In this guide we outline the 10 elements of choosing the right accountant and the questions you should ask to find them.

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Choosing an accountant is a daunting task, loaded with negative emotions. Conventionally, the search begins by hoping to find someone who you can get on with, who ensures you pay no more tax than you should, who never files anything late and who doesn’t cost a fortune.  You contact a few friends and trusted acquaintances to see who they use for their businesses and end up basing your choice largely on that recommendation.

Plenty of businesses over the years have been satisfied with the choices they’ve made this way, but what they don’t realise is that they’ve most likely missed a wonderful opportunity.

 In this guide we outline the 10 elements of choosing the right accountant and the questions you should ask to find them.

1) Have high expectations

A good accountant can be an extremely valuable asset . The very least you should expect is that the tax and compliance is handled flawlessly. A middle-ground would be that you have regular access to broader business advice. What you could have, is access to someone who’s skillset complements your own, who will challenge your decisions and who will help you to be the smartest version of yourself.

Q: What examples can you give me of how you’ve helped grow your clients’ business and how would you do the same for mine?

 

2) Identify what support your business needs

A recommendation from  someone you trust is really powerful, but what is right for their business may not be right for yours. Do you have a particularly complicated tax situation, an ownership structure with external stakeholders, or a complex commercial model? In the same way that there are specialisms in the medical profession, so there are in the accounting profession. Do you need a Tax specialist, an Audit specialist, a Business specialist?

Q: What type of accounting work did you perform in the first five years after you qualified?

 

3) Smaller is sometimes better

Smaller accountancy firms can be a better match for smaller businesses. An accountant running a small practice is a business owner just like you; they know what it’s like. Consider also your personal preferences. Would you prefer to work with one person on a day-to-day basis (typical of smaller firms) or would you feel more comfortable knowing there is a larger team dedicated to your account?

Q: How many clients do you work for and what proportion of my services would be provided by you?

  

4) Sector Experience

This is not essential, but experience working in your sector or a similar one will be a good indicator of the accountant’s suitability. They may be better equipped to provide valuable insights, professional contacts and even customer referrals!

Q: Can you give me an example of a client you’ve worked with, who’s business is similar to mine?

 

5) Meet the person, feel the chemistry

For this to become a valuable working relationship, chemistry is key. Your accountant doesn’t need to be your drinking buddy of choice, but you’ll need to like working with them. They should be able to explain complex subjects in plain English. They should be assertive and prepared to challenge your decisions, respectfully. They need to be able to get the best out of you by sharing their experience in an inspiring, not condescending, way.

Q: Can you explain to me the tax benefits of a Limited company?  

 

6) What’s required of you

Each accountant will have their preferred way of working and the extent to which you’re involved in that depends very much on what services you are asking to be provided. But you want the outcome of this process to be that the accountant works for you, not the other way round. If you are having to dedicate chunks of your time to collating information and answering questions then you’re distracted from focussing on your business. Your time is perhaps your most valuable commodity and should be as much a part of this decision as the proposed fees.

Q: What will you need from me so that you can do your job?

 

7) Check the credentials

It is essential that the accountant you choose has a professional qualification. The main UK bodies are ACCA, ICAEW and CIMA and you can verify membership online quite easily. Apart from the assurance that proper training has taken place, you can also feel comfortable that they are signed up to a strict code of ethics, carry liability insurance and will have a practice continuity agreement in place with another practice should anything dreadful happen to them.

Q: Which accounting body are you registered with and what is your membership number?

 

8) Speak to some of their clients

If you think you know who you’re going to choose, ask to speak to some of their clients. You should expect glowing references as a given, but try to get an understanding of why these cients are such enthusiastic advocates.

Q: What is the single biggest difference that xxxx has made to the success of your business?

 

9) Don’t be shy about the money

Get the fees and charges agreed upfront, along with how and when you will pay. You need to know exactly what you’re getting if you’re to be able to judge value-for-money, so establish what is included in the price and whether you will be charged any ‘extras’. Then you’re ready to compare quotes. Don’t be afraid to negotiate either – remembering to ensure it remains a win-win.

Q:Under what circumstances will I receive a bill from you for additional services?

 

10) Don’t rush it

This is potentially a game-changing decision for your business. The right accountant can be the catalyst for you achieving your goals faster, for ensuring your finances can withstand shocks and for helping you grow a stable organisation that stands the test of time.

James Lizars