11 Accountant Stereotypes We Wish You Didn’t Believe

Cassidy Jakovickas

May 15, 2024

If you were to ask a non-accountant what it’s like to work in our industry, you’d encounter many accountant stereotypes. Most, if not all, of these stereotypes often portray accountants as dull, boring, uncreative, and lacking in social skills. Accountants are also often seen as number crunchers who are only interested in making money or tweaking Excel formulae, with little interest in anything else.  

Not only are these stereotypes wrong, but they actually do a disservice to all of the hard-working professionals who dedicate their careers to the field of accounting while living fulfilling and satisfying lives.

It’s my belief that accountant stereotypes like these persist in part because people often have limited exposure to the profession and may not fully understand the diverse skill set required to be a successful accountant. Additionally, the media and pop culture often perpetuate these stereotypes, further fueling their prevalence in society.  

I thought it would be helpful to give you an insider view of accountant stereotypes and explain why many of them are false or not completely true.

The dangers of believing accounting stereotypes

Are you wondering why an article about accountant stereotypes is so important and worth writing? Well, there are two reasons why I wrote this article:

  • Accounting stereotypes set client expectations: If accountant stereotypes continue to go unchallenged, clients will approach their accountant with this background music playing in their minds. Rather than approaching accountants as advisors who provide thoughtful, creative solutions to business problems, clients will perceive accountants as nothing more than human calculators. On the other hand, addressing these accounting myths will help clients see their accountants as advisors, not calculators.
  • Our industry needs a facelift: As many professionals have discussed in publications like Accounting Today, the accounting industry is in dire need of good PR. Memes about the horrors of toxic managers and unbearable overtime hours abound on social media, making accountants expect the worst from an accounting firm and scaring clients who happen upon them. To be fair, many of these memes are being made because they have a grain of truth in them. But I feel it necessary to clarify the nuanced reality that not all accounting firms are horrible nor all accounting jobs a gateway to a hellish life.

Myth 1 – Technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are making us obsolete

As AI tools like ChatGPT get more sophisticated, efficient, and accurate, many people believe artificial intelligence will replace accountants. This belief is further strengthened as tax software companies release AI-assistive features that promise to make tax season less stressful for every taxpayer:

  • Intuit Assist: Intuit TurboTax recently launched generative AI-powered Intuit Assist that uses the current tax laws and the taxpayer’s documents and data to offer proactive insights, real-time accuracy checks, and more.
  • FlyFin: This company describes itself as the “world’s #1 AI and CPA tax filing service for freelancers, self-employed, and business owners.” Using artificial intelligence, this software finds opportunities for tax deductions and tax credits, then provides a dedicated CPA to assist with reviewing and filing your taxes.
  • H&R Block: Not to be outdone by Intuit, this tax prep company released AI Tax Assist, a conversational chatbot that answers questions about tax forms, tax deductions, tax credits, tax refund opportunities, tax liability reduction tips, and changes in tax law.  

The truth (part 1): AI tax planning is like handing over car repairs to a kid

But the reality is that using AI tax planning raises concerns like “Who is liable if AI gives bad tax advice?”  

Put another way, “If your car’s brakes stopped working, would you rely on support from a group of nerdy 12-year-olds? That is pretty much what could well be happening when you seek tax advice from ChatGPT.” Thanks to Philip Fisher for this analogy in AccountingWEB.

As CPA Lorilyn Wilson pointed out last year, AI-powered tax apps recommend many tax deductions that seem great but end up as too good to be true:

Lorilyn Wilson, CPA fighting for truth on social media.

Even in announcements about AI-powered features, all tax software companies acknowledge the reality of AI hallucinations. Hallucinations are when a chatbot responds to your prompt with unrelated, incorrect, or nonsensical answers. Because of the possibility of AI hallucinations, we (and all sensible tax software companies) encourage you to verify a chatbot’s answers with a human tax professional before acting on it. In the end, current AI models only underscore, not eliminate, the need for human accountants.

