fact this is highlighted well in a study published in the Australian Finance review and highlighted recently in a TEDx talk by David Boyar of #SequelCFO who utilised an example of a family BBQ, to reinforce the poor image point. From a personal finance perspective studies show 4 out of 10 people won’t talk to anyone about their financial affairs, hopes and dreams, 2.5 will talk to their business partners and colleagues, 1.5 will talk to a family member or friend, and just 1 will just talk to an accountant (the rest will talk to a mix of other advisers). The same study also found if you spoke to your business partner you had a 50/50 chance of getting positive advice you could execute, a coin flip, a friend a 25% chance,
even though an accountant has an 83% chance of giving you positive advice,
a massive increase, but fact is, people don’t want to speak to us.
So why aren’t accountants being involved in these conversations? Would we still have 9 out of 10 business failing if we were? Our great unknown is putting ourselves out there, as accountants and finance professionals we are risk averse, we don’t take risks, and a fine example of that is in venturing out from behind our desks, it’s a risk averse activity.
Extroversion / Introversion anomaly
And there’s an anomaly here as that did you know only 35% of accountants tested as introverts in a recent study (most of us are extroverts), but we’ve this perception of being boring and risk averse relative to the sales reps in our organisations who are considered more extroverted, out there, engaging with others, making things happen. So at the moment we’re probably spending too much time buried in numbers and not enough influencing and leveraging our assets to unlock value creation opportunities with the organisations we serve.
I’ll mention the antidote on a follow up article, but if you can’t wait that long then listen into our #SITN Show where we bring on guest mentors to our Strength in the Numbers Show, to share with you their stories and hard won lessons and practically figured out how to address their image problems to build on the compliance and controllership skills to create and capture even more value in and for their organisations. And ultimately help you learn how to leverage your strengths in the numbers faster so you can have a more fun, rewarding and successful career as a finance professional.
So what do you think, have we been slow to grasp value creation or do we have an image problem?
The author Andrew Codd is the producer of the Strength in the Numbers Podcast which interviews real finance practitioners to break down their hard won lessons and deconstruct their practical methods that work on the job and which you won’t typically find in textbooks or exams so that we create more influential finance professionals worldwide who solve meaningful problems for their organisations and in return have fun, rewarding and successful careers in finance.