A new report by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand show that accountants rank fifth in the most trustworthy professions, behind doctors, engineers, teachers, and the police.
In Australia, 75 per cent of respondents said they trusted accountants, ahead of the justice/court system (68 per cent) and lawyers (65 per cent), and well ahead of the financial institutions at 42 per cent.
The top reasons for a respondent to lose trust in accountants was down to professionals being dishonest, behaving unethically, or failing to protect private data.
The report also examined the increased use of technology and its impact on trust, noting that respondents who reported increased digital contact with their accountant compared to five years earlier experienced no associated increased trust in their accountant.
However, respondents who saw their accountant less face-to-face than five years earlier reported lower trust in their accountant than those who saw them more or the same.
“People had a higher level of trust in an accountant, a higher level of trust in business advice provided by an accountant, and a higher level of trust in financial statements that were audited by an accountant, where they had a personal relationship with their accountant,” said the report.
“The evidence is clear: maintaining strong professional relationships is vital. Face-to-face contact can further strengthen these relationships.”
Speaking to Accountants Daily, Smithink director David Smith said the results showed the importance of developing and leveraging relationships with clients.
“The study does reinforce that while firms are embracing more and more technology, ultimately face-to-face communications are vital in building and maintaining trusted relationships,” said Mr Smith.
“While technology change may bring new challenges for accountants, new opportunities far outweigh those risks.
“Accountants should be actively seeking ways to provide holistic services to their clients to assist them with their compliance, their business, their financial risk management and their retirement planning. Through the trust clients have for their accountant, accountants have a wonderful opportunity to leverage their client relationships to provide new services.”
Mr Smith believes accountants should also look at the low trust levels in the financial institutions as an opportunity for them to stake their claim in financial advice.
“With all the erosion of customer trust that has occurred by the actions of the big financial institutions, the study highlights the significant opportunity for accountants to become the trusted adviser in not only tax, accounting and business advice but also in providing financial planning services that are focused on the client's best interest,” he said.
“New remuneration models free of conflict when adopted by accountants will further this best interest focus and reinforce the trust.”