Are you afraid of numbers?

Numerophobia is the fear of numbers. We all know that some numbers might be “unlucky”, like 13 or 666. As a trained accountant I’d be in serious bother if I had such a phobia. Thankfully, I don’t and I have actually stayed in a room number 666 in a hotel in Cologne, Germany some years ago and had an enjoyable stay. I often hear people saying they hate accounting and tax because there are too many numbers. Is this a phobia or just putting things on the long finger? Well, the latter might be the more common reason, particularly when the numbers look bad. In a NY Times article (21/11/2009), Jacob Soll says that anxiety about accounting and taxation often increases to the point of denial. He quotes a 2005 study by Lloyds TSB (UK) which reported that accounting anxiety has led to “balance denial syndrome,” in which bank customers so fear being in the red that they systematically ignore their bank statements. Not really a good idea! Let’s think back to what accounting is about. Its purpose is collect, collate and communicate information (usually of a financial nature). As an example, let’s assume a small business keeps poor records or worse, none at all. In such a case, a bank statement might be the only indicator of how a business is performing. So to ignore it is to cut-off the only source of communicated accounting information a business has. In practice, letting records fall behind is more common than none at all. And, we may let things fall behind because we can’t face the bad story the records tell – especially in the current economic climate. However, this is big mistake. Having the courage to face the books and realise they don’t tell a good story is the first step to solving the problem. As Soll says, “It might be that the first step to balancing the books is finding the courage to face keeping them”. So hands up, admit it and get down to solving your problems. If you’re too busy putting out other fires, call your accountant and ask them to help.

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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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