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REFM -  Adrian Photo Square - CATOBWhen the inevitable question comes up in social interactions: “What do you do?” one of my favored replies is, “I help people account for things…usually it’s their money, but not always.”

 

What is accounting really?

 

Once I was giving a presentation to accounting students and posed this question to them. We learn debits, credits, generally accepted accounting principles, Internal Revenue Code, cash, accrual, other comprehensive basis of accounting, and the list goes on. But what is it really all about?

 

A simple answer we came up with is that accounting is a way to track things, as an input into decision making.

 

Usually after I say I do accounting, the rejoinder goes something like, “Oh, you must be good at math.” To which I reply, “Actually, I’m not really that good at math. Strangely, accounting really isn’t about math all that much (which nowadays computers tend to do anyways). It’s about how to group things: how they’re similar, dissimilar, their proportion to each other, their relation to each other, how they can be grouped and arranged, etc. For instance, what qualifies as revenue? And what makes another type of revenue different enough to list separately? And which should be subtotaled together, versus be assigned to a new list? Etc.” It’s a lot about association, distinction, and grouping.

 

Zooming out on this thought process a bit, accounting is, in a way, a form architectural design: how to arrange the various components to make a composition that holds weight. Or alternatively, it’s a frame, embedded with judgements and perspectives, through which to see the reality of a thing.

 

Ah, now we’re wading into deeper water. Behind all the “accounting standards codifications” is really a way of thinking, a philosophy, that’s informing, influencing, instructing us how to understand and judge financial transactions. But despite all our learnedness, and our 150-hour education requirement, and our deep and true professionalism, we don’t often, if ever, expose and spend time with this financial system of thought, this way of seeing the world. Much less often, even, do we ever share it with our customers.

 

But isn’t that what would help them so much? Isn’t that what’s at the core of the value we present them? Our value isn’t so much that they have to record a transaction this way or that for the bank. Nor that there’s a new form layout for taxable security sales. Rather, it’s the mindset with which they need to approach, evaluate, and think through their next financial decision that’s important. And it’s the principles that should undergird their entire financial plan that truly make a difference. We who think about these things, deal with these things, and help others work through these things day to day, we are perfectly positioned to be guides. Guides who have traveled the paths, have a feel for the bigger picture, and can help steer our customers to their unique and individual destinations.

 

Let’s develop those things. Let’s help our customers figure out what truly matters, and assist them in accounting for that.

Category:
Customer Experience
Comments:
5
  • On 02-03-2014 at 1:42 pm, Melinda Guillemette said:

    Whoa, Adrian. What a great post. More than anything, customers of CPAs are looking for clarity and straightforward communication. We are not paying you so much for your debit and credit knowledge as we are for your ability to see the financial-and-process forest for the trees; usually, we customers don’t do that very well. When we trust our advisors to do that for us, we are free to do what we were meant to do. This freeing-up of intellectual and emotional real estate is the the most valuable service an advisor can provide.

    Reply
    • On 02-03-2014 at 7:13 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      “Freeing up of emotional and intellectual real estate is the most valuable service we can provide” — super strong point.

      There’s one other point I didn’t get to here, but look for in a future post. Thanks Melinda – you rock! :)

      Reply
  • On 02-03-2014 at 5:45 pm, Kevin said:

    I’ve always thought of accounting as a measurement tool. The goal of accountants then should not be to become the best measurer, but to make sure what we are measuring is meaningful and understandable.

    Reply
    • On 02-03-2014 at 7:10 pm, Adrian G. Simmons said:

      Boom. Well said Kevin – thanks!

      Reply

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