A light hearted defence to the popular belief that all accountants are boring…….
As a Chartered Accountant I have to take issue with the public image of ourselves and I would like to offer a defence.
Whilst I confess I am perhaps excessively boring, the mere fact that I read Punch means that I am trying to improve myself and, let’s face it, if you have to read the Companies Acts and the Income Tax Acts every year, you cannot really qualify, with all that content, to be a great social asset. There is nothing like bringing a dinner party to an abrupt halt by starting an anecdote about the Inland Revenue. I tried this once and it became one of the complaints that my ex-wife put into the divorce petition – “that I scared her friends and that we became social outcasts”. My present wife is much more understanding. We eat at vegetarian restaurants where that sort of conversation is ignored and we are able to dine in splendid isolation.
It is not, I confess, much fun being an accountant. If you feel frightened at the arrival of a buff envelope, imagine how I feel when about 100 arrive every day, and all addressed to me.
The fact that we make our clients do all the work, write up their books, etc., and then we charge them is merely the way the professional cookie crumbles. I suppose you could say that our clients are our employees. They do the work and we get the proceeds in conjunction with the tax man. Contrary to rumour, we do not get a commission on tax paid.
You cannot imagine the trials and tribulations that occur when we start an audit. We have to carry around a multitude of coloured pens and pencils and it takes real imagination and initiative to decide whether, having used green last year, red would be artistically accepted this year. And once at the audit we are revered and thoroughly respected. We can ask what questions we like and put it all down to professional enquiries. We exude that ring of confidence and when asked any questions by a client we make the answers so complicated that a further meeting will be necessary, together with the commensurate fee, to explain all. If we could speak plain English it would halve our fee income.
Sartorially, of course, we are in a class of our own. Without accountants what would happened to the cottage industries of pin stripe suits, bowler hats and dandruff shampoo. The umbrella would be obsolete as would be the black briefcase. Inside that briefcase is a treasure chest of accountant’s memorabilia. Pen, pencils, rubbers (erasers please), rulers, analysis paper and the latest addition, the Filofax.
I am in the process of designing wheels for my Filofax but am having trouble folding it up to put it inside the briefcase. We are always carrying files, not necessarily relevant to the client that we are seeing, which explains why no one can understand what we are saying – it usually relates to someone else. And, of course, we read the
Financial Times – the pink one. If only another newspaper would take up the colour it would make the early morning rail journey so much more interesting.
Have you ever watched an accountant actually read the Financial Times? Their eyes glaze over and they only come to life when the signs Waterloo and London Bridge flash before them. And then we have that silly walk which with absolute accuracy can be sure to step in “it”! This explains the fox trot that we practice as we reach our office, attempting to get rid of “it”. We call it the “dog walk”.
Once inside the office it’s tea time and the whole gambit of accountant’s jokes and repartee. The chat lasts all of three minutes, the tea usually longer, and then we get down to work. Tick tick tick and quite frankly that’s all there is to it. There are a few variations upon this theme, so you can now realise that the reason we are paid huge fees is because we deserve it. We individually never deal with tax, VAT and the like since there is always somebody else to do it. It seems the work load goes around in circles and arrives back at the client who is then charged for it.
The fruits of our labours are usually spent on our cosy houses in the stock broker belt with the pre-requisite swimming pool and stables. We have hoards of little children, all of whom wear glasses and go to private schools and universities. We do a bit of gardening, but if you mention grass roots we immediately refer you to our Readers Digest Book of the Garden.
We talk posh and usually very loudly, since we have probably been deafened by the adding machine during a day when we actually resort to manual labour. Since we have letters after our name we feel superior, as indeed we are, to all those lesser mortals whose initials are in front. When we complain, we always state our rank of being a Chartered Accountant, and we try to steal the company’s writing paper to frighten people off.
Accountants always seem to bear the brunt of jokes, and as you can see, we really are quite normal and do not deserve it. Merely because we can add up, sometimes without recourse to a calculator, does not mean we should be pillared for this undeniable attribute. Ours is a mystique art and because people do not understand it, they ridicule it. Merely because we always include the date in our fee note does not mean we are expensive. We are not known for our wit and humour (except of course the fee note) and the public should not expect us to be fun, fun, fun. All we want is to be left alone to check our bank account and delegate the difficult bits. I have always wanted to run a practice without any clients or staff but, as yet, I have not broken the code.
Robert Breckman – October 2004