CPA email closings: Go pro or add a personal touch?

By Mark Tosczak

"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night …"

Oscar Hammerstein II, American musical theater's legendary lyricist, wasn't thinking about email when he penned those lines for The Sound of Music in the 1950s.

But if email had existed then, perhaps those von Trapp children would have come up with a similarly melodic range of email closings.

CPAs, just like the characters in The Sound of Music, have many options when it comes to how they end emails.

For instance, Shefali Bhalla, CPA/CITP, manager of accounting and transaction services in MorganFranklin Consulting's Raleigh, N.C., office, usually uses "Thanks."

But if the email is just one line in an ongoing exchange, she might switch to "Best" or "Regards." For a personal email, it might be "Cheers!"

Emails are a vital communication tool at work. Accountants need to think about how their emails — including the closings — reflect on their and their firms' professionalism, while also considering the nature of the relationship they have with the other person.

Professional reflection

Context is key for accountants closing emails, said Kathi Mettler, director of graduate accounting programs at Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business in Connecticut.

Mettler, who co-developed and teaches Effective Communications for Accounting Professionals, said a point she hammers home with future CPAs is that "every communication they put out there is a reflection of their firm."

Paul Sundin, CPA, a tax strategist and CEO of Emparion, a company that provides strategic retirement services, said that when he deals with government officials, he uses simple, formal closings such as "Sincerely" or "Respectfully."

"They give the impression that I am here to do my job seriously," he said.

For clients, on the other hand, he often goes with "Best regards" for initial emails. Later that might change to "Thank you," "Many thanks," or "All my thanks."

Those closings, along with other details in his email signature — his name, credentials, website address, and LinkedIn profile — communicate credibility, he said.

Going formal

Mettler tells students that communications are like dress codes — use what's appropriate for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have. One rule of thumb, she said, is to lean toward more formal closings.

Dalton R. Sweaney, CPA, a partner at Gray, Salt & Associates LLP in Claremont, Calif., keeps it simple and consistent: "Best regards."

"It's the only one I use, regardless of setting," he said.

Communication: A required skill

Mettler said writing skills — including the choice of an appropriate email closing — are vital to professional success. She often has guest speakers from Big 4 and midsize firms attend her communications class to share how they communicate at work — in emails, voicemails, texts, presentations, formal memos, and other contexts.

"We want to get them [students] comfortable with every email, every text, every voicemail they leave," she said.

Emails and other electronic communications are easily forwarded and shared, sometimes far beyond their intended audience, which means accountants should always consider what might happen if their email — and its closing — reached someone it wasn't intended for, Mettler noted.

"You assume it's going to end up on the front page of The New York Times," she said.

Another rule of thumb, she added, is "Don't write angry emails."

But accountants' personal feelings can still influence their choices. They can even have a little fun in their email closings sometimes.

Personal connections

Shakun Goyal, CPA, who owns Aprica Accounting in Phoenix, said she changed her style of writing when she first moved to the United States from India. She started using "Thanks," which she notes is widely used in public accounting, even though it felt "very cold" to her.

If someone is much older or more senior, she said, she sometimes uses "Regards."

"Sometimes it just comes from within," she said. "You really respect that person and you're giving your regards to them."

Gwen Mazzola, CPA, assurance partner at HoganTaylor LLP, usually signs off with "Thank you." But depending on who she's exchanging emails with and even what day it is, her closing could change.

"For business emails, it is normally 'Thank you' or 'Have an awesome day' or 'Let's get together soon,'" she explained. "The closing is typically what I would say to them in a conversation."

But, if a big football game is right around the corner in Fayetteville, Ark., where she's based, Mazzola might end with something a bit more enthusiastic.

"If it is game day and with another Arkansas Razorbacks fan, the closing may be 'Go Hogs!'"

She's not the only one.

Mettler said that when she's corresponding with another University of Alabama graduate, she might close with "Roll Tide!"

Bhalla picked up on the alma mater she shares with this writer — N.C. State University — and ended a LinkedIn message with "Go Pack!"

Whatever the context, accountants always have choices for email closings. You can decide how that closing will reflect your professionalism and your relationship with the other person — or people — receiving the email.

Having a little fun can also be appropriate and might even help you build a more personal relationship with a business contact. However, if the urge to sing strikes you — well, you might want to leave that to the von Trapps.

Mark Tosczak is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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