Why Accountants are Risk-Averse

A few weeks ago, MPAC had an opportunity to hear from a couple local entrepreneurs. It was an insightful conversation as Robert Varela and Kristian Zak of UMeTime app shared their experiences in being with a start-up company. They described the depth of business knowledge they gained in the process and also the quick turnaround they have from idea generation to actual execution. They shared their plans to expand and grow the company in other parts of the country and how the business makes money, touching on future opportunities they are considering. It was fascinating to hear all of this from young entrepreneurs who clearly have already accomplished so much. Their work experience sure sounded different from ours as accountants.

It was from this conversation that I started thinking about why we don’t seem to hear a lot about entrepreneurial accountants. When pressed, accountants have some cool ideas on how to solve life’s problems and make things more convenient. There are ideas but not a lot of action it seems.

So is an entrepreneurial accountant really an oxymoron? I don’t think so. Accountants are just as able to start companies, but we are naturally risk-averse for a reason. It’s because of double entry accounting. Thank you Luca Pacioli!

Consider this: When a transaction happens, we are taught to record the debits and its corresponding credits. The reason is simple and that is to keep the books balanced. It goes back to the accounting equation: Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity. As accountants, this is so deeply ingrained in our thinking that before making a decision on something, we are unconsciously trying to make sure we have the correct debit and credit accounts. There’s the drive to get the proper accounting treatment.

Entrepreneurs are different. Take for example Kristian when he said, “If you have an idea, just go for it and do it.” One has to admire that free-spirited attitude. It is not to say that entrepreneurs don’t take calculated risks because they do. But in general terms, they don’t obsess about getting everything right. The folks at UMeTime even appreciated making mistakes  early on because it helped them tweak their operations.

As a life premise, accountants would agree with the importance of learning from mistakes. But as a business proposition, I don’t think we are inclined to accept mistakes in “accounting treatment.” I sure don’t want to be in violation of AICPA, PCAOB, SEC, GASB, FASB, IRS, IFRS and a whole lot of other standards out there. Generally speaking, we just want to make sure that everything balances in the end. Contrast that perspective with an entrepreneur who is committed to bringing an idea to the market, with no assurances that such efforts would pay off, yet still attempts to do so. We are wired differently and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But in spite of such differences, I really think accountants are just as able to pursue entrepreneurial passions. A background in accounting is a great launching pad to so many different opportunities. It exposes us to various businesses and industries in a way that other professions don’t. As exciting as that is, however, I hope that we don’t discount making those opportunities ourselves. As accountants, we have the tools to operate and understand businesses. Sometimes what we need is just the encouragement to start building them.

Disclaimer: The following assertions are my personal hypothesis. These are unscientific and general claims that are meant to offer an alternative perspective on how we view entrepreneurship and accounting.

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