Helping Clients Understand Complex Management Accounting Issues

Part 1 of 2

Earlier this month I wrote a somewhat provocative comment suggesting that accountants who prepare budgets are doing their clients a disservice, my point being more benefits are achieved by teaching a manger how to budget rather than doing it for them – you can read the article here. Just last week the Harvard Business Review published an article that supports my view, it was written by Ron Friedman, PhD, a social psychologist who specialises in the science of workplace excellence.

Freidman’s research highlights people’s preferences for collaboration over being told what to do and growth through the development of new skills rather than having a problem solved. He also notes that researchers have long understood humans, regardless of gender, age, and culture, are fueled by three psychological needs: and ingrained desire for autonomy, connection with others, and experiences that grow their skills – mastery.

Talking at Length is an Inadequate Method of Teaching

Late in my career I achieved a formal teaching qualification – a Certificate 1V in Learning and Assessment. Without doubt the course made me a better advisor as for the first time I understood how adults learn. To my horror I realised my approach of talking at length was an inadequate method of teaching my clients about complex management accounting principles.

Tell me I forget, show me and I remember, let me do it and I understand.

Expanding our Capacity to Influence

As accountants we want to contribute to our client’s success, in this respect we are capable of having a stronger impact if we take on the role of educator rather than advisor. Instead of doing things for clients, like preparing budgets or interpreting financial reports, we are better off teaching the client how to do these things. Yes, it is harder for us to do this, but it is a more sustainable role and expands our capacity to influence.

Empowering Clients to be More in Control

When clients learn how to analyse their own financial data and make informed decisions, they become less dependent on their accountants for advice. This means that accountants can focus on higher-level strategic work, rather than spending their time on routine tasks that clients could do themselves.

By acting as an educator, we are empowering our clients. When they feel like they understand their own finances and can make informed decisions, they feel more in control of their business. This leads to greater confidence and a stronger sense of ownership over their financial future.

Finally, it’s more effective. When clients have a deeper understanding of their finances and can make informed decisions, they are more likely to stick to their plans and achieve their goals. They are also less likely to make costly mistakes or overlook important opportunities.

A Lasting Impact on Client Success

Of course, this approach requires a different set of skills and tools than traditional advisory work. Accountants who want to act as educators need to be able to communicate complex financial concepts in simple, understandable terms, and they need to be able to teach clients how to use financial tools and software effectively. But I believe that the benefits of this approach make it well worth the effort. By empowering clients to be their own advisors, accountants can have a more meaningful and lasting impact on their clients’ success.


If these ideas resonate with you, stay in touch, in my next post I will explain how best to communicate complex financial concepts.