Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Accounting's Patron Saint

Here's the official patron saint of accounting, Saint Matthew:

"The patron saint of accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, security guards and tax collectors is Saint Matthew of Apostle fame, and he also was the author of one of the Gospels. Before becoming an Apostle, however, he started out as a Jewish tax collector at Capernaum. Little is known about him, outside the seven references he has in the Gospels. In medieval art, Saint Matthew is represented under the symbol of a winged man, carrying in his hand a lance as a characteristic emblem - his artistic calling card if you will. He is one of the originals in the pantheon of patron saints."

Okay, that's the official line. My nominee for the patron saint of accounting would be Cassandra from ancient Greek mythology (and not just because she's both smart and beautiful). She was the one who was condemned by Apollo to be able to see the future but have nobody believe her. She warned Paris that he was courting disaster when he went after Helen. She later warned the Trojans about the Greeks' horse statue, but do you think anyone listened?

Honestly, do you sometimes feel that way? I thought so.

I was accused of exceeding my mandate the other day because I recommended a strategic course of action. According to this person, my role as accountant is only to give the financial picture. I am supposed to tell people what the cost consequences of their decisions are, but not recommend a course of action. Now, I want to make it clear that this person is not my boss, nor did he represent a majority. Still, do you think he was right?

As accountants, are we just supposed to analyze the situation and nothing more? Do we destroy our objectivity or independence if we make specific recommendations? If you see a solution to a financial problem, should you wait for others to fix it or should you step in boldly and argue for your vision? Or are we condemned, like Cassandra, not to be believed?


Geoff D said...


Jr Deputy Accountant said...

I have a bible verse from Matthew tattooed on my upper left arm for that very reason.


Evenanerd said...

I'm glad you gave a goddess some air time - I know exactly how she feels (minus the goddess part). I am working with firms who are trying to do that very thing - be proactive and help companies improve their results. It's hard to get clients to see their accountants outside that historian role. Thanks for a great post!

Unknown said...

@Geoff - thanks for dropping by!

@JDA - great blog! You have a way with words (and I'm not talking about the tat).

@Evenanerd - Always glad to hear from a fellow sufferer.

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