Arrogance? Ineptitude? Apathy?

Management Reporting is the regular provision of information to business decision-makers for supporting them in their work; these reports are designed to be used to analyse and facilitate strategic and operational activities in the organization.

Yet unhelpful Accountants continue to proliferate, Why?


How often has an accountant made you feel stupid?

* Never?
* Sometimes?
* Weekly?

Recently a colleague (a non-accountant manager at a senior level a quite a large organisation) wandered into my office frustrated – he had spent the best part of a week trying to get to the bottom of a project he had taken over and to no avail. He had asked for, and been sent, several reports; his business manager kept responding – “I don’t know!”.
“I can’t work it out” he blustered at me – “seems like money is missing; the income is negative, which can’t be right; and there are all these entries down the bottom that look weird.” I offered to have a look, popped into his office and sat down in-front of the excel spreadsheet.
“Seeeee” he wailed “the income is negative, I think the expenses are at the top, but cant be sure, I have two different grants and what is the rest of it?? – Oh, and I am not a stupid person by the way!
The solution as an accountant was quite simple – but what really bothered me was the fact that this well qualified, very intelligent and competent person had felt the need to inform me he wasn’t stupid. I KNOW he isn’t stupid – but clearly this sheet had made him FEEL stupid, as had the people he had been dealing with to date.
What he had been sent was an extracted trial balance, dumped into excel directly from the aging accounting system still in use. Consequently Debits and Assets were represented as positives, and Credits and Liabilities were negative, plus due to some oddity of the chart of accounts the expenses top of the list as they all began with 3- and income in the middle as that began with 4-, Assets and Liabilities were all mushed into the 5- accounts and a new Retained earnings account had been added for every year the project existed. (I’ve recreated a similar version this mess – removing any private information in the table below)
unhelpful accountant bad PandL
As a non-accountant he didn’t have a hope in hell of knowing where to start – AND NOR SHOULD HE! – he has a business manager and access to the management accounting department.
It took me less than 4 minutes to reformat his excel into something he recognised and could use – almost no time or effort. He had wasted HOURS trying to make heads and tails of what he originally received – asking questions, being resent the same thing twice etc etc, and been made feel stupid for the privileged.
These two images say exactly the same thing; the second one is MUCH easier for a non accountant to understand!
more helpful pandL
After my reformat he started ranting even more…. I could completely understand his frustration – these people are employed to support him and the business and yet they couldn’t / wouldn’t / didn’t spend the 4 minutes it took to enable him to do his job.
To restate; the professionals he is relying on are not supporting him, they were confusing him and he felt stupid as a result. In any other profession this would be unacceptable, however perfectly sane people continue to allow and enable accountants to be unhelpful day-in-day-out all over the world…. WHY???

Why do unhelpful accountants exist?

A recent LinkedIn survey revealed these reasons (I’d go so far as to call them “excuses”):

  1. Lack of management guidance (strategic) – 37% of respondents
  2. Weak and unclear processes – 27% of respondents
  3. Culture (limited focus on finance) – 20% of respondents
  4. Inadequate staff – 10% of respondents
  5. Poor IT infrastructure – 6% of respondents

Personally I think it simply boils down to atrocious customer service. A “under-staffing” counts for only 10% that means 90% of accountants all over the world can not explain why they don’t take 4 minutes to be more helpful.


Internal Accountants, the CFOs, Finance Managers, etc, don’t know (or care) who their customers are.

Often non-public practice accountants find it difficult to clearly identify who it is they create reports for and, as a result, many of the people using their reports end-up feeling small and stupid. Most internal accountants consider their customers to be “the company auditors, the board, the shareholders” – never considering non-accounting business partners are also their customers.
So even though Accountants in general are not known for their “people skills” that really can’t continue to be an excuse – nor should non-accountants continue to accept sub-standard and unhelpful service from their accountants.[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”] The Future of Accounting
The futurist Morris Miselowski wrote an article discussing how technology and outsourcing will impact the Accounting Profession in Australia:
Accountants in 2020[/box] With compliance work increasingly being sent offshore – what people in the future will want is the wisdom of someone with specialist knowledge in the right place at the right time. This future needs to start now. Accountants need to wake-up and contribute to improving business decisions; non-accountants need to “fight back” and get better service from their internal accountants.

What can you ask your accountant to do that will make your life easier?


About the Author

Why own a business post - Eve Blackall Smart Accounting image
Often described as the small business answer to The Supernanny, our principal Eve Blackall owned a Tax Accounting Practice for 15 years, worked as Financial Controller and is currently an advisor to various ASX listed companies and large non-profits.
With Smart Accounting you get to work one-to-one with Eve and not many consultants have her experience and expertise. For over 25 years she has been helping businesses be more efficient and effective, and ensuring business owners sell for the highest prices.