Based in Germany, Westphal+Partner offers a wide range of independent tax, accounting and audit services, specialising in small and medium-sized foreign-owned enterprises doing business in Germany. Besides that, the firm acts as a controlling unit for the investor ensuring oversight. As CPAs, Westphal+Partner’s accounting operates risk-oriented detecting and avoiding misstatements during the accounting process, preventing changes at the annual financial statement. Finance Monthly speaks to Partner Ingrid Westphal-Westenacher, who tells us what clients expect from an accountant and shares the challenges that her firm faces.
From your experience, what do clients actually want from an accountant?
Our customers have decided to hire experts to solve a problem that has nothing to do with their core business. They want to focus on their business idea without losing sleep thinking about tax payments and accounting. Once entrepreneurs decide to outsource bookkeeping or get help from a tax advisory, they expect viable solutions enabling long-term success. And they are right to do so. An outsourced bookkeeping must be objectively and legally correct at any time, while also being up-to -date. Since corporate tax in Germany tends to be quite complex, especially for people with scant knowledge of the local tax codes, clients should expect their tax adviser to explain tax issues in a comprehensible manner, so they can make the right decisions.
How do you make sure to keep up with you clients’ expectations?
Communication – not just with the business owner, but with the management and the staff too.
What challenges would you say you and your firm encounter on a regular basis? How are these resolved?
One challenge that we face is knowing our clients’ business, plans, expectations, and needs. Only by knowing all of them, you are truly able to advise clients on a rational basis. One way to resolve this issue is to build a relationship of mutual trust. In order to do so, we firstly articulate what customers can expect from us, clearly defining our services and explaining our proceedings. With this certainty, customers know what to expect from us, so they can focus on their businesses without worrying about taxation or accountancy standards.
Foreign clients add a cultural dimension to the customer relationship – an aspect often underestimated and frequently resulting in underlying frictions. People from different parts of the world have different cultural preferences and backgrounds; i.e. some people from China have a different attitude when it comes to taxation, when compared to people from Germany. The essence of it is to avoid pointing out the differences, but instead, to make sure that both sides fully understand how the other side’s processes and systems work. To avoid any kind of misunderstandings, we not only pay close attention to these differences, but, for example, we also have colleagues in our team who are Chinese or have lived in China and are familiar with the culture.
How are these challenges set to change, in conjunction with the advent of technologies and the potential future needs of clients?
Both challenges will persist, even with the advent of technologies. However new technologies are already disrupting audit and bookkeeping. Today, clients can check the books at the end of the month online and see how their business performed. In the future, bookkeeping will be a fully automated process with real-time results, by the day, enabling better oversight and steering and even fewer costs due to AI-powered accounting software.
As a long-term former Chairwoman of the working group Quality Assurance SME at the Institute of Public Auditors in Germany (IDW), I’m convinced we will see significant changes in the field of auditing. Tool-based data analytics will enable us to read out process data and check them by sophisticated data algorithm. This will put auditors in an unrivalled position to consult the client on strategic decisions.
What’s your piece of advice to our readers?
When the decision to outsource bookkeeping has been made, try to hire an accounting firm run by CPAs. Accounting firms with a pure background in tax sometimes tend to disregard the code of commercial law, focusing narrowly on tax law; thereby causing problems with the mandatory preparation of the balance sheet under the German commercial law, and insofar causing unnecessary trouble and costs. Finally, trust your gut feeling when hiring an accounting company – it is very important to feel at ease and understood by your adviser. Be cautious of people hiding behind technical jarring.