You’ll never hear Richard Kleiner call himself an “accountant”, and it’s not a word you’ll see on his firm’s website, either. Actually, that’s not quite true. If you Google “Gerald Edelman” the first thing you’ll see is: “If you’re looking for an ‘accountant’, you’re in the wrong place.” That’s a fairly decisive rejection of the term. So why are people who offer auditing and compliance services shunning a word used to name someone who does those things?
Richard says: “‘Accountant’ describes what certain professional advisors did in the past. It’s limiting and outdated and does not describe the depth and breadth of services that the 21st century ‘accountant’ actually offers. I don’t feel comfortable using ‘accountant’ to describe what I do, and we prefer not to use it as a firm.”
Instead, Gerald Edelman shout about their ability to “think beyond accountancy”. Richard explains why: “A lot of compliance work will soon be done – dare I say it – by machines. The future of the profession requires us to move beyond the traditional understanding of what ‘accountancy’ means.”
At the heart of Richard’s argument is the idea that today’s clients demand far more than old-school accountancy services. They want creative solutions, new business ideas and memorable experiences.
“Clients want firms that add real value, offer thought-provoking challenges and introduce them to interesting and useful contacts,” says Richard. “It’s a given that you’ll be good at compliance. Doing tax returns nicely is not a strong selling point. Clients want professionals who can help them to grow and assist them in all sorts of ways. That’s why we encourage them to ask us – quite literally – anything. We aspire to be their first port of call, whatever they need.”
By “going beyond accountancy” rather than “being excellent accountants”, Richard makes an important distinction and pushes his organisation in a different direction. “The definition of ‘beyond’ is ‘superior to’; ‘surpassing’; ‘above’,” he says. “So ‘going beyond’ means having the aspiration to always try to go that extra mile; to always attempt to surpass expectations.”
Richard and his partners have injected their “beyond” philosophy into Gerald Edelman’s bloodstream by setting a clear, simple target. Like all good targets it floats on the horizon, pulling the whole team forward while remaining tantalisingly beyond reach. This goal is to be “genuinely exceptional” in every interaction – whether with clients, intermediaries, suppliers or colleagues. Richard says: “Each interaction should leave the other person feeling inspired – but the most important thing to remember is that you’re only ever as good as your next interaction; your last one doesn’t count. You can never rest on your laurels. You can never sit back and say: ‘I’ve nailed it’. Life is not like that. You can’t afford to be complacent.”
So, will accountants soon be extinct? The truth is that accountants who offer nothing but the traditional, robotic services of compliance and auditing may well quickly disappear. When Gerald Edelman’s CEO says, “If you’re looking for an ‘accountant’, you’re in the wrong place,” it is because he recognises that clients today demand something beyond…