Putting the ‘Trust’ into Trusted Advisor

Putting the ‘Trust’ into Trusted Advisor

The phrase “Trusted Advisor” has long been associated with accountants.

But is it earned? Do they deserve such an accolade? And what do they do to maintain or enhance such status?

The position of trusted advisor seems to naturally emerge from the knowledge that the accountant knows all our numbers. The accountant has seen the insides of the business; the warts-and-all view; the gory secrets of strangled cashflow and unfulfilled profit promises.

A consequence of their knowledge of the numbers is that we perceive the accountant knows our innermost secrets – that somehow by revealing the numbers we strip the façade off the business and expose its flabby underbelly to public view.

So perhaps there’s an implied trust on our part as a client – a silent pleading that we won’t be ridiculed, that we won’t be asked too many difficult questions and that the accountant won’t tell anyone else how our business is behaving

But, of course, trust comes from what we do, not what we say.

Our actions.

And it’s the continued demonstration of similar actions or behaviours which nurtures such trust.

The current circumstances can demonstrate this succinctly. In the pandemic, we’ve seen many responses from accountants. And as with most things in life, we can see good, bad and ugly responses.

At one extreme we have firms which have literally gone to ground – they’ve made a quick decision that because they can’t work from the office, they close the doors, pop the out of office message on and furlough the team.

And the extent of client communication is a terse “due to the exceptional circumstances…” – you know the rest.

Contrast that with firms which have really made an effort. Getting the team up and running from home was a huge effort, but they got there. Client communication was a huge effort, but they contacted every single client, sometime on multiple occasions.

Why?

Because as business owners, they felt the same fear, trepidation and lack of control their clients did. So, they chose to empathise with their clients, show a human face and lay aside, momentarily, spreadsheets and trial balances. Which engenders trust.

But it didn’t end there.

Technology adoption has been accelerated by these proactive firms – Zoom calls with clients quickly becoming the norm. Recorded videos came in useful to disseminate an oft-repeated message. Daily email briefings, bringing short, sharp updates and all the time, applying a human face to the numbers.

Which of the examples above do we see trusted advisor behaviours? I think we all know the answer – we all know which firm we’d trust.

But here’s the rub

The firm which has done such great work to date now has a choice. As things return to “normal”, do they throw out all the lessons they’ve learned during the Covid pandemic and go back to the old way of doing things?

Or do they continue to nurture the trust they’ve built through being there for clients in their hour of need by providing timely, reassuring contact and relevant information? For these are the behaviours of a Trusted Advisor

Trust is a scarce resource – we should do all we can to earn it, and nurture it.

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