Art of Accounting: Elegant and perfect client communications

Accounting

Client communications should be elegant and perfect. Here is what I mean and how to do it.

Tax returns and financial statements have special and distinct looks and serve specific compliance, planning and advisory roles. However, there are many other types of deliverables, and those are what I am addressing. Some examples are planning memos, tax opinions, projections, budgets and representations of “what if” scenarios.

How things look is important and can create interest, excitement, buy-in or acceptance. To put things in perspective, our job is to take clients’ ideas, thoughts and even dreams and then present alternative positions and convert them into a financial plan that can drive decisions.

Some examples of things I have been involved in recently are showing a client what they would net after a sale of their business. The net is in dollars, but since the client’s intention is to live off the income, it was really the future cash flow and its sources that the client needed to understand. Another was a memo laying out a plan of providing a key employee with some company ownership that the client and employee would be able to relate to and grasp the issues and consequences. A third example is an informal business valuation that would be used for future business planning and personal financial planning. Actually, there are dozens of these situations. I probably write memos for 25 or 30 different plans a year.

These should be approached with the attitude of providing a user-friendly tool to the client. It needs to look good (i.e., elegant), to be right (i.e., perfect and precise), and to make sense. Ease of use by the client needs to be foremost in your mind. That means it has to be user friendly, easy to follow and be an effective guide to making and implementing a decision.

The information and numbers must be right. There is no room for error. One way is to test and prove your work. In addition to double checking what you did, look at the conclusion or result and ask yourself if it is reasonable and makes sense. Sometimes that is all that matters.

Another thing is to make sure you answer the question that your client needs answered. Eliminate side issues or background and history, but cover every question the client might wonder about or ask. I just completed a project and had a thoroughly prepared analysis on an Excel spreadsheet. When I looked at the final product, I thought of some questions I might be asked about it and decided to accompany the spreadsheet with a detailed memo responding to questions that I might be asked. This took extra time and, before I decided to spend that time, I tried to anticipate how much time it would save answering the questions and I came up short an hour. Let’s say I spent two and a half hours to save an hour and a half. On a cost basis that did not seem to make sense. But then I factored in the delay to the deal without that memo.

The deal was somewhat time sensitive and that memo would eliminate at least three days’ delay because of the dynamics of how the buyer’s representatives reacted to changes. So, the hour accelerated the deal by three days. Was that a good trade-off? My decision at that time was yes. In any event, it helped conclude the deal and, while my role was essential, it was not fully acknowledged, and that is what our role is.

To be unobtrusive, make things happen and be the first person the client turns to when they need something done. To me, the client shows their gratitude when they send the check to me in the mail, and also when I get that first call about a new project.

When providing actionable information to a client, make it elegant, perfect, precise and user-friendly.

Here are links to blogs I posted about condensing information onto a Killer Slide and preparing an executive summary: https://www.withum.com/resources/killer-slides/ and https://www.withum.com/resources/executive-summary/ .

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” He also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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