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Let’s get fiscal

February 2018

The new rock gods wear dark suits

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s foresees more accountants making outrageous backstage demands

Good evening, Hong Kong! Yeah! Are you READY TO ROCK? Wooooooo!

Accountants are the new rock superstars, according to a spate of news reports, mainly in the United States. So that’s what you need to shout when you enter a room from now on.

At the time of writing, a feature on the profession in The Washington Post was headlined: “I’m a rock star now.” An almost identical report in The Wall Street Journal was titled: “The tax law makes CPAs interesting for now.” The Mercury News said: “Tax bill turns America’s accountants into rock stars.”

In Asia, there have been flurries of identical headlines. The most notable recent case being the occasion when the Indian government made a surprise decision to get rid of almost all physical banknotes, apparently after taking financial advice from YouTube pranksters. (“Cancel all the banknotes! Everyone will have a good laugh! What could go wrong?”)

Indian accountants become rock-star popular. In rural India, accountancy fees rose from an undersized chicken per work day to a medium-sized bullock, which is presumably what Indipop rock stars get paid these days.

The fact is, major changes in finance laws anywhere causes accountants to instantly become rock gods in the eyes of the media.

But here’s the thing. I was reading that particular Washington Post in a radio studio where several DJs had met actual rock stars. I tossed them the paper for comment. “Yeah, right,” sneered the morning show DJ. “If accountants are being treated like rock stars, that means crowds of people are chasing after them, screaming and fainting and crying.”

I told him that was a pretty accurate description of chief financial officers trying to get the attention of tax advisors as the year-end reporting season approaches. Hysterics, wailing and falling over are par for the course.

In India, people desperate for financial advice camped outside the offices of accountants – classic music groupie behaviour.

In the U.S., accountants have turned their secretaries into booking agents. “Tax advisor Mr. Rodinksi will visit you Tuesday morning. He requires a private dressing room with white roses, a bowl of M&Ms and a chalice of virgin’s blood.”

Incidentally, you won’t see this happening in Hong Kong, since accountants prefer red roses and avoid blood as it is high in saturated fats.

Also, except for a handful of top people, rock musicians in Hong Kong earn far less than accountants. In this city, watch for headlines about musicians who achieve massive public acclaim: “Rock Musicians Are The New Accountants.”

One oddity: This columnist has several times interviewed Hong Kong accountants for profiles on this page, and quite a few of them are serious musicians or singers in their spare time.

I guess Mick Jagger is the most famous example of someone who started as an accountant and became a rock god. (Incidentally, I read that a letter by Mr. Jagger was sold at an auction. Given his advanced age, I wonder what the letter said? Probably: “Dear Wilma Flintstone...”)

Much more interesting to me is Duff McKagan, who went the other way. He used to be one of the wildest rock gods (he used to drink 10 bottles of wine a day – not a misprint – as the bassist of Guns N’ Roses).

Then he enrolled at a college in Seattle and became an accountant. His firm specializes in giving finance advice to rock stars and he writes a money column called Duffenomics.

Which career does he prefer? The one with all the emotion and screaming and crying.

 Yes, there’s something about the tax advisory department that gets people going.

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three story- books for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices