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The accountant: Every company’s Atlas


THE reference to Atlas is not about the book of maps but rather Atlas from the Greek mythology. Zeus was angry about some battles among the gods so he gave Atlas the burden of carrying the heavens on his back to prevent them from interacting much with the earth.

The story was somehow twisted to end up with the enduring image of a man carrying the globe on his back. Be that as it may, my story is about the evident and not-so-evident burdens that the accountant carries in the corporate world despite the role being viewed among the most to be envied.

A part of the burdens, which are often disguised as responsibilities is that he or she should know a lot of, if not all, things and also have answers, financial and or otherwise, at the drop of a hat.

Accountants are not like our learned friends, who have power to defer court proceedings by requesting postponements. The expected answers often end up in monetary terms whereby some members believe that a simple call to the department can result in payments taking place instantly.

If that does not happen then the sky always falls on the accountant who is accused of not having money when it is needed. My working life experience has included meetings with groups of more than five grown up and experienced people, who would have agreed to come and meet me to get a solution.

In some instances, I would ask them to sum up their ages, which often added up to more than 100 years, and subsequently instruct them to use all those years to come up with a solution from themselves. Comical as it was then, it often produced tremendous positive results.

The other burden borders on suspicion and stems from the “fact” that the Accounting or finance department is the “money” department. There are several suspicions one of which is the false belief that if everyone else has milk, then the Accounts department will definitely be feeding on cream. It extends to a situation when there is no milk at all for everyone else at which time the department is suspected of keeping some milk to themselves.

The same thought process goes as far as thinking that the accountant earns the highest amount and also pays himself or herself first yet in most cases they do not sleep well until all salaries are paid.

The end result is that sometimes other employees borrow money from the accountant, which they do not return on the belief that he or she is earning so much that he or she would either not remember or not care about the “small change” involved.

Some other thankless part of the job includes not being acknowledged for the positive role in some financial decisions but being blamed or made responsible for unsavoury elements of the business processes.

In most cases, good financial news, such as, salary adjustments and bonus payments, are announced and shared by other parties in the company. Tough news like salary reductions and withdrawal of benefits is left to the “money expert”.

The accountant becomes fundi in delivering bad news much like the nurses, who are feared and hated by kids yet the friendly doctor is often the one who prescribes the injections that the nurse eventually administers. In the end, the hand that delivers the blow is disliked more than the mind that makes the decision to do so.

An accountant’s job involves reporting where most of the internal stakeholders conveniently forget that financial reports are stories expressed in dollars and cents.

These reports are a combination of results of activities and decisions executed by the very actors themselves. Peers who are responsible for and who would have ignored a burst water pipe are the ones to question the high water bill costs while those who press and cajole for fancy marketing budgets are the ones to ask why there would be a loss.

There are repeated clashes with departments with a motherly instinct to supply products and services to all and anyone who wants them to drive turnover.

The same parties cry the loudest about the “soiling” of the company’s image when suppliers are not paid on time despite this being as a result of bad debtors that would have been created by the same people.

Some of the questions posed by the very company actors create an illusion that the accountant’s keyboard and resultant financial reports are instruments to harm the company’s bottom line.

To the contrary, these are thermometers or dashboards, which just show the results of and likely outcomes from, actions that they do not cause or participate in.

Once upon a time the accountant and the managing director (MD) of one company were ordered to make a profit under circumstances where the entity had no working capital.

The situation was that the entity owed many internal and external creditors, who had stopped supplies while baying for the accountant’s blood yet the services and goods from those suppliers had been consumed by related parties, who were neither going nor willing to pay.

To add salt to injury, some of those related parties were up to date with their salary payments yet the organisation in question had salary arrears.

Post the board meeting the two executives sat to review the “to do list” and the accountant’s conclusion on the demand for profit was that they had to abandon going for any professional trainings and instead enrol for courses in Magic and or Miracles.

The summary charge sheet against the accountant, includes paying themselves the most and first, being stingy, not supporting marketing efforts and other business growth initiatives and last of all preparing demoralizing reports.

The accountant, on his or her part at times scores own goals by failing to do simple acts bordering on the soft skills side of things such as greeting and engaging fellow employees at all levels.

Such acts do not involve money, which may be lacking at the time, and gladly are neither taxed nor classified as criminal or civil offences. He or she can lighten the burdens by simple acts that reflect being a person on the same planet and in the same boat with the rest of fellow employees.

A haughty, self-indulgent and non-engaging “professional” attitude coupled with complicated language cements the burdens to the accountant’s back.

A report by the Chartered Accountant Benevolent Association (CABA) indicated that 98% of respondents in a survey conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic complained of stress.

It does not require much wisdom to realise that the burdens at work contribute significantly to the accountant’s distress and mental health issues that may arise as my other article will highlight.

Chipangura is a fellow member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz) with more than 20 years of post-graduate working and consulting experience in the manufactur-ing, mining and NGO sectors in Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region. He is an accountant by training and storyteller by birth. — kchipangura@gmail.com. Edited by Isaac Kurewa who is also a member of Icaz with similar corporate experience.

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