The problem with accountants

Accountants generally enjoy a reputation as the ‘most trusted adviser’. But the problem is that we do our work, get out and move on. That work might be the income tax return, bookkeeping work, or some other well-defined engagement. General financial advice is too often an unplanned side benefit of our work. Accountants who don’t define and limit their services risk suffering from “engagement creep” and wind up doing a lot of extra work without pay. (I wrote about my disastrous 2015 experiences in making many time-consuming but uncompensated outbound business referrals in earlier posts).

Meanwhile, professional associations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) as well as the many state associations are actively promoting CPAs as broad-based financial advisers. Yet that’s not the service that we see offered in the marketplace and probably not the perception held by a large portion of the public.

The fact is that most accountants are simply not set up to provide ongoing service for a wide range of financial issues as they may arise in real life. Sometimes it is because the accountant has limited experience or little interest in providing such service. More often, I suspect. it is because they don’t get paid for this work.

I conclude that this unmet market need is an indication in a flaw in the traditional accountant’s business model. We just are simply not meeting the full range of market demand for advisory services. We provide only those services that fit our old and well-proven business model. There clearly seems to be room for a practitioner who wishes to try a different approach.

With the help of a peer mentor this past week, I’ve restructured the advisory services that, for many years, have been the distinguishing feature of my own practice marketed under the brand “OnlineAdviser”. The new service is designed to accommodate the ongoing and largely undefined needs of clients. The intent is to provide an open door for a wide menu of ongoing needs rather than attempt to sell specific solutions for presumed defined client concerns. No longer will I promote the flat-fee consultations that have largely been associated with my brand in the past. Hopefully I’ve retained the attractive features of the old system (low entry price and ease of use) and added improvements (a wider range of services and more strictly limited adviser risk).

More information on the redesigned service is available at I look forward to feedback on the new service from other accountants as well as clients.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *