But don’t tell us what to do

The latest issue of the English ICA’s Good Practice magazine carries the headline ‘Accountants should add value to small business’. I have one simple response. They are wrong.

Please don’t get me wrong. Any accountant can, if they so choose, and have the ability, add value to small business. It so happens that this is a large part of my professional work. But then, my experience is quite unusual. Few practising accountants have also been an executive director or chief executive of four SMEs. And, for those who don’t know it, that’s a wholly different experience from running a professional firm. But nothing, and nobody, obliges me to provide this service, and nothing that the accountancy profession can say should make anyone else feel under any obligation to do so.

The reason is quite simple. We are qualified accountants. I know the exam syllabus has changed a little since I took it, but I still can find no element within it that suggests that we are qualified business advisers. Nor have the various institutes sought to change our professional titles.

I am pleased about that. Most accountants in practice remain in that area because they want to pursue their profession in our core competencies.

And those are accounting, auditing and taxation. Despite all the baloney to the contrary, you do not need to be an expert business person to be highly professional at these tasks. The business community, displaying cannier wit than the English ICA’s General Practitioner Board, has understood this.

They do not ask those who are not qualified to help them to do so. Good for them. And even better for those accountants who don’t try to sell them what they cannot supply, because this means that they truly understand the nature of being a professional person. Which is that you only sell that which you are truly competent at and never pretend to be something you are not.

Which is the final reason why the GPB is wrong. I have lectured on practice management. I know a number of others who do so. We all agree that most practitioners are not very good business people.

They don’t budget. They don’t have business plans. They don’t produce management accounts. Of course there are exceptions, but overall practitioners do not know how to make profit themselves. So what qualifies them to tell others about what they cannot, and do not, do?

So please don’t try to tell us what we should do. We already know.

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