Why authenticity could be one of your strongest qualities as an accountant

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With a greater emphasis on skills around communication, empathy and understanding when dealing with clients, being authentic and capitalising on your unique personality and skills can make you a highly sought after technician.

We explain why being authentic in business can be a superpower and help you connect with clients and grow your business.

As accountants, we are trusted by clients to be professional and work with ethics and integrity. We know the details of their finances and their cashflow and can discuss strategy and forecasting. Behind the figures, however, are real people trying to make their business or career a success. Sometimes, where appropriate, it can also be helpful to show our human side to connect better and build trust and empathy.

Supporting the people behind the business can be rewarding

“It’s all about being a trusted advisor,” says Morgan Davies, director at Prime Accountants Group. “I always say people are far more interesting than numbers, so you can make a big difference. It’s both powerful and rewarding. Plus, people often say it’s lonely being in business – whoever asks the boss how they are doing? Where does the business owner turn for support?”

He says business owners often have nobody to support them in their company because they are the leader, and they want to protect the team from their fears and concerns.

“The important thing for most SMEs is all of the income for the owner is driven by that business, so the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t know what they’re trying to achieve as business unless you know what the person in charge wants to achieve,” he explains.

“Likewise, they don’t always turn to their families for help either, as they don’t want them carrying their concerns. Lots of people, particularly men, don’t do that,” he says.

“It’s central to know the people behind the business when you’re working with SMEs, so you can support the business in a greater way.”

Integrity and honest communication are key to the client relationship

Stuart Brown, Director and Head of Technical and Compliance at Duncan & Toplis, is a FCA qualified chartered accountant with more than 10 years of practical accounting and audit experience.

He says that fundamentally, if you are not acting with trust and authenticity as an accountant, then you are not acting in a professional manner. 

“Without honesty and integrity our word and our actions are worthless,” he says. “Accountancy is one of the most trusted professions and therefore, if we are not trustworthy, then we are bringing our profession into disrepute. If our clients trust us, they will share problems with us, they will share their thoughts and feelings with us which will better enable us to help them.

He says that being yourself is being authentic and you will naturally be more trustworthy and that empathy is a key component of communication.

“Don’t be fake, don’t say things you don’t mean and be open. Life, personally and in business is easier if you are genuine – clients will be able to tell.”

Connecting with the people behind the numbers

Gemma Heard, founder of GEM Accountancy and GEM Consultancy UK in Cornwall, was the winner of the AAT Past Presidents’ Award for 2023.

She says being approachable and empathetic will be an even more important skill for accountants over the next 12 months because business owners are struggling with the downturn in the economy.

“People who run their own business often take a sense of pride in building the business so when they have to put it on the back burner, it feels personally very hard,” she says.

“For example, if a business owner is starting to rely on their overdraft, rather than writing to them formally I might pick up the phone and ask if everything is okay. It is about allowing them to be open and to remind them that we all go through peaks and troughs in business.

“People are seeking understanding. They want to be understood and they want to feel empathy. When people feel supported, they feel hope and better able to think about the possibilities that are open to them to move forward. This helps them to start feeling positive, and then they can take action. Where appropriate, I might share some experiences I have had personally to show that we all face these challenges and setbacks.”

She says that the financial numbers often tell a story about what season of life an individual might be in, or how their personal life is impacting on their business.

“For example, a new mum isn’t going to generate as much revenue as the year before and that’s not because the business is performing less well. Or someone might be ill, separating from a partner or going through a bereavement,” she says. “It is about having that insight into people beyond the numbers and realising that we’re all human beings and none of us are perfect.”

Gemma has professional boundaries in place to ensure that she adheres to professional standards.

“The conversations that I provide are within the ethics of accounting. I will never advise on something I’m not qualified to do, and I wouldn’t speak to somebody about mental health advice – I would direct them to mental health professionals,” she says.

Accounting is now as much about communication as numbers

Building a strongpersonal rapport with your clients also means that when tough times come, you can have an open discussion with them.
“Honesty and integrity are vital for the very substance of anyone working in accountancy,” says Matthew Hayes, MD of growth consultancy, Champions (UK) Plc.

“It’s vitally important to have a strong relationship with your client because you’re going to have to walk that client through some decisions that they may not want or believe are in their best interests but which are the best thing. So having that correct relationship where you can be honest and robust about what is right and what the client needs is vital and is the job of the expert advisor,” he says.

“The reality is that often there is a need to have some hard cold conversations and if you are truly honest and authentic then the client will understand and respect the reasons for what they’re doing. This in turn builds trust and rapport.

“The ideal end goal is that you have a relationship that lasts 5-10 years and is one where you understand each other. If you are authentic and make it clear that you have a client’s best interests at heart then you are more likely to build a relationship and build a far better working practice over time.”

How to become more authentic in your business dealings

So how to create this authentic approach to accountancy? Liz Sebag-Montefiore, Director and Co-founder of 10Eighty, a career and talent management consultancy, says authenticity starts with self-awareness: knowing who you are – values, emotions, and competencies and how others see you.

“To be authentic and professional means aligning your values, strengths, and competencies with workplace culture and standards, to reach a balance that reflects your authentic character,” she says. “This will help you build credibility, trust, and meaningful relationships.”

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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