Accountant Stereotypes We Wish You Didn't Believe

Fabiola Ramirez, CPA
April 10, 2023

Accountant stereotypes are prevalent in society, and unfortunately, many people believe them to be true. These stereotypes often portray accountants as dull, boring, and lacking in creativity or social skills. Accountants are also often seen as number crunchers who are only interested in making money and have no regard for anything else. Not only are these stereotypes wrong, but they do a disservice to all of the hard-working professionals who dedicate their careers to the field of accounting. 

Stereotypes like these persist in part because people often have limited exposure to the profession and may not fully understand the diverse skill set required to be a successful accountant. Additionally, media and pop culture often perpetuate these stereotypes, further fueling their prevalence in society. I thought it helpful to give you an insider view of accountant stereotypes and explain why many of them are false or not completely true.

Myth 1: Technology and AI Are Making Us Obsolete

As AI tools like ChatGPT become increasingly sophisticated, efficient, and accurate, many people believe AI and ChatGPT will make human accountants obsolete. AI and ChatGPT can process vast amounts of financial data much faster and more accurately than humans. With their ability to analyze data, they can identify patterns and trends, and provide insights that could assist with decision-making processes. Companies may find it more cost-effective to use AI and ChatGPT for routine accounting tasks instead of hiring full-time accountants.

However, there are still areas where human accountants have an advantage over AI and ChatGPT, including:

  • Professional judgment: While ChatGPT can provide data and insights, they are not able to make subjective decisions that require professional judgment based on an accountant’s accumulated knowledge and experience. As CPA Katie Nelson points out, “I've had a few people ask if my job would become obsolete because AI would take over it. I usually have to mention the amount of judgment that tends to go into the work we do.”
  • Creative problem solving: AI relies on past data and patterns, which may not be sufficient for tasks that require an accountant who can anticipate and project trends and patterns. 
  • Authentic relationships: Human accountants possess soft skills that AI tools like ChatGPT lack, such as communication, interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence. These are essential aspects of building authentic relationships with clients and business partners.

Myth 2: Tax Season Is An Accountant’s Biggest Nightmare

Many people tend to view "tax season" as a horrible aspect of my job - many don't realize that I love tax work. What makes tax season horrible isn’t the work, but rather the insane work weeks that many accountants are forced to work because the firm is understaffed or company culture. CPA Edward Mendlowitz outlines the following factors that make tax season unbearable for accountants:

  • The volume of work during tax season is greater than the rest of the year because of once-a-year client tax returns and financial statement preparation for year-round clients.
  • Many firms require a minimum of 60 hours during tax season, which is usually between January and April, but can often be continued in September and October.
  • Payment for tax season work varies by firm. Some incorporate tax season work into annual salary, some pay a bonus, and others pay according to objective criteria like chargeable hours

As Edward points out, being constantly overworked during tax season makes many accountants who want a better work-life balance either leave for another firm or leave the profession altogether. I’m fortunate to work at MBS Accountancy, which has made work-life balance a core firm value.

Myth 3: We Never Talk To People, Only Spreadsheets

One of the biggest accountant stereotypes is that all accountants are introverted and prefer to work alone. This isn’t necessarily true. As CPA Fabiola Ramirez says, “I'm constantly communicating with my team, my clients, etc. Not a day goes by that I don't speak to a client. You have to learn how to speak to people, and I can see many hardcore introverts struggling with this aspect of accounting.” 

The success of an accountant's work often depends on our ability to communicate effectively with different people, departments, and clients. There are several specific aspects of our job that require strong interpersonal communication skills. For example, we must discuss and explain financial statements to clients, collaborate with colleagues, build relationships with clients, and negotiate with vendors and suppliers.

Image Source: Carptoons

Aside from the interpersonal aspects of an accountant’s job, it’s also key to remember that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. Some accountants may be introverts, prefer solitude and quiet environments, and need alone time to recharge. 

An extroverted accountant, on the other hand, will thrive in social situations like business networking events. As an extrovert, this kind of accountant would be highly expressive and talkative and most enjoy activities that involve interaction with others. 

An accountant can also be an ambivert. Ambiverted accountants will fall somewhere in between introversion and extroversion, exhibiting both introverted and extroverted tendencies depending on the context or situation. 

The point? Don’t assume all accountants are introverts. While it’s true that many accountants tend to be introverted, there are also many extroverts in the accounting profession. 

Myth 4: Accountants Can Do Their Job With Minimal Client Involvement

As Nawal Hussein, an accountant at MBS Accountancy, points out, “I rely on clients to provide information in a timely manner. Any delays or unresponsiveness impacts the timeliness of my work for them.” This is a reality that many companies fail to understand and, as a result, they endanger the success of any accountant or tax professional with whom they work. 

As a client, it’s best to follow these practices to ensure your accountant is able to provide you with the best service possible:

  • Be clear and straightforward with your accountant about recent changes that can impact your taxes or accounting.
  • Communicate regularly with your accountant. Waiting until the end of the year gives your accountant a year’s worth of changes and information to review while also preparing your taxes during the start of tax season. In the end, going AWOL on your accountant is never a good solution.
  • Invite your accountant to collaborate with you on any systems you use, like, QuickBooks Online, MyFTB account, IRS account, and others. This lets your accountant gather information without needing to email you. This also ensures you get faster service since there is less “waiting to hear back from them” delay.

