How to choose a good accountant - from the horse's mouth
19th January 2016 by Fiona Hotston Moore
Choosing your accountant is a key decision for both business owners and private clients. One bean counter is not in fact the same as the next bean counter!
Your accountant should be your trusted business partner with whom you are comfortable discussing candidly all things financial from routine tax filings to longer term financial strategy for you, your family and business.
I recommend investing some time considering what you need from your accountant and meeting two or three before making your decision. Personal recommendations are a useful starting point. Alternatively ask the accountant for references.
Things to consider include:
1. Is the accountant qualified?
Unfortunately anyone can describe themselves as an "accountant" even if they have no accountancy qualifications or limited experience. Find out if the individual is qualified with one of the main accountancy bodies, eg: a Chartered Accountant with the ICAEW or ICAS (ACA/FCA), or a Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA/FCCA) or a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA). Unqualified accountants may not have professional indemnity insurance.
2.What services do you need now and what might you need in the future?
If you are starting up in business or you are a growing entrepreneurial business you probably don't need a Big 4 firm. You are probably looking for an individual who can advise you on a range of business areas (a "general practitioner"). There may be specialist services you will need in the future such as corporate finance for a future sale, acquisition or fund raising or inheritance tax planning and ideally your accountant should be able to pull in specialists from within the firm.
Check if the accountant you meet will be your first point of contact in the future? In larger firms you may find that you meet a business developer who then passes you on to another accountant once you have engaged the firm.
If you choose a sole practitioner or very small firm check what arrangements exist for cover if the individual is unavailable.
3. Do you like the individual?
It’s important you trust your accountant and that you enjoy working with them. You need someone who is proactive and who will provide appropriate challenge if they disagree with you.
4. What fees will you be paying?
For most services accountants can provide fixed fee estimates which avoid nasty shocks. Consider whether you wish to pay monthly. Will you be charged for a quick call or email? Do not assume that the cheapest quote is the best. Ask the accountant how they will add value to your business?
5. Does the accountant understand your sector?
Some industries require sector knowledge such as medical practices, charities, pension funds. Ask your accountant if they have experience of other clients in your area and how they have helped those businesses.
6. Finally, keep your side of the bargain.
Talk to your accountant regularly and share with them your plans. Provide information in the agreed format and on time. If you are happy with their service tell others and if you aren't happy tell the accountant.
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