When you tell people that you are an accountant, the image that pops in their head often looks like the one above. Some older gentleman wearing a pressed white shirt, spectacles, a green visor sitting under some intense light immersed in calculation. All of the above hint at an individual who, while quite intelligent and diligent about their work, is probably not viewed as the life of the party. But why is this the image that comes to mind? Where is the social accountant? Where is the person who likes to go rock climbing on the weekends? Where are the real men and women who represent the accounting profession?
Truth be told, the image classically associated with accounting professionals is actually just stereotypical. Now what do I mean by that? Well, a stereotype is a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things, but that belief may or may not accurately reflect reality. The reason this image has persisted so long is largely based on historical grounds. However, the reality of the current accounting profession is that most people have “another side” to them which isn’t reflected when they are with clients and colleagues. The same would be true for me as well.
In this post I talked a lot about how I got into the profession (which was kind of by accident) as well as some of the things I like to do in my spare time. But what I wanted to focus on today is the why behind why I don’t fit the mold so to speak.
I’ve always had a business mind. Back in my younger days, I use to do yard work for our neighbors. They had a pretty big house and converted much of their yard space into gardens. The one in front was full of flowers and the one in back had vegetables and other plants. One day I was working with the owner’s wife and she asked me what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” Without hesitation I spouted off something to the effect of I wouldn’t mind owning a landscaping business, a car wash, a towing company, etc. Why I didn’t mention going to college still escapes me, but apparently I was focused on starting something.
If you fast-forward to my time in college and graduate school, one trend always tended to emerge. While I was good at my accounting classes, I almost always did better in my business classes. Whether it was business strategy, economics or investment theory, I simply was always able to grasp the concepts and meld them with the associated financial impact. What this means is that I not only understood the accounting side of the transaction, I also got how it related to the business. Thus, over the course of my 13 years in Corporate America, I ended up moving more towards the business side of the financial house (e.g. Sr. Financial Analyst, Manager or Financial Planning & Analysis) and farther away from the accounting side.
Most “typical” accountants get business in general, but sometimes get too entrenched in making sure all the numbers tick and tie. While this is part of making sure your financials are solid, it’s not what most business owners are looking for. Many want someone to give them insights on what they see; not simply regurgitate what happened last month. They also want someone who understands all the business functions and knows why marketing spends so much money (i.e. because sales don’t happen without it and no sales means no bookkeeper/accountant). I was fortunate enough to work on cross functional teams in my corporate days thus I get how the puzzle fits together. Unfortunately, not all financial professionals do.
I steal from the best and forget the rest. What I mean by this is that when it comes to business, I look for what works and discard what doesn’t. The key with this (for me) is that it doesn’t make a difference what industry the concept is used in, so long as it’s the best one.
For example, in the insurance industry it is known that you must manage the customer relationship if you want to be successful. I mean, what’s the difference between one insurance provider and another? Not much to the untrained eye. But what will keep you with your agent given that everything else is equal across all providers? The way that they treat you when then deliver service and how they engage with you when they aren’t. This is why you get a birthday card, a calendar for your refrigerator and those monthly newsletters each year. All of the proceeding are ways to keep you feeling as if your agent cares about you AND keep them top of mind whenever someone asks you “do you know a good insurance agent?”
So what does that have to do with me? All of the above are marketing tools adapted from another industry and applied to our practice to help us keep our clients engaged. Do they work? I like to think so as we have a pretty high client retention ratio. But what’s different about this is that not all accountants conduct their marketing in this manner. Some think that advertising in the yellow pages is the way to go. Some feel that splashing your name all across a golf tournament is the trick. Me? I think advertising where your competition isn’t or doesn’t focus is how you gain the business that they’re neglecting. If you want to get mediocre results (no matter what the topic/activity) just do what everyone else does. Thus, we always look to emulate the best companies out there, even if it’s viewed as unconventional or unorthodox for a financial services firm. Bet that would make that stodgy green visor CPA roll over in his grave huh?
I like to let my personality show. While I like to consider myself a relatively intelligent person, I do like to do things that are outside of what I’ll call intellectual endeavors. I participated in sports while I was in high school, and while I wasn’t any good at most of them, I still liked the thrill of competition. This passion for a challenge is prevalent in my business dealings as well as my hobbies. Whether it’s weightlifting, cycling, riding motorcycles or playing a good ‘ol game of tag with my daughter, I like to have fun.
In addition to the above, I also like people. I mean, you can’t really be effective as an accountant if you don’t like people or you feel that they are always getting on your nerves. Thus I like talking to people, learning what makes them tick, what’s going on in their lives and just bouncing ideas around. While you might not see me shutting down the party or dancing till the cows come home, I do like to mix and mingle with people every once in awhile. I mean hey, you can’t expect me to use my brain all day dealing with numbers and business problems and then not have an outlet to decompress right?
All of the above are just simple examples of what goes on in my life. What’s more important is that if my clients ask, I have no problem telling them about what I do outside of work. Why? Read the last point.
I like to share. While I tend to do my best thinking and problem solving when I am by myself (i.e. typical introvert), I can’t function without some interaction from others (i.e. classic extrovert). Thus, I strive to achieve a balance between my need for inner quite and my desire to be active and have fun with other folks. The end result is what you see in this blog; me sharing my life with you, my friends, teammates, colleagues and anyone else who happens to stumble upon it.
Do I mind sharing what I do outside of business? No. Many people view accountants as intellectual, emotionless, lumps of goo that have no life outside of crunching numbers. By sharing my escapades, it proves that I am human and that I am no different than they are. It offers them a glimpse into my life and what makes me tick. Do most stereotypical accountants do this? I wouldn’t know; but that’s because I’m not your typical accountant!
Until next time…