Myth 5: All Accountants Are Tax Professionals

Most accountants know the fear of being asked “a quick tax question” at family gatherings or while out with friends.  Usually, these questions start flying right after we announce we’re an accountant.

Gotta love a Michael Scott meme

However, there are many different types of accountants. Here is a quick summary of each kind of accountant. Spoiler: only some of them do taxes.

  1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This type of accountant has passed the CPA Examination, has a four-year degree, and has 1-3 years of professional work experience. CPAs ensure businesses and individuals follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The international equivalent of the CPA designation outside the United States is the Chartered Accountant., which focuses on four main areas within the accountancy field: taxation, financial accounting and reporting, applied finance, and management accounting.
  2. Management Accountant: Also known as a cost accountant, staff accountant, or industrial accountant, this type of accountant helps companies budget and perform better by identifying, measuring, analyzing, interpreting, and communicating information to managers. They usually hold a four-year degree.
  3. Auditor: This type of accountant examines financial records to verify their accuracy and ensure compliance with tax laws, regulations, and any other applicable accounting standards. There are two main types of auditors: internal and external.
  4. Forensic Accountant: This type of accountant carefully analyzes, interprets, and summarizes complex financial and business records to determine their accuracy and importance. They may also develop computer applications to manage the information collected and deliver this information to clients.
  5. Government Accountant: Government accountants work in all branches of government, managing public funds, investigating white-collar crimes, and performing system audits. They must possess knowledge of government statutes and regulations, and a bachelor’s degree in accounting is typically required.
  6. Investment Accountant: This type of accountant works specifically in brokerage and asset management firms and maintains investments for clients. Investment accountants process investments, provide financial consulting and advice, and develop the firm’s key financial strategies.
  7. Project Accountant: This type of accountant focuses on the needs of project delivery, including tracking, reporting, and analyzing the financial results of a project. They provide regular reports to management and executives on whether a company’s project is over or under budget.
  8. Tax Examiner: This type of accountant reviews federal, state, and local tax returns filed by small businesses and individuals, determines how much is owed in taxes, and collects the tax on behalf of the government.

Myth 6: Accountants Are Stuck In The Past

Another myth about accountants is that all we do is look at the past as we file returns and issue financial statements. But we do plenty of future-focused activities too, like extrapolating patterns from budgeting and spending trends and preparing for anticipated future events like the sale of the company, addition of a partner, or expansion into a new market or state. Here are some of the future-looking activities we do as accountants:

  • Budgeting and Forecasting: An accountant can create financial projections based on future expectations, trends, and assumptions, rather than relying solely on historical data, to help inform strategic planning.
  • Risk Management: In risk management, accountants assess the potential risks that a company might face in the future, usually as the result of a business decision or trend, and develop strategies to mitigate those risks.
  • Financial Analysis: An accountant can analyze current financial performance to identify areas of strength and weakness, and develop strategies to improve future performance, which can inform strategic decision-making.
  • Strategic Planning: Accountants play a crucial role in developing the overall strategic plan for a company, considering financial implications and constraints, and providing financial expertise to inform strategic decision-making.
  • Cost Management: Accountants can analyze and manage costs, both past and future, to ensure a company is operating efficiently and effectively, which is crucial when it comes to long-term strategic planning and decision-making.

Myth 7: Accountants Are Boring And Have Zero Personality

You only have to look at CPA-turned-comedians like John Garrett and Greg Kyte to know that there are accountants in the world who have a sense of humor. As Mark Lee, FCA points out, most people who say accountants are boring are either parroting what they’ve heard others say or simply don’t care to understand accounting. At MBS Accountancy, we keep our company chat channel alive and very un-boring with GIFs and memes to keep us chuckling and motivated throughout the day.

Myth 8: We’re Just In This For The Money

A lot of people assume, often because they think accounting is incredibly boring, that accountants are only doing their job because of the money. But this is far from true. While accounting is a lucrative profession, many accountants find meaning and purpose in the work they do for clients. For example, our accounting manager Edie Daly sincerely enjoys helping nonprofits by providing controller and CFO services that enable them to succeed and make well-informed operational and financial decisions. 

Obviously, we have bills to pay and things we want to buy. But relegating our job to a mere paycheck does a disservice to the many strategic and relationship-based aspects of what we do for clients. CPA Victor Godinez puts it: “If I were just in this for the money, I’d be miserable. I truly believe that my work is valuable and provides clients with accurate, skillful interpretations of their financial statements and financial performance.” 

Accountants Aren’t Boring, Mkay?

The next time you hear someone say all accountants are boring, do us a favor and throw a marshmallow at them. The jumbo kind. While we may nerd out over numbers and tax topics that many people find boring, we aren’t the boring monolith that non-accountants portray us to be. While legacy accountants may have shut themselves up in a room and cranked out calculations or wore a green eyeshade to bed, modern accountants hone their interpersonal skills to help their colleagues and clients succeed.

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