We accountants are the number crunchers, beancounters, and ledger lovers of the business world.
The perception of the accounting profession is that:
most of our time is spent combing through spreadsheets while simultaneously feeding copious amounts of data into the computer.
our jobs are mind-numbingly boring and only the most reclusive of people would choose such a path.
we are involved in scandal after scandal and we’re experts on covering things up.
our one redeeming quality is that we are highly intelligent because we produce indecipherable financial reports.
Are accountants really just socially awkward data-entry machines that can’t be trusted? Absolutely not. Entrepreneurs everywhere know that hiring a good accountant is vital to the success of their business.
Not only do we add insight and value, but we also manage some of the most important and difficult aspects of a business. We become trusted advisors to founders and our work impacts how financial decisions are made.
But, what exactly do we do? Why is it so important to have a trusted accountant on your side? We, like actors, play many different parts during the course of a business. Here’s a look at five major roles that accountants play in the lifespan of a business.
1. The Designer
Accountants design solutions for the complex needs of virtually all enterprises. Our solutions range from implementing and customizing brand new accounting software to developing revenue recognition methodologies.
We design systems to create efficiencies and we develop processes and procedures for internal controls. Oftentimes, a CEO will call us with a huge dilemma that needs immediate attention. We make it our priority to solve problems and keep the status quo. Our job is more than entering numbers into spreadsheets.
2. The Translator
One of the major tasks we have as accountants is to produce accurate and timely financial statements. This includes the P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statements, among other ad-hoc reporting requests. The entrepreneurs and leadership teams who rely on these statements probably weren’t accounting majors, and don’t necessarily understand the ins and outs of US GAAP.
Oftentimes, accountants must translate the financial data into relatable terms and sometimes present results to boards, investors, and top management. Our job is to illustrate what the financial statements mean for company, identify trends and point out weaknesses. We translate the data into terms everyone can follow.
3. The Facilitator
When you become an accountant, you soon discover that more goes into producing financial statements than plugging numbers into a program such as Quickbooks or Xero. Someone needs to download the bank accounts, maintain fixed assets, book adjusting journal entries, manage accounts payable, recognize revenue, answer questions from vendors, process expense reports, collect accounts receivable, pay bills, reconcile the balance sheet, book equity… I could go on and on.
My point is that accounting isn’t easy and there are a lot of steps involved. As accountants, we facilitate the process from start to finish. We work in the background to make everything run effortlessly.
4. The Peacemaker
One of the challenges of being an accountant is interacting with third parties such as consultants, customers, and credit card companies (to name a few). Our conversations can entail a range of queries such as:
“When am I going to get paid for my services?”
“Your online statement is now ready for viewing!”
“Have you received my wire yet?”
“Can you please send us your W-9?”
“We need updated billing information!”
I deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis. I’ve always said that communication is an art form we all need to perfect. By honing our communication skills, we are able to keep the peace between clients and their third parties. Most importantly, we are able to respond to inquiries timely and effectively. One of the worst thing you can do as an accountant is to allow your client’s relationships to suffer. It is our job to keep the peace among all involved parties.
5. The Cheerleader
“And as he reclined at a table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples,’Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
You get the point. I don’t care if you are a believer or not; ancient text backs up what I’m saying here.
In present day, the accounting profession has faced some pretty severe backlash after scandal upon scandal has come to light. Take Enron for instance. Certain accounting practices were used to hide losses and inflate earnings. It resulted in one of the largest bankruptcies in American history, the loss of thousands of jobs, and the downfall of one of the world’s largest accounting firms. I was barely a teenager when that happened, but people in the accounting world still talk about it to this day.
Accountants, auditors, and tax professionals everywhere have gotten a bad reputation over the years. I firmly believe it is our job to be cheerleaders for our not only our profession, but also our clients. We have a fiduciary duty to act with integrity and possess the highest ethical standards. We need to push for our clients’ financial data to be accurate and reliable and we need to discourage them from “creative” accounting. If we don’t act as cheerleaders, then how will we ever succeed?
This article has been edited and condensed.
Brooke Cline, a first generation blogger and finance ninja, owns and operates a full service accounting and bookkeeping firm, Emergent Advisory LLC. She has spent the last six years in the accounting and finance world, providing services to government entities, real estate empires, and Silicon Valley startups. She is passionate about helping businesses grow from the ground up. She and her husband live in Georgia with their Wheaten terrier, Lucy. Connect with @starr_cline on Twitter.
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