The accounting and law professions have always had to work closely together – relying on each other for various aspects of certain transactions and relationships. Despite that, they have always been seen as very ‘separate’. There are obvious reasons for this, both avenues require very different types of training, and the ‘day job’ ultimately isn’t reliant on the other – but there are times when the two fields intersect, and it’s in those moments where there could be lots of opportunities for both professions to learn.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with author and business owner Janet Xuccoa who has spent a large part of her career working at the intersection of law, accounting, and trust services. Janet is a 3-time author (soon to be 4) on trusts and financial literacy, an advisor on trusts and leads Black + White Trust Services. To provide deeper insight into this unique fusion of disciplines, I chatted to Janet about how she ended up here, and what tips she might have for other professionals working in this space.
The advantage of hybrid experience in accounting and law
Janet's professional journey is steeped in determination and resilience. Hailing from humble beginnings, she split her time between full-time work and part-time studies to make ends meet. This simultaneous immersion into academia and the professional realm shaped her unique understanding of both the technical and practical aspects of law and accounting, particularly as they related to trust services.
A hybrid experience in law and accounting is not just possible - it's beneficial. "You can definitely work in both fields," and the importance of pursuing education, attending webinars, and networking are instrumental in gaining knowledge and experience, even if that may feel cliche, it’s one of the easiest ways to learn about other industries you might not be familiar with.
The accounting realm provides a distinct perspective to the legal world and vice versa. This broadened viewpoint is critical for client engagement and problem-solving.
By integrating the two, there is a clear advantage. It’s important to clarify that we’re not saying accountants should be lawyers and vice versa, but there are advantages for professionals who have a deeper understanding of the components the ‘others’ might end up dealing with - if you can add that extra depth to a client conversation and improve the client experience, it only reflects better on your ability to be a trusted advisor to your clients.
There's a remarkable benefit to this collaborative approach. When accountants and lawyers understand each other's worlds, they can offer more comprehensive services and generate higher fee revenue.
On reflection, it’s no surprise Janet takes this philosophy into her work given her journey. She credits much of her success to a number of influential individuals across both industries. "I had the privilege of learning from three inspiring lawyers and an exceptional accountant," she reveals. Their guidance, coupled with their willingness to share knowledge, played a significant role in her educational journey and professional growth, and for any accountant or lawyer, she encourages you to spend time learning and understanding where both professions meet.
Trusts and technology
The latest figures show that there are still between 300,000 to 500,000 trusts in New Zealand.
Anecdotally, there have been murmurings of the trusts falling out of popularity, and whether or not that is true, or if that’s just been spurred by the recent budget announcements around the trustee tax rate, it’s mostly irrelevant in Janet’s eyes.
Trusts still have a place in protecting wealth, and assets.
For those that are in business, asset protection is always a key component for them. This is the primary reason we are finding trusts are established and retained. Wealth transference purposes plays an integral role too in the establishing and retaining of trusts. And I don’t think that those things are going to go away …
And that’s one of the reasons that continues to fuel Janet’s fascination when working with trusts, is the intellectual challenges that they present.
One thing that has been happening, even in the trusts space, is the increase in the use of technology.
Over the years, I've witnessed increasing specialisation in the field and the remarkable ways technology is revolutionising the industry
Whilst Janet believes it can only be a good thing, there is a need for professionals to be more responsive and adaptable in light of these changes. "The shift towards digitalisation is increasing pressure on professionals to evolve with the industry and anticipate the clients' needs."
I think accounting and legal practices will adapt … because you’re going to have to. Client expectations and risk mitigation practices will eventually force you to use technology in establishing and maintaining trusts.
Beyond technology, there is also another passion that Janet has, and that is illustrated by the content of her published books and the fact she runs a monthly newsletter called “Money Matters”.
Not only is there a lack of financial education at a grassroots level, but she also believes there is a lack of financial literacy in general. One of her core motivators for writing was she found many of her clients lacked financial literacy and she was constantly repeating the same 101 financial advice. In a bid to save time and share her knowledge, simplifying complex financial topics and providing practice advice, her second and third books were born.
There's an argument to be made that it's the job of accountants and those working in finance to be the financially literate ones (I think we all expect them to be ahead of the curve). However imagine how much better overall client engagements could be, if there was an elevated level of financial literacy. If your clients could ask better questions of you, and you could elevate the level of conversation to talk about more complex topics, there's a chance it improves the overall experience.
If Janet could have it her way;
It would be great to introduce financial literacy at grassroots level, ensuring financial educational programs are in all schools, at all levels, catered to the age of the student.
Advice for anyone working (or just getting started) in the industry
For those looking to enter the field or even for those who have been around for a while, Janet suggests embracing the evolving nature of the profession. Things have changed a lot during the course of her time, and as legislation has changed, particularly in the trusts space over recent years, she puts her ability to stay ahead of the game down to her curiosity and willingness to learn outside of her comfort zone.
Stay adaptable, network extensively, and never stop learning. Remember that your goal is to bring value to your clients, the journey may be challenging, but with perseverance and dedication, the rewards are worth it.
What’s refreshing about a lot of what Janet and I spoke about is she often referred back to the client experience, at the end of the day that’s what pays your bills, and whilst some optimisations might reduce your costs, if what you’re doing isn’t adding value to your client then is it worth it?
If you’d like to listen to the full audio, you can by hitting the play button below.
And last but not least, for more insights from Janet Xuccoa, you can follow her on LinkedIn, visit the Black + White Trust Services website, or visit her personal website where you can subscribe to Money Matters and read more about her books.