The 9 biggest frustrations for accountants

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Ever felt frustrated with your clients, your software or HMRC? You’re not alone.

Here are some of the complaints commonly shared by accountants. Aidan Clifford, Technical Director at ACCA Ireland, identifies some of the frustrations he often hears, and offers his advice on how to deal with them.

Aidan Clifford’s top frustrations

1. Being told “the books are perfect”

“The books are perfect if you’re a 16th century monk and can read the scrawl and don’t mind that they don’t add. Talk to the client in advance. Agree what ‘perfect accounts’ look like and tell them it is rarely handwritten journals and lists,” advises Aidan. “If the client does not want to keep good accounting records, then perhaps encourage them to get a part time bookkeeper – explaining that using an accountant to do basic bookkeeping is very expensive.”

2. Endless queries

“Some clients use accountants as their first port of call for all business queries and that is fine if they are willing to pay for that service. However, if they are not paying for you to be ‘on call’, remind them it is cheaper to simply go to the relevant government web site, or similar, where most of the basic queries can be answered.”

3. Being asked to assist in tax evasion

It’s thankfully rare but don’t feel trapped if you find yourself in the position of being asked to do something that is a bit shady. “Most accountants can assist a client in minimising their tax in a compliant way,” says Aidan, “but if the client asks them to do something illegal, say no and explain exactly why – if the client clearly knows what they are asking is illegal then don’t be afraid show them the door.”

4. Clients handing in books 10 minutes before the tax deadline

Ok, 10 minutes may be an exaggeration (we hope), but there are always those clients that leave things late. “Clients will get a rushed job and it will be more expensive and they are unlikely to get a lot of tax planning advice, leading to frustration on their side. Talk to the client and agree a timetable and explain if they can arrange to hand in the records at an off peak time, they are likely to get a reduced fee.”

More accountant pains

5. Lack of communication

A breakdown in communication is probably at the root of many of the frustrations listed here already. It can be a tricky one to resolve if your client is not particularly receptive. Try to ensure the communication channels stay open as much as possible and face any niggling issues head on before they grow. Avoid using jargon and clarify that your client has understood everything you’ve explained to them.

6. Lack of training

The old mentality of ‘sink or swim’ unfortunately still exists in some companies. You’ve landed a great job with a smaller organisation but the experience is quickly soured when you realise you’ve been pretty much left to figure out the business alone. It’s tempting to throw in the towel, but you can rise above it – keep your head up and ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid of pestering, it is their job to ensure everyone in the organisation has enough information to do theirs.

7. Being mistaken for an actual wizard

Some clients employ an accountant with the expectation that you will be able to miraculously save them a ton of money and overhaul their entire business. While in some cases this may be true, more often you will be able to introduce smaller efficiencies that may fall short of the magic a client expects. Try to manage their expectations as you go along.

8. Poor systems

Whether it’s badly organised Excel documents, or other basic accounting systems that have not been used properly (or in some cases, at all), the sheer range of client operating systems can leave you on the back foot before you even begin. Introduce a system overhaul and recommend your choice of accounting software – ensuring that you get paid for this extra service, of course.

9. HMRC pains

Ah, the joys of HMRC! The most common complaints are trying to speak to a human and trying to get them to understand when they have made a mistake. Of course it’s not usually the fault of the person at the end of the phone, it’s down to a computer system that still, in 2015, often leaves little to be desired. An advantage accountants have over the general public however, is that you are in a position of influence. By engaging and staying up to date with developments we can help drive change for the better. Check out AAT’s HMRC updates for the latest news.

What frustrations have you faced as an accountant? What advice can you share from your experiences?


Kayleigh is a freelance writer based in Ireland who has written numerous articles for Accounting Technician. She writes on workplace wellbeing and likes to tell inspiring stories about people in business. @Kayleigh_Ziolo

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland.

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