What Personal Qualities Do Clients Look for in Their Accountants?

Jun 10th 2013
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By Mark Lee

In a recent CNBC television interview, London Mayor Boris Johnson indicated that his bumbling, self-deprecating persona is a deliberate way of getting the attention of the public, who Boris believes is bored by conventional politicians. 

Boris is clearly more memorable and more likeable than most other politicians these days. His personal qualities, including his bumbling style, clearly make him stand out. 

Are you memorable or boring? What personal qualities do you have that make clients like you? Do the people you meet, whether at networking events or elsewhere, remember you and feel comfortable referring their clients and contacts to you?

In the TV interview, Boris said",It's very important in politics to be able to get people's attention. Most people actually find lots of political stuff incredibly dull, and so if you can make a joke or if you can find some way of illuminating [an] idea or subject with a metaphor that captures people's attention – some colorful way of thinking about it – you've got them for a second."

This isn't just about how Boris wants to be perceived by the public. He's referencing the attributes and personality traits that others use to describe him. Most of us want to be liked, but do others always see us as we would like them to?

I would say accountants, like politicians, also need to be able to get people's attention. I have no doubt that the more successful accountants tend to be those who have plenty of positive personal qualities.

Do you know, for example, what words your clients, business associates, and colleagues would use to describe you? Is that how you would want to be described? Do all of your clients see the same "you?" Do you know what your most effective personal qualities are?

Some of the more positive words that clients, colleagues, and associates might use to describe you include: warm, engaging, sociable, happy, positive, enthusiastic, inspires confidence, good sense of humor, expert, credible, problem solver, experienced, reliable, flexible, charismatic, discrete, empathetic, trustworthy, integrity, honest, assertive, knowledgeable, professional, ethical, energetic, proactive, helpful, organized, good communicator, interesting, successful, creative, interested in me and in my business.

Some of the more neutral adjectives perhaps include: methodical, extrovert, introvert, intelligent, meticulous, disciplined, prudent, scrupulous, detail focused, decent, inquisitive, serious, ok, cautious, predictable. Some people may see these as positive qualities; others will see them in a negative light and as variations on the stereotype of accountants as "boring."

Some less positive personal qualities that are probably shared by a fair number of accountants, include: uses too much jargon, self-centered, waffles, reluctant to discuss fees, aloof, focuses on the minutiae, pedantic, punctilious, too technical, doesn't listen, doesn't make eye contact, sounds like the taxman, talks too much about himself, struggling, messy, disorganized, needs to be chased down, low energy, limited interest in others, dull, and . . . boring.

By the way, I know I listed "extrovert" and "introvert" together as neutral words. Neither is, of itself, positive or negative. Some people will be comfortable with an extroverted accountant. Others may find that a turnoff and prefer their accountant to be more introverted. They are simply two extremes along a continuum. And perhaps the best accountants are typically somewhere in between.

Projecting positive personal qualities is just as important as having sufficient technical knowledge and expertise. Indeed, your personal qualities and skills are arguably more important; you can delegate client work, but it's not as easy to delegate responsibility for client relationships.

There's a lot of truth in the old maxim "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." If we were to ask new acquaintances about your personal qualities – about how they'll remember you – what might they say? Would the people you meet networking use different words than those of prospective new clients who have met you for an exploratory meeting?

Most of us will never know the answers to these questions. We can, however, attempt to cultivate a persona (a natural persona) by being more aware of what we say, of how we say it, and of how others react to us.

The range of personal skills we all need to succeed in practice, in life, and in business goes way beyond the personal qualities I've set out. The best of these are simply the personal qualities I suspect that most successful accountants project when engaging with other people.  Do you agree? If you were to think of some successful accountants you know, how might you describe them? 

I believe it's possible to be reliable, trustworthy, honest, have an eye for detail, be a decent accountant AND have a sense of humor, a cheerful personality, and be good company.  And if you're fun to be with, you're not boring!

About the author:

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB UK and writes the BookMarkLee blog for accountants who want to overcome the stereotype of the boring accountant – in practice, online, and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts.


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