The truth (part 2): Modern accountants are using AI, not running from it

“AI tools are really good at pulling out information and making predictive choices but they can’t replace human judgment,” said Joe Atkinson, chief products and technology officer at PwC. Indeed, there are still areas where humans have an advantage over AI tools like ChatGPT, including:

  • Professional judgment: While ChatGPT can provide data and recognize trends, it cannot make discretionary and subjective decisions that require professional discernment and experience-based reasoning. This can only come from a human accountant that has accumulated years of first-hand knowledge and experience. As CPA Katie Nelson of MBS Accountancy points out, “I’ve had a few people ask if my job would become obsolete because of AI. These conversations give me an opportunity to mention the amount of judgement that goes into the work we do as accountants.”
  • Creative problem solving: AI relies on past data and patterns, which may not be sufficient for tasks that require accountant who can anticipate and project trends and patterns in spending, revenues, or other aspects of your business.
  • Authentic relationships: Human accountants possess soft skills that AI tools like ChatGPT lack, such as interpersonal skills, empathetic concern, and emotional intelligence. These are the aspects of business that turn transactional work like tax preparation into enriching experiences that pave the way for strategic insights in your taxes, accounting, and overall business plan.

Myth 2 – Tax season is an accountant’s biggest nightmare

Many people tend to view “tax season” as a horrible aspect of an accountant’s job. But the truth is that some accountants (like CPA Fabiola Ramirez of MBS Accountancy) love tax season. What makes tax season horrible isn’t the work, but rather the insane work weeks that many accountants are forced to work because of bad capacity planning, understaffing, or a toxic work environment.  CPA Edward Mendlowitz outlines the following factors that make tax season unbearable for accountants:

  • Imbalance between workload: In many firms, annual tax client work accumulates during tax season much faster in comparison to the financial statement preparation, audit work, month-end closes, and other bookkeeping work that accountants do throughout the rest of the year.
  • Many firms require a minimum of 60 hours during tax season: This means that accounting staff is working above this baseline between January and April each year. If there are extended tax deadlines, these accountants can see a longer tax season that continues into September or October.
  • Payment for tax work varies by firm: Some firms include tax season work into an annual salary while others either pay a bonus or pay according to hours charged.

Because of these factors, Edward explains that accountants are constantly pushed to over-work themselves during tax season. The result is that any accounting professional who wants to improve their work-life balance must either leave for another firm or leave the profession altogether.  

At MBS Accountancy, we have worked hard to eliminate the tax season blues in our firm by planning reasonable workloads for each team member, insisting on quarterly tax services (we have very few annual tax clients), and allowing our staff to work from home, our office, or from wherever they prefer.

Myth 3 – We never talk to people only spreadsheets

One of the biggest accountant stereotypes is that all accountants are introverted and prefer to work alone. This isn’t necessarily true. While we may tend to be more private, it’s unfair to categorize all accountants in this way. As CPA Fabiola Ramirez says, “I’m constantly communicating with my team, my clients, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t speak to a client. You have to learn how to speak to people, and I can see many hardcore introverts struggling with this aspect of accounting.”  

The success of an accountant’s work often depends on our ability to communicate effectively with different people, departments, and clients. There are several specific aspects of our job that require strong interpersonal communication skills. For example, we must discuss financial statements to clients, collaborate with colleagues, build relationships with clients, and negotiate with vendors and suppliers.

Image Source: Carptoons

Aside from the interpersonal aspects of an accountant’s job, it’s also key to remember that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. Some accountants may be introverts, preferring solitude and quiet environments and ample time lone to recharge their social “battery.”

An extroverted accountant, on the other hand, will thrive in social situations like business networking events. As an extrovert, this kind of accountant would be highly expressive and talkative and most enjoy activities that involve interaction with others.  

An accountant can also be an ambivert. Ambiverted accountants will fall somewhere in between introversion and extroversion, exhibiting both introverted and extroverted tendencies depending on the context or situation.  

The point? Don’t assume all accountants are introverts. While it’s true that many accountants tend to be introverted, there are also many extroverts in the accounting profession.

Well, that escalated quickly…

Myth 4 – Accountants can do their job with minimal client involvement

As Nawal Hussein, an accountant at MBS Accountancy, points out, “I rely on clients to provide information in a timely manner. Any delays or unresponsiveness impacts the timeliness of my work for them.” This is a reality that many companies fail to understand and, as a result, they endanger the success of any accountant or tax professional with whom they work.  

