Making sure you choose the right accountant is a critical business decision. In many ways it is similar to recruiting a key staff member – choose the right one and they will support you and drive your business, choose the wrong one and it can prove costly and set your business back.
Traditional methods have tended to focus on simple criteria; for example location or, perhaps, a recommendation from a friend or colleague. But in today’s interconnected world you have the ability to cast the net much wider.
However, there are thousands of accountants out there – the challenge is to find the perfect fit for your business.
Here are some of the key criteria that business owners should arm themselves with when looking for a new accountant:
The Business relationship
Challenge your accountant on what they can bring to your business – ask them what their specialisms are and how these can help your business. Be wary if they claim to be a specialised in ‘everything’. Some accountants may be great at tax but poor at designing and implementing business strategy, so decide what is going to be important for you and your business.
Another key criteria is to find an accountant who sees themselves as a ‘business partner’ to you and your company; somebody who is interested and wants to get involved in more than just doing the VAT and company accounts.
Do not underestimate the importance of getting on well with your accountant. Accountants may not have the greatest reputation for being the most social and likeable people in the world but make sure that your personalities work well together. If you speak regularly and ‘get on’, a natural trust will form and the business partnership can become very powerful.
You would assume that if somebody calls themselves an accountant or runs an accountancy firm, they would be qualified accountants. However, this is not necessarily the case.
As a general standard, ensure that your accountant is a member of one of the chartered accountancy bodies (ICAEW, CIMA, ACCA). Their members have to adhere to strict rules operated by their respective institutes, and you also have recourse to complain to the institute if things go wrong.
The right size
This is important. Accounting practices vary enormously in terms of their size: they range from small, one man bands up to several hundred people in the larger practices. Larger practices will likely have all the specialisms covered so can provide a ‘one stop’ shop for your different needs, but you may also lose some of the personal service if you are dealing with lots of different people. Think about your own needs and style and choose the size that works for you.
The right systems
Accounting systems and book keeping systems are changing – there are some great products available now that can transform how your business runs. This is particularly true of cloud based accounting packages which are very accessible to all business owners – ask your prospective accountant which systems they recommend and what advantages the system can bring to your business.
Think about where your business is in its lifecycle – are you looking to sell in the future, are you looking to diversify into different markets. Make sure the accountant understands this and ask them for examples of where they have helped clients in similar situations and what the outcomes have been. Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials.
Fees are an important consideration when choosing an accountant. It is really important to understand exactly what you are getting for your money, so ask for a fixed fee per job and ask the accountant for a detailed quote. Always discuss fees upfront to avoid any surprises down the line. Like most service industries fees vary considerably; bear in mind that the cheapest option may not be the best option – the old adage of ‘penny wise pound poor’ is incredibly relevant. If the accountant is going to add value or save you money, perhaps through tax planning or providing strategic guidance, then factor this in and look at the ‘value’ that the accountant brings and compare this to the fees that they are charging.
About the Author:
Mark Randall is a Chartered Management Accountant and a director at ‘Your Finance Team’. The company specialises in providing small and medium size companies with finance and accounting services. Mark has 20 years’ experience working in senior financial management positions from small venture capital backed businesses to large FTSE 30 organisations.