The World’s First Accounting Detective
Just like Sherlock Holmes, who always referred to himself as “The World’s First Consulting Detective,” I approach accounting problems with the same kind of relentless pursuit of the underlying reality of a problem as the legendary fictional detective. I liken the process of untangling a set of accounting records to detective work, and through many years of experience I have become a very good accounting ‘detective.’
As you will discover, I have been doing this work for a long, long time. In that time I have worked for or on over 100 different business entities. With that kind of experience, I have seen just about any kind of accounting problem imaginable. I can honestly say I have never found a situation or a problem that I can’t find a solution to.
My name is Russell W. Shurts, but I go by Russ. I am completing my 34th year as an accountant, and am starting out on a ‘new’ venture that is really just a continuation of the primary work I have done for all of those 34 years. Similar to CPAs, I have worked with a large number of entities, but unlike CPAs, I have done the vast majority of my work as an employee for two different companies that were not CPA firms. Simply by the nature of this relationship (as an employee working for a single company) I have received the kind of day-to-day experience that a CPA never gets because they are always outsiders to the business entities they take care of – no matter how close the relationship. Working within the structure of a business and attempting to continuously improve the performance of that business has given me a perspective about working with non-financial colleagues that lets me provide solutions that typically wouldn’t occur to most CPA’s.
Before I go into all that I have done in my career, let me first describe how I have always approached my work, and how I would approach the work I would do for you.
The most critical attribute an accountant must have has nothing to do with accounting and everything to do with morality. Integrity, honesty and discretion are the most important qualities for an accountant. Because people are entrusting their livelihoods and an inside look into their lives to us, it is imperative they be constantly re-assured first, that their wealth is being properly looked after and handled according to their wishes, and second, that nobody else will learn the extent of that wealth or how they spend their money. Without establishing and continually reinforcing this trust, nothing else an accountant does will be of any value at all. I establish this trust in the following way:
- By always keeping my word.
- By providing reports that accurately reflect the state of the client’s wealth and financial activity.
- By always being ready to answer any question about the reports I provide.
- By being willing to trace every transaction back to its original source.
- By always inviting outside scrutiny of what I am doing.
- And finally and most important, by always owning up to any mistake I have made just as soon as it is discovered, and by making the consequences of the mistake known to the client.
The second most important attribute an accountant should have is competence. Contrary to common perception, true competence in any human endeavor is rare indeed. To me, competence in accounting includes not merely recording and reporting transactions in accordance with accounting principles, but a whole host of attributes. When I talk about competence for an accountant, I mean (in no particular order):
- Accurately recording transactions, keeping them in accordance with reality.
- A willingness to dive into detail no matter how voluminous in order to find answers.
- Taking big, complicated problems and breaking them up into smaller components that are much easier to understand and therefore much easier to solve.
- Providing financial reporting that properly communicates what is going on, especially for non-financial people.
- A willingness to look at problems from other points of view in the organization, and to work towards solutions from that different point of view.
- Accepting that it is you, the accountant, who is in error if the receiver of your information does NOT understand it.
- Responsiveness – taking care of the little stuff first and quickly.
- Respecting other people’s needs and time; if they have requested something from you try to get it for them quickly, within 5 to 10 minutes if possible. And if it will take some amount of time to provide whatever is desired, then communicate that fact and provide, if at all possible, a time estimate for when you will have the answer.
- Organization – understanding that efficiency in any endeavor comes from how well the work is efficiently organized. How I insure this is by spending excess time organizing my work up front so as to make the subsequent handling of the same transactions and activity quick and easy.