As a client, it’s best to follow these practices to ensure your accountant is able to provide you with the best service possible:

  • Be clear and straightforward with your accountant about recent changes in your business or life that can impact your taxes or accounting.
  • Communicate regularly with your accountant. Waiting until the end of the year gives your accountant a year’s worth of changes and information to review while also preparing your taxes during the start of tax season. Going AWOL on your accountant is never a good solution.
  • Invite your accountant to collaborate with you on any systems you use, like Bill.com, QuickBooks Online, MyFTB account, IRS account, and others. This lets your accountant gather information without needing to email you. This also ensures you get faster service since you are more likely to hear back from them sooner.

Myth 5 – All accountants are tax professionals

Most accountants know the fear of being asked “a quick tax question” at family gatherings or while out with friends.  Usually, these questions start flying right after we announce we’re an accountant.

Gotta love a good Michael Scott meme….

However, there are many different types of accountants. Here is a quick summary of each kind of accountant. Spoiler: only some of them do taxes.

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This type of accountant has passed the CPA Examination, has a four-year degree, and has 1-3 years of professional work experience. CPAs ensure businesses and individuals follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The international equivalent of the CPA designation outside the United States is the Chartered Accountant., which focuses on four main areas within the accountancy field: taxation, financial accounting and reporting, applied finance, and management accounting.
  • Management Accountant: Also known as a cost accountant, staff accountant, or industrial accountant, this type of accountant helps companies budget and perform better by identifying, measuring, analyzing, interpreting, and communicating information to managers. They usually hold a four-year degree.
  • Auditor: This type of accountant examines financial records to verify their accuracy and ensure compliance with tax laws, regulations, and any other applicable accounting standards. There are two main types of auditors: internal and external.
  • Forensic Accountant: This type of accountant carefully analyzes, interprets, and summarizes complex financial and business records to determine their accuracy and importance. They may also develop computer applications to manage the information collected and deliver this information to clients.
  • Government Accountant: Government accountants work in all branches of government, managing public funds, investigating white-collar crimes, and performing system audits. They must possess knowledge of government statutes and regulations, and a bachelor’s degree in accounting is typically required.
  • Investment Accountant: This type of accountant works specifically in brokerage and asset management firms and maintains investments for clients. Investment accountants process investments, provide financial consulting and advice, and develop the firm’s key financial strategies.
  • Project Accountant: This type of accountant focuses on the needs of project delivery, including tracking, reporting, and analyzing the financial results of a project. They provide regular reports to management and executives on whether a company’s project is over or under budget.
  • Tax Examiner: This type of accountant reviews federal, state, and local tax returns filed by small businesses and individuals, determines how much is owed in taxes, and collects the tax on behalf of the government.

Myth 6 – Accountants are stuck in the past

Another myth about accountants is that all we do is look at the past as we file returns and issue financial statements. But we do plenty of future-focused activities too, like extrapolating patterns from budgeting and spending trends and preparing for anticipated future events like the sale of the company, addition of a partner, or expansion into a new market or state. Here are some of the future-looking activities we do as accountants:

  • Budgeting and Forecasting: An accountant can create financial projections based on future expectations, trends, and assumptions, rather than relying solely on historical data, to help inform strategic planning.
  • Risk Management: In risk management, accountants assess the potential risks that a company might face in the future, usually as the result of a business decision or trend, and develop strategies to mitigate those risks.
  • Financial Analysis: An accountant can analyze current financial performance to identify areas of strength and weakness, and develop strategies to improve future performance, which can inform strategic decision-making.
  • Strategic Planning: Accountants play a crucial role in developing the overall strategic plan for a company, considering financial implications and constraints, and providing financial expertise to inform strategic decision-making.
  • Cost Management: Accountants can analyze and manage costs, both past and future, to ensure a company is operating efficiently and effectively, which is crucial when it comes to long-term strategic planning and decision-making.

Myth 7 – Accountants are boring and have zero personality

You only have to look at CPAs-turned-comedians like John Garrett and Greg Kyte to know that there are accountants in the world who have a sense of humor. As Mark Lee, FCA points out, most people who say accountants are boring are either parroting what they’ve heard others say or don’t care to understand accounting. At MBS Accountancy, we keep our company chat channel alive and very un-boring with GIFs and memes to keep us chuckling and motivated throughout the day.

