Why Accountants Could Be the Happiest People on Earth

Now Or Later Keys Shows Delay Deadlines And UrgencyNew research shows "givers" outpace others in life and in business. Are you a "giver" or a "taker"? Take the 10-minute test.

By Hitendra Patil

Imagine that one of your clients calls you up and expresses his gratitude for the help you gave him.

You wonder: "I just gave him the balance sheet and told him that his business model needs some adjustments. I did what I have always done, so why is he thanking me so big? But, yeah, I do feel happy my client thanked me."

Hitendra Patil

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There is a huge new opportunity for accountants to reconnect with the real purpose of the profession, i.e.: becoming not just a trusted advisor for businesses and people but literally the “business strategist” for their clients. Who else understands the “language of business” as well as accountants?

It is actually a giant opportunity for accountants to be the happiest people on earth. The way the profession and technology have evolved over the last few decades brought stress into the profession. And now technology itself is trying to handle those stressful details, instead of you, the accountant. Some software has reached a level of finesse that it can be called an “accounting drone!" The stress will go away. But with it will also go the traditional revenue, unless you consciously take steps to become excellent at being a “business strategist” (not just an advisor).

Research in organizational psychology powerfully implies that people are more innovative and more successful when motivated by a desire to help other people. Adam Grant, the youngest tenured and most highly rated professor at the Wharton School, argues in Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success that, “The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others.”

For Grant, helping is not a damaging diversion from the actual work at hand; on the contrary it is the motivator that triggers increased productivity and creativity. His research led to the notion that people fall into three groupings – takers, matchers and givers – and to the emergence of idea that you can be a giver and still be successful. Is this idea the secret to happiness?

  • Accountants as takers: Tax and other laws place huge compliance responsibility on businesses and individuals. Accountants are the compliance executives, authorized by governments as trusted processors of financial information. Compliance-based services make accountants the takers because, if there were no compliance requirements, there would be no (mandatory) need for accounting and tax services.
  • Accountants as matchers: No other professionals in the world are as good as accountants at meeting deadlines. In that sense, even if it means for compliance, one major service that accountants give to clients is to help match the deadlines with client priorities. It is a give and take as accountants not only keep track of deadlines but literally push clients into meeting these deadlines.
  • Accountants as givers: What if I received a balance sheet as a business owner? What would I look for in it? And what should I look for in it? Can my accountant give this intelligence to me?

People generally don’t want to go to professionals such as doctors or lawyers unless needed. If compliance requirements were not there, most people wouldn't want to go to accountants either. But, whether they like it or not, people need to go to accountants far more often than other professionals. Accountants, therefore, have the largest number of opportunities to be "givers." So, accountants have comparatively many more opportunities to be the happiest people on earth – because givers are the happiest people, and invariably more successful than takers and matchers.

Accountants have been traditionally been billing for their time hourly. Time is money. So if accountants start giving, essentially they will have to start giving away their time (most likely) for free. And many accountants have already experienced clients seeking “free advice” that reduces the revenue for accountants. So how can accountants be just givers?

According to Grant:

  • While it is important to identify and perhaps avoid takers, it is advisable to give to both matchers and other givers. Matchers are the people who keep scores and return the favors.
  • You can microlend your time and skills in what are called “five-minute favors” that bring high value to people but at a relatively lower cost.

So, the key is to focus on the fact that if you want to be a giver, it is because you will feel happier. It is easy to know when you do not feel happy after giving something. Stop such giving. If someone wants you to take a look at his or her tax problem or balance sheet challenge, it is professional work. It may not call for “giving” for free. If you find people taking undue advantage of your giving nature, stop giving to such people. One simple way to lower your cost of giving is sharing your time with multiple people at once – say a community meeting, a client meet etc. – where you guess or take from the audience a question that is affecting many attendees and answer that for everyone’s benefit.

Give only that which gives you happiness. Of course, it has to be relevant and meaningful for the taker and hence it needs to be something that comes from your expertise and wisdom that the taker does not have.

Bonus: Here is a fun and free 10-minute test for you to determine whether you are a giver or a taker.



4 Responses to “Why Accountants Could Be the Happiest People on Earth”

  1. Dan Gaffney

    I scored 85…Thanks Hitendra for sharing!

  2. Katrina Geety

    I’m a 77 on a scale of 0 (taker) to 100 (giver). That is very accurate. Great advice on managing the “giving” as an accountant. There are definitely things that I enjoy giving and those that are annoying to me.

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