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Number Crunchers

By Joey Havens

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“Oh, a meeting with a bunch of number crunchers,” is ringing in my ears as I look into the eyes of this complete stranger who has taken the liberty of labeling our profession.

It’s the AICPA Major Firms Group meeting in Laguna Niguel, California, and we had just finished our afternoon session and I was briskly walking back to my room when I bumped into this beautiful family in the hallway.

The kids, already in their swimsuits, are hyped up with surfboards tucked under their arms and there was no way for me to proceed down the hall to my room without bumping into them. It’s evident from their faces that they have just checked in and they are ready to hit the beach. As I watch their excitement, I meet eyes with their dad and we share a smile.

I lean down eye level with the kids and ask, “Hey, are you two headed to the beach?” “YES!” they literally screamed at me. “Well, the waves are great today and when you go down the steps, go to the right and there are several kids your age learning how to ride the waves on their boards.” All I hear is, “Let’s go, Daddy!”

As we pass in the tight hallway, I extend my hand for a quick handshake. “Looks like you have your hands full.” “Yes, they have been excited all the way here.” “Have a great time and watch closely as I heard the lifeguard mention that the undertow is strong today.” “Thanks,” he responded as he fell in behind the kids.

Just as he was leaving, he turned and asked, “What brings you here?” “I’m attending the AICPA Major Firms Group meeting for large CPA firms.” “Oh, a meeting with a bunch of number crunchers,” he replied.

Now, things have been pleasant to this point but I can’t let this go. It is literally ringing in my ears. Maybe I am too sensitive or this is truly a trigger for me. I quickly respond in my best FAKE “that’s funny” response, “Haha, nothing could be further from the truth, what we do is so much more than numbers!” As he smiles back at me, I can see the curiosity in his eyes but beach duty is calling him.

This “Accountant’s Box” is one of the biggest challenges we have as a profession today. The reason it is a big challenge is because of all the people that are putting us in this box. First, our clients perceive us as being accountants versus strategic advisors, data analysts and project managers. Second, competition outside the profession puts us in this box every conversation they have with our clients—which are increasing in frequency. Third, we put ourselves in this box, either out of comfort or fear of having conversations outside of our accounting expertise.

Sure, we can all think of exceptions where we are truly raising the level of our services, yet our base is full of clients that are not using us for those higher-level services. Our team is full of team members who either out of fear (Lencioni’s book Getting Naked nails these fears for us) or out of preference  have not begun developing skills that help get us out of the box. Our competitors are loving this struggle and hammering a nail in every chance they get.

Just like the dad at the beach, we have to be aware of this undertow even if it is not easy to see. Maybe we just don’t want to see the clients being pulled away from our shore as they utilize other competitors or don’t call us for new needs. If we ignore the undertow, we are going to miss a lot of great rides on the waves of opportunity that are hitting our shores every day. It’s beach time!