Do you know how to choose an Accountant?
“Accountants. They’re all the same aren’t they? I’d love to know how to choose an Accountant”
It’s a phrase I hear often, usually before the person uttering it changes the subject to something rather more interesting – like the odds of their horse romping home first at Kempton Park.
And do you know what, it’s a view that I’ve got sympathy for. For many people, their accountant is a sort of necessary evil to keep the taxman off their back.
The only problem is that, when accountants start to think of themselves as being a necessary evil, they perhaps don’t always put in the sort of effort that would change their clients’ minds. It’s becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sure, they’ll sort out your tax returns, make your VAT vaguely comprehensible and possibly even do your payroll.
And if that’s all you want from your accountant and you only want to pay the lowest possible fee then you are probably fine staying where you are.
In these cases, you won’t see your accountant from one year-end to the next. And they’ll have little choice but to palm your work off on to a trainee anyway just to recover their costs.
But there are accountants out there who are champing at the bit to go beyond the basics and help you to get on in life. And there are people who are willing to pay a little more to discover some of the actions they can take to be far more successful in business and life.
When was the last time your accountant gave you a call out of the blue and said something along the lines of, “Hello Mr Smith, I’ve had a brilliant idea that I am certain will save you loads of cash.”
“But I’m not called Smith,” you might be thinking to yourself. And if you’re not, you’d be right. But my point still holds – what’s that bit extra your accountant does, and which keeps you enthusiastically paying their fees year after year?
In my experience there are a lot of people out there who would answer: “Nothing.” And if you’ve just said the same, it might well be time for you to switch accountants.
Of course you will carry out the usual checks such as a good review of the quality of their website and ensuring that they are registered with a recognised professional body such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) but there is a lot more to choosing an Acccountant than that.
Not convinced? Then consider your current accountant and ask yourself these five questions.
1 – Is my accountant genuinely interested in my business?
Does your accountant really take a close interest in your business?
In an ideal world, an accountant is like a sort of roving Finance Director who takes care to learn about your business, what your goals are, how quickly you’re expanding, whether you’re using the best accounts software for your activities and more.
If they do all these things, then great – you’ve lucked out. If they simply bring order to your accounts and don’t get in touch from one month to the next, then you may not be getting the service you deserve and are actually more than willing to pay for.
2 – Why did you choose this accountant in the first place?
So many people choose an accountant because they happen to be local, or because a friend suggested them or because they are cheap.
What hardly ever happens is for clients to draw up a shortlist of what they believe to be the best accountancy practices and then go and get a free consultation at each. Call it interviewing by stealth if you prefer!
When you chose your current accountant did you ask what they achieve for their clients, or whether they work for businesses like yours? Did you seek out any testimonials or ask to meet the people you’d be dealing with. If you didn’t, you may have missed a trick.
3 – Is your accountant a generalist or a specialist?
Many smaller practices are run by accountants who are generalists, which is fine until the moment you need specialist help on matters like tax planning.
Ideally, you need to find a firm that offers you personal service from a generalist accountant, but which can draw on in-house specialist help as you need it. That way you get the best of both worlds.
4 – Does your accountant work hard to save you money?
Don’t confuse low accountancy fees with value for money – does your accountant help you keep your tax bills as low as possible? If they accountant takes a proactive approach to your business as it changes and grows, it is worth paying a higher fee as the savings you’re likely to enjoy are likely to be significant.
5 – Does your accountant work the way that suits you best?
This is really about flexibility – a good accountant will always provide services on your terms, not theirs. Is yours willing to visit your premises, or send someone round to collect your paperwork? Do they offer you cloud accounting software and, if so, how often do they monitor your accounts to spot potential savings or new tax strategies. Do they offer a Professional Fee Protection scheme to cover their costs if HMRC investigate your accounts – and are they willing to drop everything and get to work when the taxman does come knocking?
Also, what support do you get on an ongoing basis? Do they leave you alone for months on end, or will they call regularly to make sure they’re fully up to speed with your business? It’s remarkable how few accountants will do the latter, and it can make all the difference to the quality of service you receive.
When considering the vital question of how to choose an Accountant, these questions aren’t, of course, exhaustive but they will give you a real feel for the ability, expertise and enthusiasm of your accountancy firm. They are also crucial for assessing any new firm you consider – so when you finally feel ready to make the switch, you won’t be stepping into the unknown but instead will be choosing a firm of people who want your business to succeed, and will work as hard as possible to help make it happen.
About Jon Pryse-Jones
Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.
An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”
Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board. “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says. He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.