Communication Skills for Accountants
Ric Jazaie has given presentations throughout his career to senior leadership at the CIA, FBI, in judicial proceedings, and at his own Forensic Accounting practice. “You are always presenting as an accountant to large and small groups and communicating with people one-on-one. The era of the guy in the green visor and the lamp is over,” he says.
Accountants and auditors communicate daily with their clients and constituents. Jazaie says: “Communication skills, analytical skills, and critical thinking are the most important skills accountants can possess and develop—in that order. Clients look to us for answers to help clients achieve their goals.”
Jazaie has used his communication skills to influence successful prosecutions of terrorist financiers as an FBI agent/analyst, loan servicing companies at the FBI, and even small Bay Area nonprofits as the head of a consulting firm. Students get a direct pipeline to these techniques in Jazaie’s Communication and Analysis of Financial Information for Accountants course.
“One of my students in the communications class came back from an interview at a Big Four accounting firm,” he says. “He told me that he asked the interviewers what they seek in a candidate. They said critical-thinking skills and communication. He could put a tangible work product from the communication class on the table and discuss those principles. They were very impressed. He was beyond himself with excitement.”
We asked Jazaie to list his 10 most important communication skills:
- Storytelling: “You want to get your audience excited and tell them a story. The presentation should be as interesting as hearing about an interesting first date from a friend. Tell the story through your analysis of financial information.”
- Eye Contact: “For example, when you answer a question in court, you turn and look directly at the jurors in the eyes. They love that.”
- Be Credible: “If you are asked a question, it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I took a different approach.’ Never, ever, lie about the facts. Our credibility in this profession is of utmost importance.”
- Understand their point of view: “It is also important to be an active listener and hear the other points of views in a discussion with the people you are presenting to.”
- Pace Yourself: “Your audience, especially a jury, needs time to process the information so you don’t need to talk quickly.”
- Clear visuals: “Accountants for the prosecution on a grand jury were able to make a two-slide presentation that connected essential numbers (slide one) to the law (slide two). They proved that the prosecution had a strong case.”
- Communicate the solution: “Clients that hire auditors/accountants want to know what controls should be in place to prevent fraud. You need to have a simple answer.”
- Be friendly: “Your audience, whether clients or jurors, want to see a friendly and generally happy accountant. Your audience will not respond well to you when they see an angry and argumentative person in front of them.”
- Confidence: “It is important to be confident when you present. Confidence does not mean arrogance. In fact, to the contrary, a confident accountant is one who has done his or her homework and is prepared to respond to questions.”
- Feedback: “Being able to appropriately give and receive feedback is an important communication skill.”
Before job interviews or professional presentations, students must get past Jazaie as an audience. When they present their analyses and recommendations to the class, he deducts points for loss of eye contact and wants to see them apply what they learned from his experience. He says: “They need to make mistakes at GGU because at the Big Four they expect you to be a pro by the time you get there.”
Jazaie continuously looks for ways to provide his students with constructive feedback during and after presentations: “Giving feedback involves giving praise as well – something as simple as saying ‘good job’ or ‘thanks for such a great presentation’ to a student can greatly increase motivation.” Jazaie’s students have impressed him with their ability to apply what he teaches: “They continue to amaze me with their creativity and analysis of difficult financial information and their ability to present their points of views.”
Communicating one-on-one is crucial to audits and investigations. By taking the attitude of a helper, a series of conversations can make a difference. “The process of Forensic Accounting is to keep turning rocks until you run out of rocks. Then you look for patterns in the soil. Then you find another rock. Somewhere in there you find your next lead. That’s where the excitement is. Forensic accounting is like solving a large jigsaw puzzle. That is, you have clues everywhere, but you have to think logically and methodically and try to fit the pieces perfectly to build the bigger picture.”
Ric Jazaie has a master’s degree in accounting from Golden Gate University (’15) with a concentration in forensic accounting.