Financial management

I should have been a firefighter: a day in the life of an accountant

- October 19, 2021 3 MIN READ
being an accountant is like being a firefighter

The common perception of an accountant is that I spend my day crunching numbers. In reality, I put out other people’s fires. I am the ultimate problem solver. I hear about people’s struggles day in and day out when they come to me to help them find a way through it writes Sonia Gibson.

Accountants are problem solvers

At university, the diversity of the work that an accountant handles was naively talked about.   There were no classes on psychology or lectures that taught us how to be human-centric and sensitive towards people’s attitudes. The scope of the challenges an accountant deals with on a daily basis is very broad but at each one is quite simply the fact that we are solving a problem of some sort, putting out a fire that is connected with someone’s finances.

Often, we have young people coming in and asking for help with their first tax return. Just like that, we become tutors and trainers because understanding tax isn’t always easy, in fact, it is hard to get your head around if you haven’t had any previous experience.

Sometimes, we assist with complicated family matters. For example, when clients are getting divorced we get involved with some of the financial aspects, including the rebuilding phase.

Accountants put out emotional and financial fires

COVID also gave us a whole new set of tasks requiring our adaptability skills. In the delivering of financial support to business owners, accountants were the Government’s frontline unpaid workforce. We worked long hours reading and interpreting legislation and ever-changing guidelines so that we could help our clients access valuable assistance through the JobKeeper, Covid Grants and JobSaver programs.

We also deal with people who need to get themselves looking superb on paper. These are the people who want to apply for finance and need to get their 2021 financial statements and tax done before they can get a loan or refinance an existing loan.

Then there are also the crisis fires, like people who are injured in car accidents and need to prove their income for settlements from insurance companies.

The emotionally challenging cases involve helping people to put their financial affairs in order at the end of their lives. We’ve had clients with terminal cancer and they need to have their last tax returns prepared, making things tidy. This can involve working with complex super funds during people’s last weeks of life to ensure they are wound up prior to their passing so their beneficiaries aren’t left with a hefty tax bill. This work is every bit as challenging as it sounds, at the end of someone’s life they really connect with you and share their journey. It’s an honour to be part of the tidying up of affairs, but it is also emotional and difficult.

Being an accountant is also rigorous training for your ethics. You always meet with potential clients that pressure you to do the wrong thing and help them to claim things that are not tax deductible or apply for benefits they are not eligible for. Ethical dilemmas like these give you the choice of possibly losing a client versus doing the wrong thing. In my case, I embrace the possibility that I will lose the client, I don’t care how big their contract is, I follow vigorous ethics and I work with people who accept that or embody the same.

You also become a mentor, as an accountant. You’ll meet people that are starting up a business and need lots of guidance, before you know it you’re walking them through the throes of life in business and setting up their business structure for the first time. Accountants frequently have opportunities to offer counselling  and educate people.

As the person steering the business, I also find myself dealing with client questions and staff questions, and I embrace this. For the most part, my team works in the business and I work on the business, this means that my role is to bring the work in and keep clients happy. Between the emails never stop (I have people sharing their problems with me until 1am by email at times) and the phone that rings incessantly, it’s not a bad life. It’s varied. It calls for high standards, motivation, and a genuine desire to help people.

Maybe I should have been a firefighter, but this is who I am and there is no doubt about it.

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