What’s the difference between an economist and an accountant? The economist didn’t have enough personality to be an accountant.
Of course, this joke is funny because everyone knows that accounting is boring and thus, accountants are, too…right? Therefore, economists must be even worse!
Really, I just think the accounting industry has a branding issue. Why not call ourselves Scorekeepers? It would certainly make us sound more interesting. And in the end, keeping score is really what we’re doing. Capturing lots of data, nearly all in dollars, and spitting it out in some form of useful information that tells you something about your business. How much does it cost us to add a truck to our fleet of vehicles? How much should we charge for this new product? If we hire five new employees, what will that cost us “all in” (including all the benefits and taxes)? And the ever popular, “Did we make any money?”
The “art” of accounting, however, isn’t about answering those questions. It’s about presenting information in a way that is understandable, meaningful, useful, and valuable. Doing that requires a genuine understanding of your audience and a real appreciation for the fact that different audiences need different information presented in different ways. Different people in different positions will find different sets of information useful. The art of accounting is meeting the needs of your different audiences so that they, in turn, can make critical decisions that propel your organization forward. It’s the difference between reading the black and white box score in the sports section of the newspaper (boring!) and listening to a talented announcer describe the last play of the game as one team comes from behind to score in the last few seconds, pulling out an unbelievable win!
Accounting isn’t sexy. Well, not to most people. (Okay, honestly, not even to me.) But try thinking about any professional sporting event without the questions, “what’s the score?” or “who won?” crossing your mind. It’s like touching your nose with your elbow – you just can’t do it! (You can put your elbow down now.)
If you try thinking about financial statements or reports like a scorecard, perhaps they will be more interesting and maybe even less daunting! And if you think you need different information, more understandable information, or you don’t know how the information you’re getting applies to your job, then it’s probably time to have a conversation with your accountant. A good accountant will want to get you what you need, and a great accountant will find a way to make it interesting for you! I mean, we’re not economists, after all.
Anne Bain is the Head of Accounting at One Energy.