Dealing with a professional

ImageA fellow has been learning to be a balloonist and takes his first solo flight. Unfortunately the wind gets up, he is blown off course and is forced to land. He is in a paddock close to a road but has no idea where he is. He sees a car coming along the road and hails it.

The driver gets out and the balloonist says, "Hello, can you tell me where I am?"

"Yes, of course," says the motorist. "You have just landed in your balloon and with this wind you have obviously been blown off course. You are in the top paddock on John Dawson's farm, 13.5 miles from Birmingham. John will be ploughing the paddock next week and sowing wheat. There is a bull in the paddock. It is behind you and about to attack you."

At that moment the bull reaches the balloonist and tosses him over the fence. Luckily he is unhurt. He gets up, dusts himself off and says to the motorist, "I see you're an accountant."

"Good Grief," says the other man, "you're right. How did you know that?"

"I employ accountants," says the balloonist. "The information you gave me was detailed, precise and accurate. Most of it was useless and it arrived far too late to be of any help!"

What's your greatest complaint about accountants? What's your biggest problem with professionals in general? Is it the language barrier? Is it their bedside manner? Is it them or is it you?

Allow me to do a little navel gazing, and to reflect upon what it is exactly that puts people off professional advisors. In my own practice, I deal primarily with business owners who also manage their businesses. That means they are active, typically type "A" personalities with energy, motivation and determination. That's a lethal combination in business, and I mean that in a good way. If you are a business owner, chances are you know where you're going, you know what you need, and you have a pretty good idea how to get there. The problem is the rules within which we do business are not simple or easy. The environment in which we do business is fraught with hurdles and barriers that keep success just out of arm's reach for many. No plan, no matter how detailed, is immune to Murphy's Law. No matter what you do, there is always the possibility that your business or your industry or your market or the economy can go south on you. That's where I come in.

In the decades that I've been practising (I'm dating myself here), the greatest compliment that I've received from clients over and over again is what they say to me as they leave my office. Time and time again, their words validate my efforts on their behalf.

"I feel so much better now, than when I first got here."

Think about that. They came to see me because they had a problem which was gnawing at them, and there was a need for clarity in an uncertain situation. Sometimes it may just be the objective evaluation of available options, narrowing down the course of action to the least drastic solution that will achieve the objective. Often the objective is to buy time to ride out an economic storm. On many occasions, the value that I can add is simply to listen, to let my clients voice their concerns and help them to the course of action that they intrinsically know is the correct one, but they need corroboration, or they need a perceived authority to validate and confirm that their decision is in fact the best course of action from the available choices.

There are clients whose comfort level rests somewhere on the spectrum from totally risk averse to totally desperate, and understanding one's client's tolerance for risk and need for remedy is the mark of an incisive practitioner. For example, an independently wealthy business owner will likely not want to rock the boat, he'll pay his bills on time, he'll pay all of his tax and more, and he just doesn't want conflict, or what he perceives as "trouble". While, an individual whose business is in trouble, and perhaps compounded by an acrimonious marital split, will be desperate to salvage whatever he can as his economic ship takes on more water. Again, that's where I come, to help by speaking in plain terms so my clients can clearly understand their options, and chose what suits them best given their particular circumstances. There is no right or wrong answer, but there is a best solution. The trick is to help my clients understand the ramifications, cost and benefit, of their actions. By helping my clients to make informed decisions they participate in their own well-being. When my clients understand what they are doing and why they are doing it, they routinely go the course to a successful result. It's only when your clients don't understand, or you as a practitioner expect them to blindly follow your advice without their full co-operation because you haven't explained it to them clearly, that the result will be mediocre at best, and a complete disaster at worst. You need to have a motivated client, someone willing to participate in their own financial well-being, and the mark of a good practitioner (in my opinion), is understanding the client's comfort level and being able to communicate in plain language so the client can understand and therefore come to their own decision, with the practitioner's help.

So don't worry about it, take two aspirins, and call me.

Sid Karmazyn is a Chartered Accountant, author and speaker, who lives and works in York Region. Your comments are welcomed.
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