What does an SME client want from their accountant?

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There's a debate going on at AccountingWEB that has spread far and wide (well, I exaggerate a little, maybe) about what small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) want from their accountants.

I'm not going to rehearse the arguments others have pursued. Suffice to say that I think much of it misses the point. What SMEs want from their accountant is someone:

1) Who will take the worry of complying with the law off their shoulders;
2) Who can explain to them what they need to know in plain English;
3) Who does this promptly and efficiently, always;
4) Whose word they can rely on: when they say something will be done it is done and when they say something is the right course of action they have both the knowledge and the courage of their convictions to assert that is the case;
5) Who will charge for this in a way they can understand, without shocks arising. The absence of shock is more important than the amount of the bill.

Implicitly this requires that accountant to be:

1) Technically competent;
2) Efficient;
3) A good communicator;
4) A sound business person.

The client however does not need any of those things to be paraded explicitly in front of them for simple reason. They want their problem solved: they are no looking to provide the accountant with a chance to show off.

To put it simply, the accountant has to solve the client's problem to add value. That means they have to understand what the client's problem is. That means they have to listen to what the client's definition of value added is and not impose their own.

The debate I'm reading inclines towards an accountant imposed solution. Whilst it does there will be no joy for client or accountant for simple reason: they will not be communicating.

So, the answer is listen, understand and then respond. It shouldn't be hard. In practice it seems just about the hardest thing on earth for accountants to do. And, to go to the core of the issue AccountingWEB were discussing, since these skills are not taught to qualified accountants there is no reason why they are better at them than unqualified accountants.

Maybe it's time the institute's took this on, but when I was involved in training such 'soft skills' were the things that no accountants wanted. Which is why they face this dilemma: they haven't developed the skills to identify, let alone deal with it.