The evolution of the bean counter to adviser

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The Evolution of Bean Counter to Adviser

Below is the unabridged version of the article that ran in the AAT’s magazine: Accounting Technician, in the 2nd quarter of 2018.

By Patrick McLoughlin

‘We want an accountant who can help us create beans rather than simply count them: can you do that?’

Paul Dunn and Ron Baker posed that question in their seminal book, ‘The firm of the Future’, 15-years ago. Although it’s taken time, an increasing number of firms can now say yes.

To make it happen the skills and personalities in demand in practice, are undergoing a transformation. The common stereotype of the boring, socially awkward, pedantic accountant, is under threat.

Automation, outsourcing and a more demanding client base form a perfect storm for the cliched, “safe pair of hands, but don’t let them near clients”, practitioner.

The vanguard of the profession, the high growth firms, search for radically different personalities. Carl Reader of D&T Chartered Accountants, in Swindon, explains:


bean counter to adviser

“If you look at DISC personality profiling, the accountant has traditionally been a high S, for steadiness and high C, for compliance. They tend to be quite introverted and enjoy working alone”.


 “We need consultants, not back-office people. They need to love working closely with clients and enjoy working in teams. We look for strong communication skills and charisma: High D’s and I’s – Dominance and Influence. People with a certain spark: optimistic, caring and innovative professionals.”

These personalities are in high demand in progressive practices. They are so hard to find that D&T grow their own through apprenticeships, and recruit from outside the profession. Carl explains their recruitment is based on attitude, and then they train the skills.

Yet firms like D&T are still the exception. Last November, Jon Barron of Thomson Reuters issued a warning to the rump of the profession, predicting a third of firms, those resisting change, will probably disappear. Whilst he puts this down to a failure to embrace technology, it’s also a caution to firms overlooking advisory services.

bean counter to adviser
Where accountants bring value, Steve Pipe

Compliance has always been a grudge purchase for clients. Apart from keeping them out of trouble with the authorities, most clients, especially the younger ones, see little value in the service.

Talk of the end of compliance firms is nothing new, but cloud accounting has reduced the workload for many practices. As the technology evolves, it will only bite further into the traditional accountant’s workload, inevitably impacting on fees.

Advisory work, on the other hand, can be a big win for both the accountant, and client. Advisers use their experience to cut through the clutter of information and focus on the key numbers that drive success. Clients come to rely on their commercial experience as a sounding board to make better decisions.


This positive impact on cashflow, profitability and progress, positions the accountant as an essential adviser, resulting in higher and more profitable fees.

The benefit extends to greater client loyalty, increasing the lifetime value of client relationships. 

bean counter to adviser print
The Observer

Most accountants, who’ve developed these deeper relationships, will also tell you how their work has become more fulfilling.

As advisory work tends to be more profitable, it is also in higher demand. Ian Innerd of the practice brokers, Identify Executive, explains the effect a strong advisory team can have on a firm’s value:

“If you can demonstrate your team has the skills to deliver and grow advisory work, you’ll command a premium for your practice in the marketplace’.

So, if you are just starting a career in practice, considering the sale of your firm or somewhere in between, the advisory mindset, and skills, are well worth developing.