Leader: Why is ‘most trusted’ tag reassuring for accountants?

WHAT SEEMED a relatively innocuous story on Accountancy Age’s site back on 7 December (Accountants beat banks as most trusted source of advice) has proved a social media hit. It has been ‘retweeted’ through Twitter, ‘liked’ on Facebook and ‘shared’ through LinkedIn more than 2,000 times.

But for Accountancy Age, the ‘news’ was just further reaffirmation of the status quo. The Federation of Small Businesses has regularly found that advice from accountants and clients’ customer base has been the source of support over that of banks.

So why has that story proved not just popular, but one that has been shared so routinely across the accountancy world?

Well, two of the biggest cogs in the capitalist machine, lenders and number-crunchers, have had a pretty rough time of late.

When we say ‘of late’ and ‘pretty rough time’, there’s little doubt that both can be taken as understatements.

A fundamental lack of appreciation of the risks inherent within banking has brought the system to its knees.

While we still suffer those ramifications, the public at large is on the lookout for anyone else that may have played a part in making life harder for all of us.

Accountants have taken stick: as auditors, accused of failing to spot the warning signs – or of even being complicit – in the banking crisis; as insolvency professionals, they are criticised for charging huge fees while non-preferred creditors are lucky to pick up pennies in the pound; and most recently, the public has voiced its concern over what they view as the multinationals’ sway over tax rules – accountants must take the blame for this, as well.

None of these issues are clear-cut. The general line of argument about accountants’ roles is that they do the bidding of their clients within both the contractual and legal frameworks. In fairness, most of the spleen-venting in their direction comes from (wilfully) ignorant ministers jumping on the back of the latest bandwagon.

That is not to say that the popular view has not made firms change tack. Many, for instance, are not as willing to take on HMRC for fun – having exploited a loophole – as they used to be. Dancing around legislation ‘is not the done thing anymore’.

But when it comes to the crunch, it is, and always has been, easy for accountants to feel the wrath of those that are only presented with the negative. It’s a shame that, as some have suggested, accountants are just relieved that they’re not below banks on the popularity rung.

For without tax advisors, HM Revenue & Customs would grind to a halt. Businesses would struggle to prepare the right data to gain access to finance. And creditors, no matter how hard done by, would invariably end up with less, without the support of restructuring experts.

Most should be immensely proud of their work, as we recognised during the British Accountancy Awards.

One valid criticism of the firms, and accountants in general, is they often struggle to market their wares or manage their PR. 

Which is why an eight-paragraph story can resonate.

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