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Where did the good accountants go?

Throughout my two decades in accounting, I’ve collaborated with over a thousand finance and accounting professionals. Like sprawling cities, they had their highlights, but everywhere has it’s bad bits.

What stands clear to me is that no one dives into accounting aiming to perform poorly. Each person starts with a genuine commitment to their role. However, various factors can skew this dedication over time. Whether it’s overwhelming workloads, a negative office atmosphere, personal issues, or pressing deadlines, these pressures can lead to suboptimal outcomes. This doesn’t reflect on someone’s character; it might simply suggest that accounting isn’t the best fit for them. And that’s perfectly okay. Everyone has their niche—finding and thriving in yours is key to happiness.

The Unseen Heroes of Finance

In a time where every second person is an Instagram influencer or TikTok celebrity, there’s a group of professionals who haven’t quite jumped on the social media bandwagon—the good ‘old-fashioned’ accountants. Yes, believe it or not, they’re still out there, quietly crunching numbers and safeguarding the financial health of countless businesses and individuals.

Silent, But Not Absent

It’s a common misconception that the best professionals in any field are the ones making the most noise on social media. In accounting, the reality couldn’t be more different. The really good accountants aren’t typically found crafting witty tweets or filming trendy TikTok videos. Instead, they’re buried in forecasts and API statutes, deeply immersed in their clients’ financial worlds. They’re the unsung heroes who are more interested in balance sheets than in YouTube subscribers.

Hard Work Over Hype

In the financial realm, particularly in accounting, the most valuable professionals are often those who prioritise their clients over their personal brand. They embody dedication, accuracy, and an unwavering ethical standard that no amount of social media marketing can simulate. These accountants are the bedrock of the industry—loyal, hardworking, and genuinely concerned with the well-being of those they serve.

Awards: Recognition or Popularity Contest?

While industry awards are often seen as markers of excellence, their basis for judgment can sometimes tell a different story. Winning an award as an accountant doesn’t necessarily confirm your expertise or effectiveness. Often, these awards can turn into popularity contests, where the criteria for winning hinge less on genuine skill and more on marketability and influence.

The judges in these contests may prioritise factors such as the number of software subscriptions sold or the ability to amplify their message through a large social media platform. This focus shifts from the quality of the accountant’s work and their direct impact on their clients’ financial health to more superficial metrics of success. Thus, while accolades are nice, they should not be mistaken for the ultimate validation of an accountant’s professional capabilities.

The Misconception of Visibility

Today’s market seems to reward those who can shout the loudest rather than those who perform the best. There’s a growing trend to mock and downplay the work of peers as a shortcut to personal branding and success. This not only undermines the profession but also skews public perception, leading many to believe that the most visible accountants are the most competent, which is far from the truth in my opinion.

Cultural Shift in Professional Visibility

The accounting industry is under pressure to reinvent its image. Gone are the days of the “stale, pale, and male” stereotype. The push for a more diverse and inclusive representation is commendable, but it has also led to an overemphasis on appearance over substance. As software vendors and professional bodies strive to align themselves with what’s trendy, there’s a risk that the truly skilled professionals might be overshadowed by those who fit a certain ‘cool’ profile better.

Indeed, the rise of popularity-driven metrics, such as social media followings in the accounting industry, does present a nuanced challenge. On one hand, this shift towards more visibility can inject a fresh, dynamic element into what many perceive as a stale and stagnant field. It introduces accounting to a broader audience, potentially attracting a new generation of talent intrigued by the more glamorous, relatable face of accounting showcased online.

However, relying on social media popularity as a measure of an accountant’s worth is essentially a short-term fix to a deeper, long-term issue. While a significant online presence can elevate an individual’s profile and bring temporary credit to the profession, it does not inherently raise the standards of accounting practices or ensure professional excellence. The only social proof we should be interested in is client testimonials, preferably in video format. Here’s why:

Surface Over Substance: Social media platforms favour content that is engaging and visually appealing, which is not always aligned with the intricate and meticulous nature of accounting work. This can lead to a focus on style over substance, where the most important aspects of an accountant’s job are overshadowed by efforts to be more marketable online.

Ephemeral Influence: The nature of social media is transient. Trends come and go, and today’s celebrated online personality might be tomorrow’s forgotten news. This impermanence does little to establish the lasting standards of quality and rigor that the accounting profession relies on.

Misplaced Priorities: When popularity becomes a key goal, there can be a shift in priorities from upholding high professional standards and ethics to maintaining a public image. This shift can divert attention from essential ongoing professional development and adherence to best practices in accounting.

