A small businesses guide on how to choose an accountant
Choosing your accountant is an important decision – when prices and quality of service vary so much. It’s also worrying how many business owners I speak to who quite simply have been given little or none of the right advice appropriate to them!
This guide aims to highlight the questions that I would want prospective clients to ask me:
Ask any accountant you meet with about:
- Their qualifications and double check these against the national registers (see below). No qualification? – doesn’t mean they are bad accountants – it simply means that there is no-one regulating the quality of how good they are and ultimately if there is a serious problem no-one to complain to (But ask for their HMRC Accountancy Service Provider registration details).
- Their past experience. If they have worked ‘in practice’ for a number of years then hopefully they are pretty up-to-date with current regulations, but if they have worked out-with the industry for any length of time they may not be up-to-speed – so you want to know what they have done to prepare them to give you advice.
- Their training (CPD or similar), all good accountants will spend time, money and energy on high quality training and development to ensure that they are up-to-date with all the latest techniques and tax rules. Ask about their training policy?
- The size and legal status of their clients. For example if you have a private limited company and the accountant deals mainly with sole-trader businesses they may not know some of the more technical disclosure points required under the Companies Act such as ‘transactions with directors’ disclosure.
- Their Professional Indemnity insurance – confirm they’ve displayed their certificate.
- Their ICO registration (Data Protection Act) because they will be holding very personal information about you, your business and your staff, and despite the fact they’re holding it, its your responsibility to ensure that it’s safeguarded.
- Fees. This is a tricky area as prices vary so much – if the price is unrealistically low – ask why? Compare it to your own charging rates.
- Paying upfront, by instalments or after the work is completed. I’m always cautious about any business that asks for fees to be paid in full and up front – simply because you do not know the quality!
- Annual meetings/regular reviews – this is where you need to ask if there are any additional savings you should be aware of. Looking forward rather than at the historic detail, doesn’t come easily to all accountants.
- Who you will be dealing with. If it’s not the partner – how will you know you’re being looked after? Its important that you ‘click’ with your accountant – as lets face it – you will probably tell him/her things you wouldn’t tell your own family!
National registers of qualified accountants:
CA = http://icas.org.uk/Find_a_CA.aspx,
ACA = http://www.icaew.com/en/about-icaew/find-a-chartered-accountant,
ACCA = https://www.acca-business.org/dom/