Skills of an Accountant

What skills does an accountant have to have to be a good mentor?


Mentoring clients is an intrinsic part of the service that ATB Chartered Accountants provides. With a passion and focus on small and medium sized businesses, the team at ATB helps owners take control of their businesses …

…enabling them to achieve the success and freedom successful business owners enjoy.

Effective mentoring helps clients achieve that business growth and success … and it starts by asking the right questions. ATB Chartered Accountant and Director Paul Rattray looks at what skills accountants need in order to be good mentors.

Skills of an Accountant

Paul, there are a few important skills accountants need to provide good advice and support. How does a solid business background help?


“A good business background is so important. There’s nothing like running your own business to be able to understand the issues of another business owner. The fact that we run our own business at ATB means we have experienced the ups and downs and situations that are common to growing a business.

And this means we understand those issues beyond the theory. We know what our clients are going through, so we know how to help them get to the right solution.

Often times the mentoring is more than the advice. It’s equally about the support you can give a client during the tough times.

We’ve been in business for 25 years. We’ve seen a huge variety of businesses in that time. So there are not too many situations between Jim, Michael and I that we haven’t seen or experienced. We share information with each other about how to deal with different issues and this gives us all a good knowledge of different circumstances and possible solutions. The same solution might not work for everyone so having that breadth of experience comes in very handy.”

Skills of an Accountant

How do you get to the heart of an issue in order to provide the right advice?


“To be an effective business mentor, you’ve got to start with being a good listener. If you listen attentively and let the client talk, you will learn much more. If you tell a client what to think, they may just agree and that makes it hard to establish what’s going on. The more information you get, the clearer the picture.

It’s important to listen to what your clients say rather than assume you know what they will say. Every situation is different. We ask leading questions, which will allow the client to work through and identify things they didn’t know were an issue. Little clues can help you both to expand and get to the core of the problem. That’s when you can most effectively work on a solution.

Our clients are in an environment where they know that they are being heard and are talking to someone they trust. And a lot of times the result is that they will work out the problem for themselves. It’s human nature that people are happier when they come up with the answer themselves!”

Skills of an Accountant

You provide accounting services to a broad base of clients.  Does this help with your mentoring?


“Our client base is varied; some are small businesses just starting out and others have a turnover of $100m.

The skills, experience and knowledge that we have gained over the years means we know that different businesses have different problems. 

So we mentor them differently. A small business might have issues with cash flow or debt, have difficulty attracting clients, or might be going through the problems of growing a startup. This is a different skill set to mentoring a CEO of a large business who might need help with time management or putting employees into the right position to benefit the business.”

How can mentoring help a growing business?


“The mentoring often comes in as a business grows or transitions to a different phase. That’s when clients need the most guidance. Most people are good at the technical side of running their business, but the transition side is more of an unknown. As their accountant and mentor, we have to make sure people have the ability and resources to take their business to the next level. We have to help them address their capacity. There is no use in taking on a new client if you can’t deliver.

So as part of our advice we question them on how they are going to achieve that. The mentoring might be a sounding board, initially.

But in working through the process, you allow the business owner to come to the realisation of whether their plan is achievable and how long it will take.

For example you might have a skilled builder who is looking to up-scale his business, to more than one site at once. Mentoring will help them prepare for that transition by looking at their cash flow and what software they might need. And ultimately it gets them into the right mindset to grow successfully.”

Skills of an Accountant

Why is it important to have empathy to mentor effectively?


“When you are able to put yourself in a client’s position you are better able to understand their perspective. This is important with everyone we deal with. It reminds you of the problems that they are facing. It also allows you to connect with a client beyond the practical facts and figures, and show that you truly care. 

This emotional connection means the client will put more trust in you and your guidance, and the relationship will be more productive. Showing you care is fundamental to being a good mentor.”

Skills of an Accountant

How does having the right skills to be a good mentor benefit your clients at ATB?


“If you want to help people grow their business effectively, you have to mentor them through the transition phases. We’ve always done this at ATB, but there is certainly more focus on that part of our service now.

Many of our clients have been with us for 10 or 20 years – we’ve got to know them well and seen their families and businesses grow. Jim, Michael and I have that desire to see people develop personally and with their business.

So mentoring them to achieve success is a natural part of the process.

It becomes part and parcel when you’ve known clients for a long time, you want to make sure things go well. It becomes personal if things go badly; it’s more than just a business transaction.

And this is the same for clients we’ve only known for a short time. The business world can be harsh and people need someone to lean on and guide them, someone to trust on their way up.

The nature of accounting has changed. To provide the very best accountancy service, you have to be much more hands on and provide guidance. It’s no longer just about a yearly tax bill sign off. Clients want ongoing business mentoring and advice from someone approachable and that’s what we’ve become; ongoing, real-time business mentors.”

At ATB, we are committed to helping businesses grow, thrive and prosper.

Are you ready to take control of your business? Contact ATB today.