Greg Atkinson, a professional accountant with Atkinsons Chartered Accountants in Brighton, discusses below some of the crucial questions to consider when bringing a new accountant onboard with your business.
Underpinned by values of trust, integrity and professionalism, Atkinsons Chartered Accountants is a family business established in 1962 that offers a wide range of accounting services to freelancers and larger organisations alike.
Online tools can be an invaluable asset when it comes to managing various aspects of your business, such as invoicing. But tools are typically made for fairly narrow functions, and while the day may well come when virtual accountants equipped with artificial intelligence make the accounting trade obsolete, that day is not yet here. Given the wide range of accounting concerns and possible pitfalls that face the average freelancer, it is fair to say, then, that relying too heavily on such tools could be asking for trouble.
Why Hire a Chartered Accountant?
An experienced chartered accountant can spot things in the numbers that in their own might not be problematic, but which could suggest deeper issues with potentially far-reaching implications for your business. They can also advise on areas where you could in fact save money on your tax return (do you know whether your business is a good fit for the flat-rate scheme, for example?).
With that being said, finding the right accountant is not as simple as Googling ‘accountants’ and picking one with a name you like. You’ll want to bring them in for a chat and ask them the right questions before deciding if they’re the right fit for your business. Below is a possible list of such questions, the answers to which should equip you well for making the most informed choice when choosing who to partner with.
1) Why Should I Hire Your Accounting Firm? You’ll likely get the standard marketing pitch in response to this question, but that’s better than awkward silence. It would be best if your prospective partner could make reference to some relevant points regarding your type of business, but the most important thing is whether or not they seem interested in providing a meaningful answer.
2) Who Will Be Servicing My Account and Will That Change? It is crucial for any accountancy practice to build a relationship of trust with its clients. If you hire a firm that rotates accountants between clients or simply assigns whomever is free to your account for the day, week or month, building such trust will be difficult if not impossible. Consistency is key.
3) Am I Paying too Much in Taxes? If you’ve been handling the books yourself, you’re undoubtedly paying too much in taxes. A good CA should be able to pick up on the how’s and why’s of this in short order. At my accountancy practice, for example, we conduct regular reviews of our clients’ to ensure they’re on sound footing, while continuously look for all legal means to minimize their tax burden.
4) How Long Have You Been in Business? With the financial well-being of your company on the line, you’ll want a person or firm with a lot of experience – not someone who just hung out their shingle a few months prior to meeting you. While longevity does not always count for much in many industries, the frequently labyrinthine practices of HMRC make it a tremendous asset for accountants.
5) How Much Time Do You Spend Updating Your Knowledge? The rules and regulations surrounding tax for business owners are constantly changing (this year, for example, has seen drastic changes to the rules regarding dividends). It’s therefore essential that your prospective accountant keeps fully up-to-date and that his or her staff undergo continuous training to keep on top of everything.
6) Can You Provide References? This should probably be at the top of the list, because if the prospective accountant cannot or will not provide quality references, that should be the end of the discussion and you should move on to the next candidate. Ideally, at least some of the referral companies should be in your business sector.
7) Will You Critique My Accounting System? An accountant with experience in your industry will have inside knowledge regarding financial reporting and recording and knowing what practices work best and which should be abandoned. Ask them if they’ll take a look at your current accounting system and provide you with useful feedback.
8) What is Your Company’s Attitude Toward Technology? While you don’t want an accountant who is just going to use one of the aforementioned online accounting programs, you probably don’t want someone who is a technophobe either. Cloud accounting software is helping to dramatically streamline the accounting process and that’s important; especially if the accountant is charging by the hour.
9) How Will Your Firm Help My Company’s Bottom Line? No sense beating around the bush. Quiz the prospective accountant about what they discovered when they reviewed your financial information prior to the interview and what they would/could do differently to save you money.
10) How Long Does it Typically Take for You to Return a Phone Call? Accountants are not renowned for getting back to clients quickly, so you’ll need some idea of how they view the responsibility of returning phone calls. By broaching the subject, they’ll know it’s important to you.
11) How Do You Calculate Fees? Some accountants charge for every minute they’re on the phone, while others might bill based on the value they are offering. The firm you decide to hire should show that they appreciate the importance of transparency when it comes to fee calculation and will be happy to discuss the issue with you.
12) Will Working with our Company Generate Any Conflicts of Interest? You’ll want to hire an accountant that has experience in your field. At the same time, however, you may not want to hire the same firm your main competition uses.
13) Are You Available Year-Round? Some accountants only work during tax season. Others are available year round. If you want, need or expect year-round access to your accountant, you need to find out up front if it’s possible.
14) Do You Have Any Special Meeting Requirements? Different accountants have different preferences when it comes to conducting client meetings. Some prefer face-to-face contact, while others prefer holding virtual meetings, or some combination of the two.
15) What Kind of Clients Do You Work with? Many accountancy practices have little or no experience working with freelancers or microbusiness owners, focusing mainly on SMEs or larger organisations. You need an accountant who has worked not only with clients of your size, but ideally within your industry, to ensure they know all of the ins and outs that may apply.
As a chartered accountant myself, it brings me confidence when potential clients ask the right questions. It shows that they have done their due diligence and is a sign of a good potential working relationship. The above is not an exclusive list, however, and you should also formulate questions that focus specifically on your organisation’s requirements.
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