By Shaf Asif
So, you work in BAS accounting! You’ve heard every known stereotype known to man about being a suit-wearing ‘bean counter’ or ‘number cruncher.’ As someone who’s spent the better half of the last decade talking all day long to accountants, the most frequent question I get is, how do I shred the prejudice and get exposure to the “sexy stuff in accounting.”
A contradiction of terms some might argue, however, not all accounting jobs are about balancing the books.
Business advisory vs compliance
We’ve all been there. That client who only uses an accountant to keep the tax man happy. They bring in their box of receipts (or Banklink file or Xero account, depending on how savvy they are with current accounting trends) once a year and expect you to crunch the numbers, fill out the forms, and let the IRD know that all is good.
Over the years the market has been calling this ‘advisory work’, while in reality, it’s tax administration at best. Industry leaders in the last decade or so have moved away from this core compliance work. They’ve been able to advise clients on other business intelligence matters such as tax planning, trust setups, preparing financials for bank lending, due-diligence for acquisitions, and a host of other ad-hoc projects.
Last week I met two savvy commercial accountants who set up their own practice, found a way to outsource the compliance work to India, and spend their days fronting clients, helping them use numbers to make commercial decisions. Advisory you say? They believe in what they do. And guess what? They’re looking for savvy accountants to join their practice as partners and have the time and energy to focus on growing their business rather than sitting in a cubicle filling IR3s and IR10s.
Business advisory vs consulting
This is where it really gets interesting. I placed a candidate last month who called me after two weeks to give me feedback.
“Shaf, I thought I did advisory for five years previously at [insert generic 2nd-tier accounting firm here]. Being here 2 weeks, I see what you mean about consultancy – we’re offering genuine value to clients!”
I see where he’s coming from. A handful of firms have taken a pure consultancy approach to their client base and have made a name for themselves by doing this. What are they doing differently? They’re getting involved in the clients’ business, looking at opportunities to cut costs and increase revenue, and identifying growth opportunities by bringing a strategic view to the table.
When you’re a credible accountant who knows what they’re talking about, most businesses appreciate having someone who can help use numbers to make strategic business decisions.
While it would be nice to say the majority of practices are focusing on this in the New Zealand market, the truth is, it’s still in its infancy. Only a select few are putting a focus on pure consulting work.
Sounds great, where do I find a job like that?
If you’re stuck in an accounting role which revolves around tax compliance and number crunching, my advice to you is: GET OUT! While it’s hard to make the move straight away, it’s often just a ‘step one, step two’ situation.
The first step is to find an employer/partner who is consultancy minded. These firms tend to focus on training people in that space rather than hogging the client-facing side to themselves while palming off compliance work to the team members.
The next step is to bring your personality to the table and show the world that not all accountants are bean counters!