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8 October 2018

Helping SMEs grow – part 1 with Edelfried Schneider

Accountancy Europe’s President since December 2017, Edelfried Schneider is an accomplished professional and leader. Part of this is his 4 decades of experience advising small and medium-sized entity (SME) clients. We ask what he has learnt along this journey (see also part 2 coming in November).

What is being an SME accountant like?

Being hands-on is the main thing for an SME accountant, which makes the work so interesting. You don’t have anyone below you to pass the work to and the job is also more diverse than practical tax and audit questions.

Building personal relationships is crucial, without getting too close and losing your ability to judge. As you progress in your career, your advice becomes more diverse and even personal, such as on their last will or succession issues. These conversations require a lot of trust from the client, as well as time and dedication from the accountant.

I would advise SME accountants to be proactive with their clients. Regularly send them an email, a call, reach out and ask what you can do for them – don’t wait for them to come to you.

What drove you to become a professional accountant?

At school I was interested in things related to society, politics, geography, etc. I also had a good command of foreign languages and mathematics. My first work experience was 6 months in a bank, where my cousin was a director. He convinced me that accounting is broader than banking, and so to study accountancy.

I started with a larger firm in Dusseldorf (today Grant Thornton) but decided to join a smaller firm in Koblenz to be near my family. In 1984, I founded my own firm together with three partners. In thirty years, we have grown our small business to a team of 250. Initially it was a challenge to go ‘back to the basics’ at a smaller firm, but I do not regret this change at all.

What has been your experience in succession planning at your firm?

My proudest moment was clearly the day that the younger partners said they were ready to take over the firm. Many partners in small structures have to sell out their practice when retirement comes. The fact that the younger partners wanted to stay, demonstrated their trust in what we have accomplished and the success we have achieved.

I would advise partners in small practices to start the handover process earlier, rather at 55 than at 65. This will help to ensure the continuation of the firm and the style of work. And it’s a nice way to end your career: you have flexibility, time, and continue working with your preferred clients.

Accountancy Europe stands for trust, integrity and transparency. How do we uphold these values in an increasingly post truth world?

The profession has a lot to offer in this context. Sticking to the rules and abiding by the code of ethics builds trust. Integrity is more difficult to define, but really, it’s about taking a step back and reflecting when faced with a difficult situation and taking your time before deciding. You must avoid traps and protect your reputation both as a firm and an individual, which is built over years but can be destroyed quickly. Although sometimes it’s challenging to have certain conversations with your client, in my experience, even after making difficult decisions the client often comes back to say it was the right one.

A study in the UK revealed that accountants are among the most dateable professionals. Why do you think that is?

I think this is related to education – accountants are very well educated. The day-to-day work with your clients forces you to be incredibly open minded and diplomatic. You learn to avoid confrontation and seek compromise. And let’s not forget that “audit” comes from the Latin word “audire” meaning “to listen”, which is a very valuable skill in any relationship!

How do you feel after 1.5 years as Accountancy Europe President?

I’m still delighted as there are so many chances and opportunities. I enjoy meeting new and interesting people and bringing them together. I appreciate being able to give back to the profession that gave me so many opportunities. Clearly my cousin was right!

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