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Did You Know Your Accountant Is Just As Frustrated As You Are?

Updated: Apr 1

If your relationship with your accountant feels a little adversarial at times – even downright confrontational – you’re not alone.

The management of business finances has become hugely complicated in recent years. The result: a lot of friction between business owners and their financial support people in their joint efforts to navigate a complex system of compliance.

As someone who has sat on both sides of the table – as an accountant caught between the ATO and the client, as well as a frustrated business owner desperate for clarity – I’m uniquely positioned to remind you: you’re on the same side.

In more ways than one.

When empathising with the confusion my clients feel, I’m always careful not to paint the accountants and bookkeepers we work with as ‘the bad guys’. (It’s more like one of those ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’ kinda deals).

We tend to rail against that which we don’t understand. And since we can’t all march up to the front desk of the ATO and demand to speak to the manager (ah, in a perfect world) we tend to take our frustrations out on our accountants as our next port of call.

So instead, I thought I would give you an insight into how the accounting industry has changed over the past few decades. Many such changes are the reasons why I left. My hope here is that you can see the vast common ground we as entrepreneurs share with the financial support services we work with.

Once you can see that we’re in this together, you can begin to re-establish the sense of collaboration that used to form the foundations of an industry I loved.

And so, here begins our story. *clears throat for dramatic effect*

‘Get Yourself a Good Accountant.’

Going into business? Years ago this was the first piece of advice you were given, and with good reason. When I first joined the accounting world (1984), accountants were a significant cog in the machine of any well-oiled business. They were there as advisors, sounding boards, a reliable golfing buddy who was always ready to talk shop over a game.

If you’re reading this, I’m almost certain that your business’ main purpose was to create a better life for yourself and your family. As such, the business advice we need to achieve this must encompass a broad spectrum of factors, personal and industrial.

Prior to the birth of a legislative framework to police the financial planning industry, accountants would provide holistic advice around finances knowing how integrated businesses were in the lives of their owners. This guidance would cover superannuation, investments, tax planning, exit strategies - if money was required to make it happen, you could count on your accountant for help!

With the advent of the Financial Planners Association in 1992, as well as the introduction of the AFS licencing, your accountant now may only give you financial advice on investments if he/she holds an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence, or is an authorised representative of an AFS licence holder. (Source).

This is now a completely separate qualification with its own regulatory standards, legislation and industry standards. It’s essentially been extracted from accounting.

An Ongoing Shift From Collaboration to Compliance

As the advisory component of accounting was being undermined, there was also increasingly complex taxation and regulation. Accountants were forced to keep one eye on the ATO at all times for legislation updates that could affect their clients.

We as an industry found ourselves constantly shouldering fresh responsibilities with high stakes. With each wave of reforms comes new tax requirements, updates to regulation, added layers of accountability, and an inevitable mountain of paperwork.

Accountants have effectively become the customer service representatives for the ATO as the line of confused and overwhelmed business owners continues to grow.

The Tech Boom & The Chaos That Followed

You may have heard the saying “To err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer”.

These days, thanks to shiny, fancy, under customised, under utilised accounting software, accountants regularly receive seriously F*%ed-up data to work with. Accountants spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about the quality of the information they are trying to summarise back to you.

Back in the ‘good old days’ (it’s kinda fun being able to throw that one around now) your financial records were simple; paper ledgers neatly ordered in straight lines and practically labelled columns. You could turn to any page and make good common sense of your enterprise on any given day. And from this simple organisation, sound decisions could be made.

Then along came Visicalc, followed by Quicken, Excel, MYOB, Xero… and now accountants have to be tech wizards too.

These products have ‘gamified’ bookkeeping, when really the review of one’s finances should be a measured and deliberate habit. They’re marketed in such a way that has business owners believing effective financial management is just a few clicks away.

They’ve also created a false sense of simplicity around what the accountant’s responsibilities are. The unfortunate assumption can frequently be that; ‘well, the software is doing most of the heavy lifting, so what are you charging me for?

On the flip side, accountants have become so focused on getting their software right, and ensuring compliance, that they often neglect (for a variety of reasons) to ensure corrections and adjustments are applied back ‘upstream’ to the client’s records. Speaking from experience with multiple business owners I’ve worked with, this can often result in years of one-way data management that leaves the digital business ‘books’ constantly unresolved (sometimes to frightening extremes).

When really, the accuracy of the data is meant to be for the entrepreneur’s benefit in the first place.

So Where To From Here?

Sticking our heads in the sand about confusing taxes and complicated software will do neither of us any good, business owners nor accountants. But here is what we CAN do to return to a more harmonious and productive partnership for the betterment of your business:

  • Start by learning how to customise your chart of accounts and work with your bookkeeper to get some practical organisation in place. There’s a good chance a lot of confusion you may be experiencing is coming from poorly labelled categories inside your software.

  • Get curious about other aspects of your business finances. By levelling up your knowledge, you’ll not only achieve greater clarity, you’ll also be able to dive deeper into what’s possible with your accountant. The best starting point? Become buddies with your Balance Sheet!

  • Commit to a regular end-of-month habit. This is another ‘good old days’ requirement that doubled as a regular check-in on your finances. Even better: invite your bookkeeper or a key staff member to join you so it feels like an appointment you must keep.

  • Appreciate the extra layers your accountant is wading through (and remember that they’re human)

It can also help to invest in your education, filling in any gaps and getting your data house in order. Sessions covering this is something I love doing with my business clients; it’s a great way to level out the foundations of your understanding, so you can build on a firm footing of financial literacy. Just head over to my website to get started:

Sounds a lot nicer than late-night Googling, right?

Disclaimer: These are yuck and boring but unfortunately a legal requirement for professionals in my industry. So just a reminder, the information contained here is general in nature and you should seek financial and business advice tailored to your own personal circumstances. Which, by no small coincidence, I can help you out with. Head over to my website and book a free 30 minute chat with me:


Liz Jarvis BEc CA

Liz Jarvis ads Better business decisions, Liz Jarvis, featured on Brilliant-Online


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