Twenty Mistakes that CPAs Make

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Feb 17

Here are twenty mistakes that CPAs make:

  1. We hire people without sufficient knowledge and temperament
  2. We accept more work than we can possibly perform
  3. We don’t cull our bad clients (which contributes to #2.)
  4. We work without taking breaks
  5. We don’t exercise
  6. We try to be experts in too many industries
  7. We use outdated computers and software (e.g., we are not paperless)
  8. We don’t plan our continuing education (and take anything we can find at the end of the year)
  9. We have no strategy, moving from one engagement to another because it’s pressing
  10. We work sitting down all day (when standup desks are available)
  11. We bill our clients months after the service is provided (rather than a couple of weeks)
  12. We allow email to drive our day (we are reactive)
  13. We don’t express sincere appreciation to our peers and employees (those fully deserving of “thank you!”)
  14. We don’t use engagement letters to define our work
  15. We have no exit strategy, hoping someone will knock on our door and offer to buy the practice
  16. We ignore those we love (because we are overworked and irritable)
  17. We don’t stay current on evolving standards
  18. We don’t fire unproductive or difficult employees
  19. We don’t deal with problems (bad clients or employees) because doing so is awkward
  20. We never pause to evaluate our lives

Mistakes CPAs Make

Since  1984, I have worked in public accounting, a profession I dearly love. One thing I’ve noticed about CPAs is we are too immersed in our work–to a point of blindness. We don’t step back and evaluate what or how we do things. Would we be better off if we intentionally removed certain responsibilities? Might we not be even more profitable and happier? 

Two things–more than anything else–will sap your energy and productivity: (1) difficult clients and (2) unproductive or difficult employees.

The 80/20 rule is applicable in our profession. We make 80% of our money from 20% of our work. And 80% of our headaches come from 20% of our clients and employees. (Were you awake last night thinking about one of these?) While the exact percentages may not be true for you, the concept is highly relevant. 

I’ve given you twenty mistakes that CPAs make. Are there others you would add?

If you found this article of interest, see my post What Keeps CPAs Awake at Night. Also, here are Forty Mistakes Auditors Make.


About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • 20 mistakes, you hit the nail on the head.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Thanks Marjorie!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Cynthia, I only know these things because I have done them myself (in many cases). 🙂

  • Charles, you are awesome and on point as usual!

  • Cynthia says:

    OK. You just hit me between the eyes. I really need to consider some of these every time I’m on the phone with a client.

  • I would love to respond to your article and perhaps add a few additional items but I am too busy!!!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Dwight, I am sure we could add to the list–maybe after tax season!

  • D Hadley, CPA says:

    Come on now, only 20. If was wasn’t so busy with my 20% I would add to your list. But than again who has time to read them.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Yes Jim. I think these are pretty common to all firms.

  • Jim Bennett says:

    Gee Charles, I thought the things I told you about my practice were in confidence. Just kidding! Spot on as always. If I were to add anything, I would say that we are often admonished that we need to run our firms “like a business”. OK, I get it, but let’s not forget that the word “professional” means something beyond business. We have a higher calling with duties to our professional standards and our clients.

    And I would also say that fixing the 2o mistakes Charles has identified would be totally in line with improving our commitment to professionalism.

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