What I like about Accountants

The other day, at a party, I ran into someone that introduced themselves as an accountant. And immediately, I felt a little sympathy for this person despite us being strangers.

I felt it because - although it may be a gross overgeneralization - I'm familiar with a stereotypical accountant's value system and because to my brain, it signals: "Hey, that's a person valuing similar principles in their professional life. You two will get along nicely!"

See, I grew up in a simple family in the countryside. Sure, my parents taught me to properly handle my weekly allocation of pocket money, and I was never someone who'd splurge or go on shopping sprees.

Rather, on the contrary, making big purchases - to this day accompanies me with a strong feeling of guilt. And simply put, it could be the Swabian way of dealing with finances and risk: You work and work to build your house - and ideally, you never spend that money.

And yeah, in case you're slightly put off by the particular formulation above: It's because that sentence's structure is a Swabian proverb, and its original is: "Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue," which quite literally translates into: "Working, Working, House building."

But with changing my country boy status to "degenerate city dweller" in 2015, when I moved to the capital, Berlin, I was often confronted with my Swabian roots and the prejudice of being greedy.

But with great confidence, and after living here for seven years now, I can say that I'm not greedy. I'd say that I'm highly conservative on spending money, and I'm particularly frugal. But not greedy.

For example, despite "being in crypto," you'd be surprised how few risky investments I've ever taken. And even to my face, I've been called out as particularly risk-averse, and some even found it difficult to deal with me. They wanted to take on more risk, and I got cold feet.

As the frugality of Swabians seemed central to my origin, I've been soul-searching the topic too.

I've read Daniel Kahnemann's "Thinking fast and slow," and I've managed to grasp "Prospect Theory" (which states that humans prefer avoiding losses more than they want to acquire gains.) That resonated with me deeply.

I've also liked the book's idea of separating emotion from rationality and that it discusses an individuum's internal decision-making and splits it into two systems: The fast thinker and the slow mediator.

Years ago, I ordered and read yet another rather particular book on money management titled "The Richest Man in Babylon," and it also confirmed and taught me a few other lessons on how to better deal with finance.

But truly, when dealing with money - I felt there was always this blind spot haunting me. It was that as soon as money was the conversation's topic, I started acting emotionally.

Before all of my time in crypto, and when I was just a student trying to earn a few Bitcoins on, it surprised me how intensely manipulative it felt to own a small amount of stock in the market for the first time.

I must have had maybe 600€ in Bitcoins, "a few" at the time: But nothing that'd even closely put my student existence at risk. And still, there I was in my apartment, having the worst days when the price crashed.

I realize it is now the truth of what Warren Buffet teaches when he says that temperament and investing don't go well together. That it is vital to separate the body's desire to freak out and be anxious from the boring and rational task of counting numbers - of "accounting." My accountants told me many times.

That, my friends, is a lesson that made me like accountants.

In fact, just taking some time to lay down numbers in a spreadsheet, the practice of periodically updating those: Emancipating yourself from market swings and the anxiety of lacking overview. The calm of knowing to have control and not to be subjected to the broader public's mania or hysteria. And to never split the pie before baking it. That's what I learned from them, and that's what I like about them.

published 2022-06-25 by timdaub