How to Get Through to Non-CPAs on the Job

Confidence can help you connect with clients and co-workers outside the accounting department.

June 20, 2017

Your newest client has requested a meeting to review how well her business is doing. Are you nervous or excited? Presenting financial information to non-CPAs—whether they’re clients or co-workers outside the accounting department—can be a challenge. For starters, they may have difficulty with the financial concepts that are second nature to CPAs.

“A lot of our clients don’t speak the language of accounting,” said Peter Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, speaker and author. “We struggle to translate our complex language into a simpler form that most can understand.”

Plus, if you’re a less experienced CPA, you may encounter some nerves the first few times you represent your firm or your department. It’s easy for newer staff members to get caught up in thinking about how much more experienced their older clients and co-workers are, and let it shake their confidence, said Jeff Paesl, CPA, audit manager at Lutz and graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. Emerging CPAs may also worry that they don’t look or sound seasoned enough—no matter how accomplished they actually are— to effectively get their message across.

Here are a few steps you can take to help you display confidence and build better relationships with non-CPAs on the job.

Rather than simply presenting data, have it tell a story. Perhaps you can remember a time when you presented data, and a client’s or co-worker’s eyes glazed over. It’s because pure data can often be boring on its own, Margaritis said. Facts and figures by themselves don’t “connect to the emotional side of people,” he noted.

What really resonates with most people is storytelling. You can report that revenue is up from last year, for example, but by explaining that the rise was due to a new system the client put in place, or a new salesperson doing the legwork, you’re more likely to engage your audience, Margaritis said.

Imagine your listeners as your friends and family. Lori Liddell, CPA/ABV, senior manager in fraud, forensic, and litigation services at Horne LLP, and a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy, said that it’s important to share information in a way that an average person could understand. Approach the information as if you were sharing it with friends or family members, and ask yourself whether they’d “get it.”

Get to know your audience. The more knowledge you have about a project the more confident you’ll feel, Margaritis pointed out. Read over LinkedIn profiles before meeting people to pick up some clues to who they are and to provide conversation starters. Or, when you arrive in their office, take a quick inventory of what the decor says about their interests—perhaps they have a coffee mug with a favorite team logo or a picture of themselves rock climbing.

If you’re in public accounting, ask your boss to include you on client calls. This allows you to get to know the client and opens the door for answers to questions you may have, Margaritis said.

Use small talk to build relationships. Relationships are as important to a business as its employees’ technical skills, Margaritis said. Relationships build trust between CPAs and their clients, while developing loyalty that will keep them coming back, rather than going to a competitor.

If you can connect with clients and co-workers, you’ll feel more confident when it comes time to present information, Margaritis said.

Become an expert in something. To boost your confidence, Liddell suggested becoming an expert in an area that relates to your job and that interests you. Study the topic, or perhaps even blog or write an article on the subject, she suggested. Then, you’ll become the “go-to person that knows all about the latest revenue recognition rule or the latest tax plan,” she said.

“At that point, no matter how young you are, no matter how green you are, you become an authority in something, and that portrays confidence,” Liddell said.

Continue to build your soft skills. Margaritis said that it’s important to consider developing the ability to connect with others as part of your continuing education. Take a self-study course in topics such as business writing or public speaking, or attend a conference, like the AICPA’s EDGE Experience, that can help build your soft skills.

Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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