How to choose a new accountant

Accountants are a funny bunch! The reputation proceeds us for a start. We are all boring and live in grey suits!

Ok, so we know that’s not true. We never wear suits for a start and I know many who don’t from other firms too.

So if you are looking at changing accountants then what is the best approach you can take? Afterall this needs to be one of your most trusted business contacts. If you are doubting the skills, ability and trust in your accountant then that’s not a great setup for a successful business.

Firstly you need to know what you want from an accountant. It helps to understand what the different services are and what they mean. Here are a few you may need

  • Bookkeeping – this is the process of entering invoices and receipts and ‘explaining’ bank payments in and out.
  • Year-End Accounts – This is an end of year summary of the business performance. The government will need copies.
  • Company Tax Return – This is a form for the government to calculate how much tax your company owes
  • Personal tax return – As above but for you personally
  • Payroll – the process of calculating employees pay and deductions (needed for paying directors too)
  • VAT Returns – If you are VAT registered these need filing to the government so you can pay over any VAT owed.
  • Management Accounts – regular accounts to show the business performance and help the owners manage it effectively
  • Budgets and forecasts – Reports used to help predict and plan the future of the business

Now you are equipped with some knowledge you may have a better idea of the different services you may want or need. Next is deciding what type of accountant you want. There are lots of different types but this gives a basic overview

  • Sole practitioner – This is a posh name for someone who works on their own. They may have an assistant but often not, likely work from home. The benefits are you get a personal service. The drawbacks are what if they go on holiday or become ill?
  • A small-firm – Likely have their own offices and a few assistants to help progress work. You get a good mix of people and probably a main point of contact, likely the owner.
  • A medium-firm – Very much like a small firm but you’ll have more experts on hand. You may get one point of contact but it’s more likely you’ll speak to a few different experts in different areas of accounting and tax. A good mix can be found here of the personal touch of a small firm and the expertise of a larger firm.
  • A large-firm – We have some very large accountants around with hundreds of offices and thousands of staff. They are great with complex setups or transactions or international tax. Not usually a great fit for small and medium businesses.

If you are unsure what type of accountant will work best for you then speak to the different types above. Once you have found a good feel then speak to some more at the same level of setup.

Next is to ask questions of the accountant you are interviewing. Yes, interviewing. This needs to be a great fit. You need to feel connected but also know they are a good option for you and your business in terms of knowledge and the type of service they deliver. Here are some great questions to ask

  • How many clients do you currently work with?
  • Do you have set processes you follow to give me a consistent experience of your service?
  • Do you have other clients in my industry?
  • Do you have other clients a similar size and setup to me?
  • How long do clients normally stay with you for?
  • Accountancy can be very backwards looking. How can you help me plan for success in the future?
  • Are you a straight talker or do you sit on the fence?
  • (to test the previous question) Would you recommend I do my own bookkeeping or use yourselves and why?
  • How many tax investigations have your clients had this last year?
  • Are your charges fixed or am I billed based on time?
  • What actions of mine will likely incur additional fees?

The last 2 questions are quite critical. Whilst many accountants have moved to monthly fixed fees there are many that still work on time-based billing. There are pros and cons to each. Although my opinion is strongly the fixed fee approach so you as the client know what costs you have committed to. You need to check how and when you will be charged and what for too.

We hope this has helped you in the potentially stressful process of finding a new critical advisor to your business. However, if you approach this process armed with the above you stand a much better chance of reducing your stress both short and long term.