I tore this page out of a magazine in 1994, several years before I became a Certified Public Accountant, and it’s hung above my desk ever since. It’s a pertinent reminder to strive to be more than just someone who runs calculations and arranges them in eye-catching reports that just end up in a filing cabinet. I want to be the accountant who asks the right questions, connects the appropriate dots and sees how my management acts upon my current decisions in meaningful ways.
The value of today’s accountant is changing, and we need to be willing to change too, or risk becoming an obsolete machine. Not that long ago, accounting was mostly compiling, crunching and reporting the numbers month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year. There will always be a need to review and report historical data. However, today’s accountant must be prepared to use that data to move a company into the future.
An accountant is similar to the Greek god Janus, who, according to myth, has two sets of eyes: one pair to see the past and another to look toward the future. To look backwards is an opportunity to reflect on information to guide a company into a prosperous future. This can be risky and maybe even intimidating. Uncertainty is an uncomfortable feeling. And we live in a world where few things can be known with absolute certitude. But uncomfortable isn’t necessarily bad, and nor is not knowing.
A recent article by Steve McKee talks about the willingness to say “I don’t know,” and how it can be a good quality in a leader. We’d like to know for sure that sales will increase by 10% next year. We’d like to be certain that the billable time formula will actually yield the agency gross income we’re counting on every month. We’d love a guarantee that health insurance rates don’t increase by more than 8% when renewal rolls around. We just can’t. But by drawing on our education and experiences, combining them with current events and adding a touch of proven instinct to develop forecasts, accountants can make better predictions and be a strategic advisor. I want to be the accountant who can humbly say, “I don’t know,” but have confidence knowing I planned the best I could.
In his book, Shoe Dog, Nike creator Phil Knight says of his co-worker at Price Waterhouse, “I’d met other accountants who knew numbers, who had a way with numbers, but Hayes was to the numbers born. In a column of otherwise unspectacular fours and nines and twos, he could discern the raw elements of Beauty. He looked at numbers the way the poet looks at clouds, the way the geologist looks at rocks. He could draw from them rhapsodic song, demotic truths. And uncanny predictions. Hayes could use numbers to tell the future.”
The accountant who is committed to being a strategic partner must be aware of ever-changing tax and legal issues affecting business, utilize ever-evolving technology, and pursue education to remain relevant and valuable. As your business charges into the future, be certain you have an accountant you can trust to help prepare you for the journey.