Taxes are a more or less universal experience, which means everyone has an opinion on them. According to a recent global survey, clear majorities of us actually have strongly positive feelings about tax professionals — much more so than politicians or journalists.
This survey of taxpayers worldwide focused on trust, which we at SBF have made a cornerstone of our business for both our clients and our employees. Over the summer, we spoke to Senior Tax Manager Kera Haas about building relationships and earning longevity. “We nurture trust by showing appreciation every day, encouraging coaching, soliciting and acting on feedback,” she said, “and finally, empowering our team and clients by trusting them first.”
We asked some of our other tax department colleagues to tell us how they define trust, how they cultivate trust with their clients and what it means to be so trusted as part of their day-to-day work lives.
Accountants work with a client’s most private and sensitive information, often for decades at a time. How do you nurture trust between an accountant and the client?
Heidi A’Hara, Senior Tax Manager: “Just as a person needs to trust their doctor with their health, they need to trust their accountant with their money. To some extent, because clients are aware of the extensive education and training we have gone through to be in the position we are in, that comes naturally. But the real trust comes over time, as the client works closely with us and sees how they benefit from our knowledge.”
Doug Keith, Senior Tax Manager: “Clients rely on us to provide timely and accurate information to allow them to make the best financial decisions. They want to know we will bring issues to them, as opposed to waiting for them to call us. Communication is key, as our clients want to know we are thinking about their situation. Being familiar with their personal information over an extended period is important in this regard.”
Paul Charest, Tax Manager: “For the most part, clients can tell whether someone is being genuine or not. I try to be as honest, informative, and helpful with clients as possible. My communications are probably more thorough than most, but I feel that this thoroughness is a great way of building trust with clients, because clients can sense that they are individually important and cared for.”
An accounting firm needs a great team, not just to support its clients but also its employees. How does trust figure into your working lives at SBF?
Heidi: “It means a lot to be trusted in the workplace, because everyone you work with is also very smart and knowledgeable. You can’t ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’ because your colleagues know what you are doing.”
Doug: “You can’t have an efficient team if there isn’t trust among the members. To me, being trusted means I am someone that can be relied on, and someone who puts due care into everything I do.”
Heidi: “I personally love being the ‘subject-matter person’ in the individual tax arena. When someone comes to me for an answer and I can help them, it makes me feel useful and a team player. It gives you positive energy.”
How do you feel about this survey and how accountants and tax professionals are trusted?
Paul: “It’s uplifting to know that being a CPA typically has built-in trust from clients. It’s a testament to the CPA professionals and firms before us, that this built-in trust in the accounting profession has carried on into the present generation of CPA’s.”
Heidi: “It’s our job to exude confidence in ourselves and the information we provide, so that clients can be confident we have the knowledge to assist them in making financial decisions. I do not take that role lightly; I want to make sure that I am doing my best to act in a client’s best interest at all times, because they have trusted me to do just that.”
Doug: “It certainly feels good that accountants are considered trusted advisors. Any time a client refers you to another prospect, you feel trusted, and you feel the firm is trusted.”
Paul: “I have a client that was having an issue downloading personal investment statements to send to me. After many failed attempts, the client provided me his username and password so that I could download this sensitive information directly. He said, and I quote, “If I can’t trust my accountant, who can I trust?’”