When I was in college studying to become an accountant, I had a lofty opinion about certified public accountants and their profession. I regarded them as the “good guys”, professionals in the truest sense of the word, purveyors of truth, justice, and the American way. They were, at the very least, the Joe Fridays of my day, wanting “just the facts, ma’am”, the financial facticians, the modern day Galahads and Percivals.
But just because we seek out financial facts doesn’t necessarily mean that we are without sin, honest to a fault, fully and fairly disclosing all to our clients. Unlike Joe Friday, who has a governmental job and frankly doesn’t care if he ever again encounters the nuts whom he interrogates on Dragnet, we do care: our clients are our bread and butter, and—though we demand facts and wish to know all—on occasion out of concern for self-preservation, some of us do not always willingly and fully disclose all of the “facts”, in turn, to our clients.
For instance, here are 10 things we fail to tell our clients. The list is obviously not all inclusive, since decorum necessitates keeping our catalogue clean:
- “You must have wined and dined half the population in Cleveland last year.”
OK, you might question the declared amounts under meals and entertainment and remind them about the need for documenting who, what, when, where, and why for the meals and entertainment, including that ski lodge in Vermont, but do you confront them, and tell them that they are, quite frankly, lying through their teeth?
- “You drove around the globe three times on business trips last year.”
Again, aren’t you far too reluctant to question the business use of their autos, being satisfied with a log of lies to substantiate the world travel of a Howard Hughes? So much for Joe Friday, truth, justice and the American way.
- “I could be the worst accountant in the world and you wouldn’t know.”
But the Internal Revenue Service does. Recently a study conducted by the IRS showed less significant errors on returns prepared by taxpayers than by us professionals. Don’t believe it? Here’s a simple test: take a set of client books requiring significant adjustments and give them to two different accountants in your office. Have them compile financials and prepare tax returns without any assistance from you, and then compare the apples to the oranges.
- “You suck at your business. Have you considered early retirement?”
Aren’t you a financial advisor? Shouldn’t you analyze that P&L, interpret it, and see the forest from the trees? Shouldn’t you present the big picture and tell your clients that perhaps they should have considered the priesthood after all? The truth hurts, but bankruptcy and living on the street hurt even more.
- “We fudge the hours we bill you.”
Yeah, we know, you all log your time in, creating detailed and such convoluted Excel sheets that even Lewis and Clark would get lost in them, or use sophisticated and expensive software programs capturing every nanosecond of your time on a client. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will bill them precisely for the time calculated on those scientific treatises of time that put Einstein to shame, does it? C’mon, admit it, when you conduct a final review of your time spent on the client, don’t you indulge in a little creative accounting of your own—forging a new system of billing—and fudge the hours a wee little bit? Which reminds me of a joke about accountants fudging their timesheets....
An accountant dies and goes to Heaven.
He reaches the pearly gates and is amazed to see a happy crowd all waving banners and chanting his name.
After a few minutes St. Peter comes running across and says, "I'm sorry I wasn't here to greet you personally. God is looking forward to meeting such a remarkable man as yourself."
The accountant is perplexed. "I've tried to lead a good life, but I am overwhelmed by your welcome," he tells St. Peter.
"It's the least we can do for someone as special as you are. Imagine, living to the age of 123 and still looking so young," says St. Peter.
The man looks even more dumbfounded and replies, "123 years old? I don't know what you mean. I'm only 40."
St. Peter replies, "But that can't be right - we've seen your time sheets!"
- “We’re not really experts in anything but Sudoku.”
You may be the Sudoku champion in Idaho. But what sort of verification is there attesting to your expertise in an industry besides your declaration of such? It’s not as if you openly declare your handicap in a certain industry, like golf. True, you take continuing education courses in certain industries, but the examinations are such that you could pass them without even reading the 500+ pages of accompanying materials. Let’s be honest here: do you actually read and study those 500+ pages? (If you do, you are alone.) Or do you do what everyone else does: skim the pages in scavenger hunt fashion for the answers, since they are typically worded identically as contained in the multiple choice questions? No scholarly endeavor here.
- “You really don’t need to pay us $300 every year to do your tax return.”
She’s a helpless, little old lady, only receiving social security, but do you tell her that she need not pay you her food money for the next month so she does not have to live on cat food? Do you fail to tell this little, helpless old lady who looks exactly like Bubbe that she could go to the local senior center in town or the local IRS office and have her tax return done for free? Not on your life. But you did have a mother and a conscience once, didn’t you?
- “We really hate playing golf with you.”
Yes, I know, it’s time out of the office, and you’re out in the sunshine, walking the fairways, drinking, joking, laughing, bonding with your clients, but you really hate chasing that little white ball up and down those fairways, into the woods, cursing and swearing, cheating on your strokes, taking all those preferred lies, leaving a trail of divots resembling a community of gophers, regretting never completing those golf lessons to develop that swing to correct that hook and that slice and that nub both off the tee and on the fairway, much preferring spectator sports like watching the Yankees sweep four games from the Red Sox at Fenway while guzzling a case of beer, but you really need the fees to support your luxurious life style. So you golf, swear, curse, wrap your three wood around any available tree, laugh at their silly jokes, and take those preferred lies.
- “You’re a cheap pain in the butt.”
You know that your clients are having the worst of all possible years, and that they should check your bill because, after all, you are gouging them, but nevertheless they are a constant pain in the butt, with all of their needless calls at all hours of the day and night, and the state of their records, never being ready on time and trickling in one statement at a time, and always at the last minute. Yes, they’re obnoxious, cheaters, lousy business people, unwilling or unable to pay their bills, always complaining about your fees and always negotiating your fees every year, if not every month, but their money is green after all, if only you could manage to collect it.
- “Your return is being prepared by some geek in New Delhi.”
For all of your hype about how good you are, and the display of all of your credentials and licenses in your offices, and all of those publications and books arranged so neatly and impressively on the bookshelves in your offices, and all of those repeated and sincere assurances to your clients that you personally will devote considerable attention to their tax returns,... as soon as they leave their tire marks in your parking lot, you pick up the phone and call Sabu—your $5-per-hour, outsourced connection in New Delhi—to bang out their tax returns.
Of course, this article does not pertain to you personally, but to the formal, universal you in general. Of course, you are that sterling accountant who fully discloses all to your clients, a superb accountant, a true specialist in your advertised fields, honest and upfront with all of your clients, a sincere lover of the game of golf, never taking preferred lies, a real people person…like me. This article, however, was written for Otto Schmidlap, a CPA practicing in Berlin, Connecticut.
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