What Responsibility Does a Client Have in Proactive Planning with an Accountant?

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Regular readers of my blog know I like to hit back at the “experts” who say accountants are doing a disservice to our clients by not being “proactive” enough.

The latest example of an “expert” making me shake my head was a keynote speaker at an event put on by my software provider. The speaker is now head of a state CPA society, but had worked as a CFO prior to that.

When he was a CFO, so the story goes, the CFO’s company was going through hard times financially, but the CPA firm that conducted the company’s annual audit never offered to help find solutions to the the company’s financial problems.

The CFO went out and found a new CPA firm that helped find solutions, and the “old” firm was dropped like a hot potato.

The moral of his speech was: accountants who aren’t “proactive” will be left behind, shame on the old firm for not being proactive, shame on all of us accountants for not being proactive, blah blah blah.

The same old thing we hear from “experts” on this topic over and over again.

Don’t Clients Have a Responsibility to be Proactive, Too?

Based on what I heard in the speech, the CFO never addressed his concerns with the old firm.

Apparently his expectation was that the old firm was supposed to ask questions and be “proactive” and figure out what was on his mind. Since they didn’t ask the right questions, shame on them for not being proactive, and goodbye.

My question is: if the CFO wanted the old firm to be more proactive, why didn’t HE speak up and tell the old firm about his concerns and at least give them a chance to help?

Why did he go behind the old firm’s back to bring in a new firm that was supposedly “more proactive?”

This is a two-way street. Accountants aren’t miracle workers. We need our clients to be engaged in the process.

What About the Accountant’s Side of the Story?

In these types of discussions, we never hear the accountant’s side of the story.

Like, I think about all the times I’ve asked business clients to give me their financial data before the year ends, so I can run projections and stay on top of how things are looking — and the client ignores me until tax time.

And then, when it’s too late for me to do anything about their tax liability, it’s somehow my fault for not being more “proactive” and not doing enough to help them. Most accountants and tax preparers working in the real world with real clients will confirm what I’m saying here — this scenario plays out time and time again. People say they want our help, but then ignore us when we offer to help.

Can an Accountant “Save” a Struggling Business?

And this is my problem with these discussions about accountants and “being proactive.” The “experts” act like accountants are supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing Yodas, dispensing knowledge from on high.

According to the “experts,” our clients are in desperate need of being “saved,” if only an accountant on a white steed would gallop onto the scene.

The topic of whether an accountant can “save” a struggling business is another post for another day. But the basic answer is: typically a struggling business is struggling because of a number of factors, most of which only the CLIENT can control. The accountant can offer advice, but it’s the CLIENT who has to take that advice and “save” the business.

In closing, I’ll give this bit of advice that I included in my post titled “How to Be a Better Client: Don’t Argue with My Advice”:

Understand that the whole “proactive planning” thing cuts both ways. I can help and I can do a lot of good things, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect me to be “proactive” (even though most people can’t define what “proactive” even means). But I am not a miracle worker. YOU have to be an active participant in the process.