Nearly three-quarters of chief executives and chief financial officers of British companies do not believe that their accountancy firms make a serious effort to understand their businesses.
The research, by the financial recruitment group Harrison Willis and the magazine Accountancy Age, does not make for very encouraging reading for the public practice firms that are increasingly marketing themselves as "business advisers" in an attempt to escape their image as mere bean- counters and checkers.
One managing director of a small company is quoted as saying: "Unless you are in something fancy like the music business, firms that really understand your business are fairly thin on the ground." Another said he had "yet to meet a chartered accountant who really understands what goes on in a factory".
Five hundred senior executives at companies across the UK were questioned. Price and personalised service, cited by 85 per cent and 72 per cent respectively, were rated the most significant factors in choosing a particular firm, while 62 per cent considered personal recommendation significant.
Other factors often perceived as being important received relatively few marks. For instance, the fact that a firm had a well-known name was of major importance to 39 per cent - mainly officers in large companies - and some seemed cynical about its value. The finance director of one large company said: "I don't think you get a significantly better service from a Big Six firm, but if you are dealing with the City you have to have a 'name'."
Moreover, the fact that a firm had a high profile through marketing and advertising was rated highly by only 17 per cent of respondents, while the growing trend for accountants to offer legal and other services only inspires about one in 10 of those questioned.
Graham Palfery-Smith, managing director of Harrison Willis, said of the findings:: "Despite all the money being spent on marketing by accounting firms, it seems that they are still not getting the message of their real worth as professional advisers across to clients."
One respondent, a chartered accountant himself, suggested that the answer lay in the profession's training. Though there have been recent efforts to make the courses more practical and relevant, he said: "The qualification and the experience you receive in the profession gives you the technical depth and exposure to a broad range of businesses, but rarely allows you to get under the skin of the people you work with"n