Our “Breakroom” channel chat only looks chaotic. It’s actually quite chaotic.

Myth 8 – We became accountants only because of the money

A lot of people assume, often because they think accounting is incredibly boring, that accountants are only doing their job because of the money. But this is far from true. While accounting is a lucrative profession, many accountants find meaning and purpose in the work they do for clients. For example, our accounting manager Edie Daly sincerely enjoys helping nonprofits by providing controller and CFO services that enable them to succeed and make well-informed operational and financial decisions.  

Obviously, we have bills to pay and things we want to buy. But relegating our job to a mere paycheck does a disservice to the many strategic and relationship-based aspects of what we do for clients, as well as the respect, value, and credibility due to our work as accountants and tax professionals. CPA Victor Godinez puts it: “If I were just in this for the money, I’d be miserable. I truly believe that my work is valuable and provides clients with accurate, skillful interpretations of their financial statements and financial performance.”

Myth 9 – Cheap accountants are same as premium accountants

There’s nothing wrong with saving money or getting a great bargain. In fact, we often advise clients on how to optimize their costs so they aren’t spending money on low-return or unnecessary items. With that in mind, it can be easy to overcorrect. Many clients rate accountants based on price alone and chase after the accountant who charges the lowest fees. But this can be disastrous for the client:

Cheap fees cost a lot…

We’ve talked about the importance of hiring a good tax professional on our blog before, but there is one key point to consider if you are evaluating accountants based only on their fees and your budget:

Not all accountants with cheap prices are bad or dishonest. Some accountants are simply charging below their value. But either way, this ends up causing problems for both the accountant and their clients as the accountant engages in a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction:

The circle of life this is not…

Myth 10 – Accounting is a male-dominated industry

While the accounting industry has a lot of room for improvement with diversity and inclusion, you’d be wrong to assume there are no accomplished women in the accounting profession. For one thing, we have several incredible women at MBS Accountancy do amazing accounting and tax work for our clients. For another thing, our industry is home to great accountants. I’ve listed a few accounting professionals below:

Ashley Francis, CPA: Ashley is the visionary founder of The Francis Group, renowned for its bespoke tax and estate planning services. With a distinguished background that includes tenure at Big 4 firms and experience managing the portfolios of families with assets exceeding $500 million, Ashley brings a wealth of expertise to her clientele. Her proficiency in crafting innovative, legally robust tax and estate strategies is tailored to meet individual goals and needs, ensuring optimal outcomes for every client. Beyond her professional acumen, Ashley is an active presence on X (formerly Twitter) under the handle @seattle_tax, where she discusses trusts, taxation, technology, AI for accountants, and her YouTube channel “Kitchen Table Automations.”

Nayo Carter-Gray, EA, MBA: Nayo owns 1st Step Accounting and is a Baltimore-based aficionado of technology, a mother, wife, and dog enthusiast with a zeal for life that’s encapsulated by her motto, “Dance like no one is watching.” With a rich background from Coppin State College and the University of Baltimore, she has over 25 years of tax and accounting experience. Nayo’s career started with the discovery of tax refunds and an accidental high school accounting class. This interest has flourished into a notable journey. Embracing her love for technology and environmental sustainability, Nayo established a paperless accounting practice, leveraging cloud-based solutions and her favorite, QuickBooks, to tailor software packages for any business need. Her professional credentials are extensive, including preparing for the CPA exam, licensure as an Enrolled Agent, QuickBooks Online Advanced Certified ProAdvisor, and memberships in the National Association of Enrolled Agents and the National Association of Tax Professionals. Nayo was named among Hubdoc’s Top 50 Cloud Accountants in North America for 2017 & 2018 and served on the Intuit Accounting Council from 2018-2019.

Eriona Bajrakurtaj, FCCA MSc LLM PG Dip FS: Eriona serves as the Managing Director at Major’s Accounts & Co Ltd, bringing over a decade of experience in the accountancy field to her role. She has been instrumental in enhancing client services through automation transformation, offering real-time financial insights that empower strategic business decision-making. Under her leadership, the family-run practice places a strong emphasis on culture, treating staff like family and extending this ethos to their client relationships. This approach ensures communication with clients is grounded in humanity, aiming to understand and meet their goals effectively. Eriona is committed to continual learning, pursuing further studies to satisfy her quest for knowledge and expand her skill set across various domains, demonstrating her dedication to both personal growth and professional excellence.

