Small Business - Is The Accounting Profession Ripping Them Off?

My 16 year-old daughter said, "Gee Dad! You look just like an accountant"

And she wasn't being complimentary.


Accountants are perceived to be boring, stodgy and conservative.

Over the years we've been the butt of many jokes. I've heard them all.

Why did the accountant cross the road? Because he looked up the file and that's what they did last year! Ha Ha!

What do accountants use as a contraceptive? Their personality! Ha Ha!"

Why do accountants become accountants? They don't have the charisma to be undertakers! Ha Ha!

What do they call an accountant at the bottom of the sea? A bloody good start! Ha Ha!

I think I am the exception.

That's why I've begun to call myself a business strategist and counselor. "You're still an accountant," says teenage daughter.

I am still an accountant and I'm still as passionate about it as the day I started. Because accountants have an impact on people's lives. The advice we give changes people's businesses which in turn changes their lives. I'm excited in my role of accountant.

Accounting is not stodgy. Accounting is exciting. Accounting is cool! My ambition is to become the "cool dude of accounting". (do they still say "dude", do they still say "cool". Remember that song: When I say, "cool, man, cool, I don't mean cool, man, cool, I mean you leave me cold, Jack")

We were throwing some ideas around with some of our clients as we do from time to time, looking for that unique benefit that our firm gives to our clients. That unique something that distinguishes us from other accounting practices.

One said, "You have helped me to improve my business. Not only am I making more profits and have more to spend, but I also have more time to spend away from the business. The more time I spend at home with my family the happier my life is. And the happier I am the happier my wife and children seem to be.

When my wife is happy all sorts of good things happen ? even our sex life improves. That's it! You can advertise that using Kelvyn Peters CPA and Associates improves your sex life"

I don't think so!

Sorry, we haven't accepted his idea. You're completely on your own in that department, but we can help you improve your business and consequently your life. And your goal might not be extra profit but extra time for living! We know we can because we are doing it for others.

We repeat ourselves so often because the truth is the truth and there is only a limited number of ways to tell it. You've heard this before. If you are spending every waking moment in a hassle about your business, there must be a better way. There is!

Accountants have been ripping off their clients for years

In 1973 I attended a workshop for accountants at the Finance Management Research Center then headed by Dr Keith Cleland. The workshop was intended to drag participants into the 20th century.

"Accountants have been ripping off their clients for years", he told us. The 25 participants were shocked. These represented vibrant accounting firms from all around Australia, both large firms and small. They were at the cutting edge of the industry. Otherwise they would not have been at this kind of workshop.

To a person they resented that comment and one fellow wanted to punch him on the nose. (It wasn't me, but I would have held his coat).

By the week's end we discovered how we were charging high fees for things that our clients couldn't understand, couldn't use and didn't need. At the same time we were neglecting the information that they did need to increase their profits and safeguard their businesses.

20 Years Later what's Changed?

I attended a week long seminar hosted by CPA Australia in 1993 which was to train us in "client based accounting". Dr Cleland presented the initial module. He did not openly criticize accountants this time, after all, it was the CPA's hosting it, but he gave almost the same speech (same jokes, too) as he had 20 years before.

"These things aren't taught in Universities", he said, "so the accounting profession has mostly ignored them. They have let small business down but things are changing".

Know-it-all, Kelvyn Peters had to jump to his feet and say that the doctor had said exactly the same thing 20 years ago. Where were the signs of change? Universities were still not teaching accountants how to help their clients.

"This seminar with CPA Australia and the suggestion they might make client based accounting a speciality is a good sign", he replied.

10 Years Later?

Nothing has changed. Our hopes have withered on the vine and small business must look elsewhere for help.

Recently I was called in to assist an ailing restaurant. We were happy to work with their existing accountant. We'd rather do the fun stuff and let the accountant do the boring tax returns and compliance work.

In this case the client insisted we take over the whole of the accounting function.

The accountant was most unhappy. "They are difficult clients", he said, "I have kept the fee lower than it should be and I have done extra to help them".

Indeed, he had! The financial statements were beautiful to behold with colored graphs and key ratios compared against industry average. (most accountants still don't do that.

I had advised that both wages costs and cost of foodstuffs were too high. Our focus was to form tactics to reduce them.

"But I had already told them that", said the Accountant, "what do they need you for?'

I told him that the client knew the kitchen wages were too high and what he wanted was for someone to show them how to reduce the wages in the kitchen.

"I can't do that", he said, "I'm an accountant". I would have to camp down there in the restaurant to see what's going on. And they wouldn't pay the fee".

Yes they would. They were going to pay me.

Most accountants see their role as being the provider of financial statements, cash-flow projections and tax returns, and there's the rub.

Each of these is a tool not an end in itself. It's like giving the client a hammer and saw and telling him to go build a house. He needs more than the tools, he needs to be shown how to use them.

Of course the client will complain about fees whatever the level if all he receives are not useful to him.

Accountants generally are flat out preparing financial statements and tax returns. Meeting dead-lines. They haven't the time to 'smell the roses'. Anything that doesn't help meet a dead-line has to wait until later. Often its too late.

I may still look like an accountant, even the cool dude of accounting, but there is nothing I like more than talking with a business owner about his business. There's nothing a business owner likes more than discussing his business and planning to make more money. It's great fun and he loves to pay me for it.

Mostly, small business owners know what their problems are. And mostly they know the way to solve them. It's just that they need a little help to implement the changes necessary. Quite often their business only needs a bit of fine-tuning and at http://www.profitstrategies4business.com you'll find Kelvyn Peters and Associates. They'll give you the help you need.

Kelvyn is one of Australia's longest serving Tax Agents. Kelvyn was registered in February 1962. He is a director of Restaurant Catering Qld Inc the peak employer representative in Queensland, and has advised the hospitality industry for many years. His speciality is moving in to rescue ailing restaurants.

Kelvyn Peters CPA (The cool dude of accounting) has spent over 20 years experimenting and researching methods to help small business in meaningful ways that are affordable.

Kelvyn and his associates have perfected it with their local clients now they are going global: http://www.profitstrategies4business.com

In The News:

Fighting chance for small business  The Australian Financial Review
How to Help Small Businesses Survive COVID's Next Phase  Harvard Business School Working Knowledge

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