Limited Scope: Social media metrics mainly reflect marketing and communication skills, not professional competence, or ethical standards. An accountant could be exceptional at presenting content online but only average in actual accounting skills or vice versa.

Potential for Misrepresentation: There’s also the risk of misleading portrayals. In the quest to stand out, professionals might present an overly simplified view of complex financial matters, which can be misleading or misinterpreted by a non-specialist audience.

While social media can help make the field more accessible and diverse, it is not a viable solution for enhancing the actual standards of the accounting profession. The industry would benefit more from focusing on rigorous education, continuous professional development, and stricter regulatory standards to ensure long-term improvement in quality and trustworthiness.

Finding the Good Accountants

So, where do you find these paragons of financial virtue? Look in the places where their impact is most profound: in the thriving businesses they support, in the financial crises they’ve helped navigate, and in the grateful clients whose financial futures they’ve secured. These accountants might not have a massive social media following, but their clients’ testimonials are a testament to their skill and dedication.

Standing out as an accountant without resorting to the constant noise of social media is a smart strategy, especially if you value substantive interactions over mere visibility. Creating a business community or hosting networking events can be effective ways to differentiate yourself while building genuine professional relationships. There are no shortcuts when building relationships.

Here’s how you can approach this, along with other strategies:

Specialise and Become a Subject Matter Expert

Focus on a niche area within accounting that you are passionate about or that is underserved. This could be anything from tax for small startups, forensic accounting, or operational workflows. As you build your expertise, you become the go-to person for that niche.

Develop and Share High-Quality Content

Instead of shouting into the void of social media, consider creating insightful content that reflects your expertise. This can be through blogs, white papers, or webinars. The key is to provide value that helps solve common problems faced by your target audience.

Host or Organise Exclusive Events

Creating a business community or networking events in a niche or with exclusivity. Tailor these events to be more than just general meet-and-greets focus on providing real value, such as guest speakers who are industry leaders, workshops, or panels that discuss pressing industry issues.

Utilise Targeted Networking

Engage with professional groups, both online and in-person, but choose those which align closely with your area of expertise or interest. Participating actively in these groups can increase your visibility among peers and potential clients without needing to compete for attention on popular social media platforms.

Leverage Existing Relationships

Maximise referrals by ensuring your current clients know about all the services you offer and how you’ve tailored your approach to meet niche needs. Satisfied clients are often happy to refer others if they feel they’ve received exceptional, personalised service.

Experience tells me that if you work with nice clients they will also have nice friends.

Continuous Learning and Certification

Keep updating your skills and qualifications. New certifications not only enhance your knowledge but also show your commitment to your profession, enhancing your reputation.

Measure Your Growth and Set Clear Goals

It’s crucial to understand what your ideal client base looks like and avoid overextending yourself. Setting clear goals for the kind of work and the volume of clients you want will help you stay focused and efficient.

By combining these strategies, you not only stand out in your field but do so in a way that builds lasting professional respect and leads to more fulfilling career growth. Each step should align with your personal career goals and the specific needs of the clients you wish to attract.

The True Measure of an Accountant

The best accountants don’t need the validation of social media to affirm their worth. Their value is measured in the trust they build with their clients and the tangible results they achieve. In a world that’s increasingly driven by superficial metrics, these professionals remind us that good work often speaks for itself—no hashtag required.

Assessing the value of an accountant goes beyond mere numbers; it’s fundamentally about forging lasting relationships. The true testament to an accountant’s worth isn’t captured just by performance metrics but rather by the personal connections they develop with their clients. I find it far more telling to look at how many of an accountant’s clients consider them a friend. Have you been invited to their milestone celebrations like stag-dos, weddings, christenings, or Christmas parties? These invitations are potent indicators of trust and rapport, revealing the person behind the spreadsheets. If an accountant is too overwhelmed by numbers and client volume to cultivate such relationships, they likely miss out on this deeper level of professional fulfilment and effectiveness.

Let’s Wrap Up

Where have the good accountants gone? The answer is simple: they haven’t gone anywhere. They remain firmly rooted in their traditional roles, diligently working alongside business owners who value their expertise and refuse to settle for anything less than exceptional service.

The good accountants haven’t disappeared; they’re simply out there doing what they do best. They may not be the subject of memes or viral videos, but their contribution to their clients’ lives and businesses is real and significant. As we move forward, let’s remember that the flashiest presence isn’t always the most proficient one—sometimes, the most reliable professionals are those who are too busy delivering results to post about them.