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CFO specialist shares valuable lessons from mental health recovery


A CFO advisory specialist has, after recovering from his own mental health challenges, underscored the need for accountants to prioritise themselves and manage stress.

By Miranda Brownlee 13 minute read

Director of One CFO Consulting, Tom Coogan, has outlined the importance of accountants managing their mental health, reducing stress, prioritising their own needs and seeking professional help where needed after previously suffering from depression himself.

A wide range of stressors saw Coogan spiral into depression several years ago, which was later compounded when he fell behind on his personal tax compliance. The Tax Practitioners Board sought to cancel his tax agent registration in 2019.

Coogan launched an appeal against the decision, and in April 2020 the Administrative Appeals Tribunal agreed to set aside the decision by the TPB, and instead suspend his tax agent registration for 12 months.


After fully complying with the consent orders issued by the AAT, Coogan had his tax agent’s registration reinstated and rebuilt his career by implementing strategies to manage his mental health. He also maintained his tax agent registration through his continued personal tax compliance.

Following his recovery, Coogan has strove to educate others about the issue and has shared some strategies for helping other accounting professionals improve their mental health.

One of the key issues, he said, is that accountants will often meet clients’ needs before their own and they must learn to start considering themselves as well.

“Loyal clients who appreciate your capabilities will understand the need for you to manage your work/life balance for you to give them the best long term service," he said. 

Accountants can also unintentionally promote unrealistic client expectations – often at their own sacrifice.

“Some clients may send work in the day before it's due and we’ll get it done on time and sometimes in preference to our own work,” he said. “We should be more proactive in managing our workload and client expectations”.

Coogan said communicating clear expectations around when clients must submit certain records can also alleviate stressors.

“By having agreed submissions of records and the connected completion dates, an accountant can plan their workload better and reduce the stresses that may flow from unrealistic and unplanned deadlines”.

For business owners struggling to meet client demands, Coogan said it can also be worth rethinking the structure, services and types of clients the firm takes on.

“Apply the Pareto principle: 80 per cent of your income tends to come from 20 per cent of your clients and 80 per cent of your problems will often come from 20 per cent of your clients,” he said.

For practitioners who might be struggling with their own mental health challenges, Coogan said it’s important to remember that it’s similar to managing other types of illnesses.

“It’s just like any other illness that needs to be managed. Diabetics, for example, are on insulin. They manage their diet and exercise and avoid alcohol,” he said.

“In a lot of cases, depression is managed in the same way with medication, regular cardio, exercise, decent sleep and doing more of the things you enjoy such as getting along to concerts, spending time with family and relaxing.”

While mental health is starting to be discussed more broadly in the profession, Coogan said there are further steps that businesses and the industry more broadly could take to address it.

Courses such as a Mental Health First Aid certificate, he said, can assist people to be able to recognise when other people have problems, how to talk to them and what to talk to them about.

Professional bodies also provide support for members needing assistance with their wellbeing:




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Miranda Brownlee

Miranda Brownlee


Miranda Brownlee is the deputy editor of SMSF Adviser, which is the leading source of news, strategy and educational content for professionals working in the SMSF sector.

Since joining the team in 2014, Miranda has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest superannuation stories in Australia, and has reported extensively on technical strategy and legislative updates.
Miranda also has broad business and financial services reporting experience, having written for titles including Investor Daily, ifa and Accountants Daily.

You can email Miranda
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