April 24, 2002

Accountants in Crisis

New survey shows corporate America isn't happy wit

As far as the numbers go, that isn't the problem, says a new accounting survey. It's the customer service and the person-to-person stuff that need some work. According to an April poll by NFO WorldGroup, research-based, financial services marketing firm in New York, corporate America gave external auditors an overall "D" average in competence.

People just aren't happy with their relationship with their accountant, says Shubhra Ramchandani, Stakeholder Management Practice Leader for North America, NFO WorldGroup, and leader of the TRI*M Stakeholder Management Services study (a research-based platform for measuring, monitoring, and managing multi-channel relationships). "Accountants need to get down to basics and make some changes," she says. Issues of ethics and integrity, such as 'readiness for change' and 'being a company I can trust,' were all rated very highly. But issues such as response rates, keeping clients up to date, and maintaining a 'staff we can rely on to provide the right advice,' were rated mediocre to poor.

According to the survey, only 35% of the respondents would recommend their current auditing service, while 27% would not, and 42% were unsure. In addition, only 55% of the respondents ranked overall performance as excellent or very good compared to 70% to 75% typically seen in the professional services such as banking and information technology. The solution: know and understand your clients' expectations, offers Ramchandani. "If the smaller, more fundamental issues are addressed and resolved," she says, "then approval ratings will rise."

But oftentimes client definitions of basics are different from those of their accountants'. "The industry has been so focused on expanding its portfolio of services," Ramchandani says, "that they aren't really hearing what their clients are asking for." Clients want personalized attention, a friendly and helpful staff, and an overall pleasant experience ae in addition to accurate accounting services.

Whether or not these results have anything to do with the Enron scandal, Ramchandani isn't sure. "We've never asked these questions before," she says. "But one thing is for sure: these results will stay the same long after the current news becomes old news."

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