- The relationship with your accountant is a long-term one. Ask your friends and business associates as to their experience. Just like you do not want to change your accountant every year, you do not want to change your accountant every year either. Past behavior is the best guide to future behavior. So look at the principals’ business experience and history. Have they been successful in the present or previous efforts? Are they honorable people who you can work with? Ask yourself do you feel comfortable talking to your accountant or does he/she blind you with technicalities? You need to look at whether the relationship is workable.
- Do you really see your accountant? Do you drop the records in and a few weeks later receive a set of accounts, a tax return and a bill? If that is the case then consider arranging a meeting yourself and ask about the figures. A good relationship with your accountant is essential. The accountant should understand exactly how your business works and take a genuine interest in your success.
- The work must be beyond reproach. The quality of accounting work is seldom scrutinized in a small company until a catastrophe develops. When selecting an accountant to work with, it is critical that you establish quality metrics upfront. If an accountant will not agree to a quality standard, you should not work with them.
- Is your accountant qualified? It is a common misconception, particularly in smaller businesses, that if someone calls themselves an accountant they are one. In reality, anybody can call themselves an accountant. A qualified accountant will always have ‘Chartered’ in its title. This means that they are regulated and have to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD); therefore they are up date with all the latest accounting and tax knowledge.
- Is your accountant available? Is your accountant available to support you when needed? Does your accountant have a local presence? Can you get a quick answer to a simple question by phone or e-mail? Do you have your accountants mobile number?
- A defined workflow process. The accountant must have a way of defining your workflow process efficiently and with the least amount of involvement for you. The workflow process defines the source documents that you must provide and the output that the accountant will provide.
- What other services are available to help your business? Can the accountant relieve the burden of some tasks such as book keeping, VAT preparation and payroll?
- How much does your accountant charge? Last but not least, you need to consider cost. If the accountants are not close on the earlier criteria, a cost comparison will be meaningless. Your preferred accountant should give you an acceptable cost saving, but does not need to be the lowest bidder. Fees should be relevant to the service you receive. If you aren’t getting any commentary or business advice are you really getting what you have paid for? Try to arrange a fixed fee agreement upfront. Most firms will be happy to set up a monthly standing order to cover fees. Tell your accountant exactly what records you keep and what state they are in. It may be worth showing the accountant as this will help ensure the fee is correct.
Once you have identified an acceptable accountant, ask them for references and talk to them. This is probably the most important step in the process.
Often the best time to obtain an accountant is when you are setting up in business; however, it is easy to change. If you feel you are not getting the correct levels of service it does no harm to go and see other accountants. Usually most firms will provide an initial consultation in which they will go through services they offer and how they can help your business. If you decide to change you will need to ensure your affairs with your current accountant are up to date and inform them. With qualified firms there are professional clearance (like a code of professional conduct) procedures to follow.