Paul Zisson
Paul Zisson Founder & CFO at

What is the difference between an accountant and a financial advisor?

That nerdy looking person in a stuffy suit with the glasses on churning out reports, raising an eyebrow?

Do you consider them to be more your bookkeeper, accounts preparer and tax advisor that you see once a year or around tax time that chews into your fat or do you think they your business partner that adds value to your business strategically, saves you money, opens you up to related networks and someone you can trust and rely on? 

Jokes and intended purpose put aside, I would be interested in hearing what you would like your accountant to be.

Top voted answer
Craig Garbler

Craig Garbler, Managing Director at Sterling Debt Advisory Pty Ltd

Paul, Always a good question, with an open ended answer. Our philosophy is that experts in their respective fields are invaluable in determining the right solution.  The bell curve spectrum applies to all professionals across all industries - accountants and financial planners are no different in this regard.  So it is a matter of finding the right accountant or planner for your purposes, that has the knowledge and ability to deliver the answers and advice that is sought. On occasions we recommend the engagement of accountants that are better 'geared' to the requirements of the client, that is, typically where the client (and/or their business) has outgrown the capabilities of the accountant. We engage accountants that are pro-active on complex matters - can provide uncomplicated solutions on a timely basis.  Planners likewise do form a part of the solution for our clients, and proposed solutions to existing problems need to be considered in the long term planning provided by financial planners. Overall, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly out there.  If you feel that you are not getting the right response from any professional adviser, consider an independent third opinion or perhaps time for an update.  If you're not happy with your doctor or mechanic - you make a change - likewise with your accountant or financial planner (or bank) - but first please - approach these professionals and seek their input as to why you may be unsatisfied with their performance.  Everyone deserves a opportunity to get their act together - or to perhaps simply correct a misunderstanding. Cheers, Craig Garbler, Sterling Debt Advisory 

Rhys Roberts

Rhys Roberts, Director at Viridity

Hi Paul,

Having spent 20 years in a range of companies from start ups to very large, and in roles ranging from graduate trainee to CFO, I am constantly surprised by the meaning of the word "accountant" in the SME sector. 

Within most medium / larger organisations the guy (or gal) who heads up the accounting function (the FD or CFO or whatever) sits in the office next to the CEO, and that proximity is no accident.  Having done that in a number of roles I know that I was paid for my contribution to strategy, business processes, business performance and so on - activities that contributed to the performance of the business.

So now that I run a business that consults to the SME sector, when I say "accountant" and the immediate response is "can you do my tax return" it still surprises me.  Worse is when I say no and the follow up is "oh, so you are a bookkeeper". 

I guess as accountants we are not famed for our story telling ability, but the failure of the accounting profession to tell the story of adding value, of contributing to strategy, pricing, systems and other business decisions is very sad.

To answer your question, the perception (I believe) of most of my clients is that we are a "trusted advisor" (cliche I know) who works with them to implement solutions and procedures they need to improve the performance of their business.  We don't always get it right, but we definitely aren't characterised as the "person in a stuffy suit"!

Cheers, Rhys



Peter Jones

Peter Jones, Founder at LinkSmart

Hi Paul.
Going off in a slightly difference but related angle to this question is the statement  "find a good accountant/financial adviser'". The only way I am able to do this, as I see it, is find the bad ones first!
In my mind you need to get over this perception first and the rest will come to you.
I have spoken to a number of financial advisers etc who can only give generic advice ( "you need to get onto multi media") or selling products from some form of franchised concept.
Taking the time to visit the client also helps.
Don't know if this helps

Nikhil Sreedhar

Nikhil Sreedhar, Founder & CEO at ProAdviser

Hi Paul,

As a former accountant (graduate) and former financial planner (graduate) it really does depend on what you need advice on and whether the advice is for a business or your personal financial affairs.

In my experience, accountants are well equipped to deal with most things related to helping businesses. Sure they prepare your personal tax return and may give a hot stock tips, their training and qualifications is focused on helping businesses - corporate strategy, tax planning, etc.

Financial planners/advisers are the best professionals to help you with your personal financial situations such as super, investments and insurance just to name a few.

My comments are based on the big picture, however their will always exceptions where  some accountants provide personal financial advice and where some financial planners provide advice on business.

Just a note, you should make sure that the accountant or financial planner you go to is legally licensed to provide the advice the he/she is giving you.

Hope this helps


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