Voices

Art of Accounting: The best job in accounting

Owning or being a partner in a small firm is the best job in accounting. The opportunities are limitless and the large firms can’t touch them. The only thing holding back small firms is their hanging onto the past.

Let’s look at some of their advantages:

  • Small firms don’t have specialists dwelling on lease accounting standards.
  • Small firms don’t spend hundreds of hours learning about qualified business income and the Section 163(j) interest deduction limitation, only to have whatever they learned wiped out by 400-plus-page regulations issued at the start of holiday weekends.
  • Small-firm clients do not get acquired, so the accountant cannot be fired and replaced with the new owner’s accountant.
  • Small firms do not have to be experts in the estate tax laws and which exemption was increased by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminating estate taxes for all married couples with net worth almost over $25 million.
  • Small firms do not need to be expert in SOC reporting.
  • Small firms don’t have pressure to meet billable hour targets.
  • Small firms don’t have to spend time learning things that will change abruptly or be eliminated.

Small firms just have to be available to their clients, return their calls, initiate meetings, keep the promised due dates -- and one other thing that nobody else can do and that will not be eliminated: They need to help their clients manage their businesses better.

Large firms call this advisory or consulting services, and make a big deal out of it. They usually do this while responding to a crisis. Small firms need to understand that their clients are not adept at understanding a financial statement and do not usually prepare budgets or projections. They usually spend all of their time running or doing the business of their company and almost no time managing and planning. This is a role often assumed by their independent accountant, who also functions as a CFO and, where necessary, as a controller, and lots of times as a confidant and most trusted advisor.

This is not a role that will be eliminated by any promulgations or M&A activities. On some level it doesn’t even need special study or classroom CPE; it does need an awareness of what is going on in the client’s business, the client’s life and the world at large. You need to stay current, read a lot, be aware of current trends and be able to apply what you know to your clients. These clients will always need this assistance, and I have a guaranteed way to always remain relevant to them: Teach your clients everything you know while continually learning new things.

It is an exciting role with absolute job security, very few all-nighters and rare worries about deadline pressures. You need to be proactive, manage the relationship, be ever helpful and apply your imagination … and be available.

My career was spent doing the above and occasionally delivering a tax return and financial statement. I see wonderful opportunities for small accounting firms. I also see the only thing hindering them — being mired in the past. The past no longer exists, and neither do the deliverables and yesterday’s mindset. Things have changed, but what has not changed is the reliance clients place on their accountants. That role needs to be expanded, and if you haven’t viewed this as your primary role, then you need to now.

There is no competition to a unique trusted relationship.

Small-firm accountants have the best job in accounting. Know it! Believe it! Act like it! Go for it!
P.S.: Small-firm owners still have to stay current, but they can do that by attending CPE prepared by the people from the larger firms who are good at condensing the info into relevancy for smaller firm practitioners.