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Interview with Bill Kennedy, Author of Energized Accounting

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to interview Bill Kennedy, a Chartered Professional Accountant at Energized Accounting who is passionate about streamlining accounting processes. During the interview, Kennedy revealed the challenges and opportunity he has faced in the accounting profession. He set forth his advice to new accountants and why they should use social media to their advantage. Kennedy’s personality shines through in this interview and he discloses how taking a well-known personality test caused a shift in the way he viewed his career.

bill-kennedyWhy did you choose to enter the field of accounting?
I viewed accounting as a good preparation for a career as a commercial lawyer. Later I changed my mind and decided to become a professional accountant. In working with clients, I saw a need for someone to bridge the gap between users of accounting systems and the computer professionals who develop them, so I specialized in accounting computer systems.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in your career?
Writing reports that other people would read and understand has been a big challenge. Early on, my recommendations were not practical. We would find control weaknesses and report them to the client, but our recommendations were routinely ignored. As I gained experience, I learned the value of discussing recommendations with the people involved. It was only when I took the time to hash out the details with client staff and focus on making the recommendations practical that I started to get compliance.

Financial analysis is another communication challenge. I remember giving the president of the company an analysis of the year to date results. He handed it back to me the next day and said, “Bill, I read your report. I can’t tell if it’s good news or bad news.” I had to learn to stop including jargon, like “accrual” or “timing difference.” Because of that incident, I always start my reports with an introductory sentence saying whether the news is good or bad.

What advice do you have to offer someone who is considering accounting as a career?
My advice would be to decide on a specialty as early as possible. Accounting is a large profession ranging from the sole practitioner working with entrepreneurs to the tax specialist, handling huge deals for international corporations. Do you prefer to work with large or small companies? Do you want to be independent or part of a team? Do you like intricate details or broad principles? Do you prefer to work with people or with numbers? Accounting is too big and the rules are changing too quickly for anyone to do it all.

If you don’t know what you want to do, get practical experience. Small firms would welcome additional help during tax season and the larger firms offer internships. Try it out before you devote your career to it!

What is one of the most interesting aspects of your job?
Much of my current work is for charities, where the financial position is not well understood. When I was asked to prepare a detailed budget for a client, I wanted to be sure that I captured all of the programs, revenues, and expenses. An issue with charities is that there are often regular events and programs that carry on year to year, but which may not be one person’s specific responsibility, so they are easily forgotten in a budget discussion. So I created an organization chart showing the work being done rather than the people and circulated it. Several people commented that they hadn’t realized what all the charity did. It sparked a good discussion among the directors about which activities aligned with the charity’s mission and which did not. Even though there were no numbers in the report, this is a good example of how clear analysis leads to good decision making.

Another budgeting example: a client’s Treasurer was on disability leave and had not been replaced. I was given the previous year’s budget binder and asked to prepare one for the next year. The binder was long and complex, so I did a one-page summary and gave it to the president to be sure that I understood it. He liked it so much that it became the new reporting format for the board. Detailed reports can sometimes confuse more than they enlighten.

If you could suggest a role model for a new accountant, who would it be and why?
I don’t have a single role model. I use the memory of particular clients, supervisors, and mentors to guide me.

As an accomplished author of a blog related to accounting, what advice would you offer to the new accountant concerning the role of social media in their profession?
Social media is a large conversation. Blog entries need to be short, understandable and readable. The tone needs to be conversational. Humor is important. One year I analyzed the traffic to my blog entries. The humorous ones were much more popular than the serious ones.

What key personality traits do you possess that have made you a better accountant?
Part way through my career, I took the Myers-Briggs personality profile test. It showed me that I was extroverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving, whereas the typical accountant is introverted, sensing, thinking and judging. That led to a career shift away from being a Controller toward being a consultant and writer, so I could employ my creativity and communications skills helping clients imagine a better system. In general, any accountant needs to determine what their general strengths are and find a way to use them in their career.

We thank Bill for sharing his immense experience and insight about the accounting field. To learn more about Bill Kennedy or read articles about accounting, visit his site at Energized Accounting.