Accession lecture: Reflections on the relationship between auditor and client

“Have a genuine interest in the person behind the customer.” This is the message from Professor Niels van Nieuw Amerongen (Chairman of Kreston Netherlands SME Accountancy) during his inaugural lecture on 9 June at Nyenrode Business University. He encourages not only accountants to invest in the relationship but also the clients. “Because,” he says, “both parties benefit from it.”

It is a recognizable image for many. A number of ‘strange’ people are in the office a few weeks a year to check the financial statements. Sometimes they are literally at a distance from the administrative staff and can not get out of the ‘control room’. In other cases, they actually talk to many employees. Van Nieuw Amerongen has in previous studies within the SME shown that the more auditors who are involved and a confidential relationship with the client develops, the more added value the audit experiences. It is also known from previous research that there is a link between ‘added value’ and ‘audit quality’. Certainly if the auditor also provides advice and thinks about the company’s strategy. He explains: “The more trust there is, the more open the client becomes. Relevant information is shared faster, so that the auditor can more quickly and better assess whether the figures differ from other years and what the explanation is for this. This saves time and money, which also benefits the customer. Working together is therefore a win-win. ”

“The more trust there is, the more open the client becomes.”

Edges of the field

Van Nieuw Amerongen wants to investigate this relational approach further and puts it above the agency approach that has been common since eternity. The relational approach is based on theories and principles from the field of sociology. In this way, he explores the boundaries of his field, a piece of advice from his father Arie van Nieuw Amerongen, who was a professor at VU (ACTA) for many years. On the outskirts of his field, Van Nieuw Amerongen encounters Robert Knechel, one of the first scientists to consider accountants as service providers who perform accounting audits in collaboration with their clients. Knechel argues that more collaboration actually benefits independence, and this inspires Van Nieuw Amerongen to explore more concepts from the scientific discipline of sociology (what exactly happens in the interaction between accountant and client) in accounting.

The person behind the client

Van Nieuw Amerongen focuses in particular on three basic principles, namely reciprocity, support in conflicts and getting to know each other better: “I want to examine the conditions under which investing in a relationship yields the most results. I think we need to look more at the person behind the organization, behind the customer. What drives someone? What will he or she achieve with the company? The better you taste someone’s kidneys, the better you know someone’s needs and the satisfaction you get from your work. Customer satisfaction is an indicator of audit quality. “In addition, Van Nieuw Amerongen says that a better relationship can be beaten so that discussions are not avoided, and that discussions are also conducted constructively in the end. Also important: auditors who use a relational approach can also be better able to assess the extent to which someone has integrity. “A client who wants to have a soul-searching experience has nothing to hide and is therefore expected to have a lower integrity risk profile.”

“It’s not a bad thing to look out of the woods at the beginning of the collaboration, it’s normal.”

take your time

During his inaugural address, Van Nieuw Amerongen gives the auditors another piece of advice: “It is not a bad thing to be cautious at the beginning of the collaboration, it is normal. It is also normal that the audit quality is not immediately very good the first year, which should also grow like a relationship. Getting to know each other takes time. Take the time to show genuine interest in the person behind your client, because it not only makes you a better accountant, it also gives a satisfied customer. ”

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