What 5 Character Traits Do Accountants Need?

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Remember the Boy Scout Law? A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc. It was a shopping list of virtues. Girl Scouts follow a similar list of desirable characteristics. Today, as a financial professional, you also belong to a "club." Indeed, your clients and potential clients have certain traits they want to see in their accountants. Below is a list, which shows how characteristics work and fit into your daily life.

1. Client Focused. Everyone wants to be an important client. Your friends don't realize the size of your clientele, but they know they don't want to just be a number or file. When I was a financial advisor my wife got this message across well.

Scenario: Standing at the restaurant bar waiting for our table. Everyone is there but Bryce. He's late.

Action: Jane explained: "He was probably leaving when the phone rang. He never ignores a ringing phone. It was a client. They had a problem. He sat back down and helped them. Who knows when he'll get here? Lets get our table. He'll arrive eventually."

Outcome: Everyone wants financial professionals who put their client's interests ahead of their own personal life.

2. Confidentiality. Most businesses talk about their clients and rely on testimonials. "TripAdvisor" typifies the Gen X and Gen Y desire to make buying decisions based on other's feedback. "Angie's List" was one of the first social media sites to rate professionals. But those who think about using these may be concerned that confidential data becomes public.

Scenario: A longtime friend explains: "I don't do business with friends because of confidentiality. People talk, you know."

Action: You lean on your history together to establish credibility. "We've known each other for 10 years. We socialize with the same people. It's likely some of them might be my clients. In the years we've know each other I've never mentioned a client relationship. It's unlikely I'm going to start now."

Outcome: You've positioned your decade of discretion as evidence you keep client identities confidential.

3. Keeping Current. Tax laws change periodically. They are understood to be complex. Anyone shopping for an accountant wants someone conversant with the latest changes.

Scenario: You are talking with friends about getting together for dinner midweek.

Action: "Tuesdays and Thursdays work. Wednesdays are out for the next few weeks. I'm taking this Continuing Ed course on recent tax law changes. I've read plenty on my own, but I'm taking a course, too."

Outcome: Your field is changing and you are still going to school. Their field is changing too. Are they keeping up?

4. Work Ethic, Accountability. Some established professionals coast through life, especially if they have a team in the background doing the number-crunching and filings. People might wonder if clients are paying an experienced expert's fee and getting the output of juniors and associates.

Scenario: The discussion turns towards getting away to Hilton Head for a golf weekend.

Action: "Golf is not in the picture for me, at least for the next couple of weekends. I oversee the accounts for a foundation connected to a medical society. They have their annual convention in 10 days and I'm on the program to report. It's my signature on the reports, so I've got to be prepared to answer any questions they throw at me. I need the next weekend or so to prepare."

Outcome: They realize that the foundation gets your expertise, not someone else's. You are accountable.

5. Successful. Successful people want to work with other successful people. Pushing too hard for new business implies you are desperate. You must balance the perception of a busy practice with your available capacity to take on another client or so.

Scenario: Over drinks everyone is talking about "their year." How was it?

Action: "My practice has held steady at about 300 clients. They keep me pretty busy. From time to time attrition from things like death or divorce brings the number down a bit. The slots get filled as I bring on new clients who have been introduced by a friend or referred by another client."

Outcome: You have an established practice. You also have openings.

Like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, you have desirable traits people admire. Incorporate them into your conversation and your life.

About the author:
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" can be found on Amazon.com.


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Must be a very slow news day...

Dear Top Beancounter:
Thanks for taking time to read my article and send in a comment. Many professionals often find it difficult to communicate a high level of professionalism without obviously seeming to toot their own horn. You've probably seen it before. Done badly, it can be very annoying. People who are pushy are often seen as desperate. in these scenarios, the opposite of desperate is successful. These are five simple ways to get that point across.

Thank you for the useful points. I'll keep them in mind as I run my small practice.