You can find many more incredible women in Ignition’s Women In Accounting roundup for 2023.

Myth 11 – There are no cool movies with accountants

I just had to set the record straight here: There are great movies with accountants in them. Yeah, I mean besides “The Accountant” with Ben Affleck. Here is a list of movies that feature good and bad accountants:

  • Midnight Run: Having swiped $15 million from a mob kingpin and dodged bail, the unassuming accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas opts for a fugitive existence as he’s pursued by law enforcement the mob boss he pilfered from – Jimmy Serrano – who commissions two assassins to settle the score for good.
  • Moonstruck: Serving as a bookkeeper for several small enterprises in Manhattan, Loretta Castorini adheres to a meticulous routine. Her life oscillates strictly between work and home. Yet, Loretta chooses to embrace spontaneity upon encountering her fiancé’s brother – a quirky, Opera-enthused baker who disrupts her monotonous existence with brief escapades of excitement.
  • Royal Tennenbaums: Danny Glover portrays the reliable, bow-tie-wearing accountant who offers a semblance of steadiness and order amidst the chaos of the Tennenbaum family. Henry finds himself enamored with the film’s matriarch, positioning himself as the complete antithesis to the peculiar protagonist, Royal Tennenbaum. Henry epitomizes the ideal father figure and becomes an exemplar for the accounting profession, even authoring a book on personal finance.
  • The Untouchables: This movie recounts the real-life chase of the infamous gangster Al Capone. Despite the myriad of accusations against Capone, it was ultimately the charge of tax evasion that led to his downfall, thanks to none other than accountant Oscar Wallace. Wallace played a pivotal role in dismantling Capone’s criminal stronghold.
  • Stranger Than Fiction: Harold Crick has a passion for numbers, meticulously counting everything from the strokes of his toothbrush to the steps from his apartment to the bus stop, making him an exemplary accountant by nature. But his orderly life spirals into chaos when he starts hearing a voice narrating his every move. This peculiar turn of events reveals he’s the protagonist in a novel currently being penned by Karen Eiffel, an author known for her creatively fatal endings for her characters.
  • Ghostbusters: Louis Tully is always seen with his oversized glasses and carries the profession of a tax accountant with a distinctly awkward demeanor—to put it mildly. He’s hopelessly smitten with his stunning neighbor, Dana Barrett. In an odd twist of fate, Louis manages to win her over, albeit under the peculiar circumstance of both being possessed by demons. In an ironic twist, neither Louis nor Dana retains any memory of their time together, leaving a bittersweet ending to their story.
  • The Other Guys: Will Ferrell portrays Allen Gamble who embodies the typical accountant stereotype: risk-averse, tethered to his desk, and fearful of peril. Yet, as the movie progresses, layers of Allen’s character are revealed, challenging our initial perceptions and reminding us to look beyond the surface.
  • Hitch: Albert Brennaman, a reserved and soft-spoken accountant at an investment bank, finds himself deeply infatuated with his client, Allegra Cole. Allegra, a wealthy and accomplished businesswoman, seems beyond his reach, presenting Albert with a formidable challenge. Determined to win her over, he decides to enlist the expertise of the “Dating Doctor,” Alex “Hitch” Hitchens.
  • Central Intelligence: Any film featuring Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson promises a whirlwind of laughter, and this movie is no exception. Hart steps into the shoes of Calvin Joyner, an accountant who was once the golden boy of his high school. As an adult, Calvin finds himself grappling with the mundanity of his life, a stark contrast to his youthful expectations. This all changes when a chance reconnection with an old friend via Facebook drags him into the intricate and hazardous realm of international espionage, leading to a series of hilarious escapades.

Eliminate the stereotypes and get to know the human in your accountant

The next time you hear someone say all accountants are boring, do us a favor and throw a marshmallow at them. The jumbo kind. While we may nerd out over numbers and tax topics that many people find boring, we aren’t the boring monolith that non-accountants portray us to be. While legacy accountants may have shut themselves up in a room and cranked out calculations or wore a green eyeshade to bed, modern accountants hone their interpersonal skills to help their colleagues and clients succeed.