I’ve been working at SBO Financial for more than two years now – but that might come as a shock to some of my clients, who see me as part of their own businesses. Here are my key takeaways from my first 24 months with an accounting firm that does things a little differently.
A better approach to accounting
At their core, most accounting firms are concerned with tax compliance, and while some of them might bolt on other services, they rarely do them well. At the end of the day, they’re there to balance your books and file your taxes, and are rarely seen or heard from otherwise.
But in the time I’ve been at SBO Financial, what I’ve found is that some businesses need more than backward-looking bookkeeping. They need a proactive financial partner to help them set budgets that are in line with their goals and provide them with forward-looking insights and advice.
That’s why SBO functions more like an in-house CFO or financial controller for our clients than a traditional accounting firm. Essentially, we become an extension of their business. If the clients I work with were to draw up an org chart, SBO would definitely be part of it.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that the internal staff members of at least one of our clients think I’m one of them. I’ve got a company email account, I’m on their internal Slack – I think they’d be shocked to learn I don’t work directly for them, which is indicative of the relationships we have with our clients.
We call it operational finance. It’s not just about numbers – it’s about helping our clients to see the story those numbers are telling, and working with them to shape where that story goes.
For most of our clients, that story is all about growth. I see myself as someone with a growth mindset – someone who’s always looking for ways to improve myself – and I think that helps me to get on the same wavelength as the businesses we work with.
SBO’s clients aren’t suited to pale, stale accounting firms who just want to keep doing the same thing year after year, because that suffocates ambition. Our clients are founders and CEOs who are always looking for ways to improve their processes, to expand their markets, and to get better – and it’s our job to provide them with the expert analysis and sophisticated financial forecasting they need to do just that.
There’s never a dull day at SBO, because there’s always a new challenge around the corner for our clients that we can help them solve. They never sit still, and neither do we.
Personally, I think that’s the most important attribute that anyone who wants to join the team at SBO can have. You can teach technical skills and you can teach accounting theory, but you simply can’t teach that growth mindset.
The ideal environment
Accounting is usually thought of as a high-stress occupation. But while there’s no denying that there are high stakes involved with the work we do at SBO, I can honestly say it’s not a high-pressure environment.
One of the first things I remember our CEO, Vanessa Firth, telling me when I started here is that there’s no such thing as an accounting emergency – we’re accountants, not doctors, and nobody is going to die if we don’t balance the books today. It was a reality check that’s stayed with me ever since.
For an accounting firm, we’re a remarkably relaxed bunch. That’s not to say we slack off, but we simply understand our jobs and how to get them done without any drama. It also helps that the leadership team actually cares about our wellbeing, and regularly checks in with us to see how we’re doing and help out if we need it.
Oddly enough, I think that’s partly a function of the fact that the entire team works remotely – when you see everyone everyday, I think you can get a bit lazy and just assume everyone’s doing fine. But because we’re spread out across Australia, India and the Philippines, we make more of a conscious effort to check in with each other. It’s part of the culture.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. Over the past two years, it’s become important to me to have the flexibility to make work fit around life, instead of making life fit around work. It’s great not having that pressure to have your bum on a seat in the office from 9 to 5, and it feels good to have bosses who just trust us to get our jobs done on time.
The team’s still been able to build up a great rapport over Zoom and Slack, and we recently all flew in for a company retreat in Maroochydore. For some of us, it was the first time we’d ever met in person, and now that the borders are open, we’re planning to catch up and party together every six months.
It’s been a thrill to be part of this team of growth-minded professionals for two years now – and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
The only thing I know for sure is that it won’t be boring.
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