Platt’s Perspective: Moving From Accountant To Advisor Doesn’t Need To Be The Equivalent Of Jumping Across The Grand Canyon

Mike Platt - Cropped for IPA INSIDER

Mike Platt

For years, firms around the country have embraced the need to shift from trusted accountant to trusted advisor. Some individuals in some firms have made the transition very successfully, having the skills, experience and business acumen to get the job done. But for many, the leap from historian to advisor may as well be a jump across a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

The perception of a successful accountant is a learned professional with deep, specialized knowledge about financial and operational activities of business. The idea of moving from “the person with all the answers” to “the person with all the questions” – as many consultants see themselves – not only is a difficult mindset to embrace, but also fundamentally challenges the perception of what many accountants think is the key to their success. It requires professionals to embrace a completely different belief system to define success in a career. Frankly, it’s too much for many to wrap their heads around, so they end up staying within their comfort zone.

I recently had a chance to have lunch with John Schweisberger, a consultant-turned-accounting-firm-CEO-turned-practice-group-leader with Armanino in California, who explained in the clearest terms I’ve heard to date what consultants do. “There are three reasons companies hire consultants,” explains Schweisberger.

  • 1) They know that things are not right, but cannot identify the root problem.
  • 2) They have identified the problem, but have difficulty coming up with a workable solution.
  • 3) They know the solution, but need help implementing it.

To help identify a problem, you need to be a good diagnostician. To help identify a solution, you need to be a creative problem solver. To help implement the solution, you either need to be an expert in your specialized field, or be a good executive coach to help the company leaders get it done.

To accountants of any age wrestling with how to tackle the daunting idea of moving from accountant to trusted advisor, take heart. All three roles are needed, and all three roles require different skill sets. You do not need to be all things to everyone, and you can specialize in any of the roles.

Peeking behind the curtain of “secrets of successful consultants” in this way makes it clear that successful accountants can comfortably take on any one of these roles to become successful consultants. The trick is to think of these roles as stepping stones across a river, allowing you to grow in the role of trusted advisor without feeling like you have to jump across the entire canyon at once.