The Empathetic Accountant

Empathy: the ability to step into another’s shoes.

And in accounting and bookkeeping, an essential ingredient to helping your clients’ businesses survive and thrive. Here are three ways you can use empathy to enhance relationships with your existing clients, and ultimately grow your practice.


A common problem we hear from partners is friction in their relationships with their clients.

You want to provide your clients with the service they’ve paid for, but to do that, they need to give you certain information. And when they are strapped for time and are unable to send you the receipts, bills and invoices you need on time, your emails and phone calls can easily become a hindrance more than a help.

When you’re unable to deliver your value and they feel nagged or under pressure, both parties might feel like the other is preventing them from doing their job. Something is at work here. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

Harry Mills, author of Secret Sauce: How to Pack Your Messages with Persuasive Punch, dives into the psychology behind trust and the ability to “stop looking at others as ‘them’ and instead picture them as individuals, opportunities to productively collaborate multiply”.

In the April 2018 International Edition of Accounting and Business magazine, ACCA Global recommended building an ‘empathy bridge’ for more friction-free relationships to prevent clients from becoming a villain, and reposition them as superstars.

To help build this empathy bridge and transform clients from “them” to “us”, Mills recommends the ‘SOFTEN’ approach, your secret weapon:

  • to Smile;
  • take an Open posture;
  • find shared interests (Fused identity commonalities);
  • offer a handshake (Touch);
  • make Eye contact;
  • and Nod.

Try it out in your next new client meeting. Even if you don’t end up closing the sale, you have made a connection and could have business coming your way in the near future.

It may look simple, but goes a long way to enhance your existing client relationships. Plus, when your clients trust you and your services, communication becomes more efficient and you can provide more value.


For rapidly growing firms like Matt Portt from Portt & Co, recruitment is top priority. When filling graduate roles, it’s essential to find talent that fits your work culture and values.

According to Douglas Holyoak, the Director of Learning and Education at PricewaterhouseCoopers, accounting:

Is not just about debits and credits. It is about what you know and how you communicate it … When you have that relationship, you can really put yourself in another person’s shoes and start to think about the problem from their perspective. Only then can you deliver real value to your clients.

As more and more traditional back-room tasks like data-entry become automated, the new generation of accountants will need to add more value to the front office. That makes it more important than ever to foster customer-facing skills: the ability to build trust in clients, add value and listen to their concerns. This makes empathy a key ingredient in any long-term strategy.

It is also important to be empathetic to the desires of your team themselves. For Mike Melling, he found that he could use automation to recruit and retain more of the right staff. For Melling, “automating the manual work means you can move staff with energy and passion up the chain and have them interpreting the numbers and helping the clients, instead of chasing them”.


Where do the most creative, effective ideas come from? According to a study by marketing professor Kelly Herd, they came from considering your customers’ feelings before starting product development. While you may not be designing products, you are designing services.


Use an empathy map (you can download the Receipt Bank template here) to build a holistic view of your client.

First, start with your goals. What do you want to achieve with the empathy map, who are you empathising with and why? Then work your way clockwise around the board from 1-4, finishing with imagining their pain-points and gains. These include their fears and frustrations, hopes and dreams.

Let’s take the example of Amanda, the co-founder of a tech startup. Her team are travelling across Europe to pitch at various summits and conferences. On the way, they are picking up travel expenses. From a round of coffees here to dinners there, the receipts are piling up and Amanda is worried about losing them on the way.

If you were to draw an empathy map of Amanda, you might put her biggest pain-point as losing receipts and not being able to claim VAT as a result.

As a result, as part of your services, you could introduce mobile receipt scanning, so that Amanda and her team could take photos of receipts as soon as they receive them. Then, they don’t have to worry about losing them and can focus on delivering the most compelling pitch possible.

When you are empathetic and put the needs of your clients first, chances are you will be able to find new opportunities to help them and widen your current offering. The more valuable you are to them, the stronger your relationships.

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