OK, we appreciate that when you’re starting up, selecting an accountant is not as exciting as some other decisions you’ll need to make, but it’s impossible to overstate how crucial the choice could be in helping determine the future success of your business.
Whether you prefer to engage the services of a basic, compliance only accountant, or one who can also help you with business advice, there are a number of points you should check to ensure you’ll be working with someone who will have your best interests at heart, and will be a good fit with you and your business.
Of course you’re free to change your accountant whenever you like, but ideally, you’ll want to make sure you get it right first time. To help any business owner searching for their ideal accounting partner, we’ve drawn up a checklist of things to keep in mind:
1) Do they have the right qualifications & belong to a professional association?
It shocks us how many people with no professional accountancy qualifications give the impression they’re qualified accountants. We’re currently helping a client extricate themselves from a serious payroll problem created by their previous ‘accountant’ – who they found out too late, was only a bookkeeper.
Also, we’re constantly surprised by the number of accountants – especially smaller independent practices – who do not belong to a professional trade association. We’re not suggesting that membership is any guarantee of standards, but these associations do regulate the work and conduct of their members, and provide a place to go for anyone having a grievance about the service they receive. Only recently, we were contacted by a business owner who through no fault of their own found themselves facing late filing fines. As their accountant did not belong to any association, they had no recourse to raise a complaint or perhaps recover these penalties.
Professional associations require their members to undertake Continuous Professional Development (CPD), so you can always be confident a member will be fully up to speed with latest legislation and good practice.
An individual must be a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEAW) to call themselves a Chartered Accountant, or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) – as we are at Inca – to call themselves a Chartered Certified Accountant.
2) Do they have capacity to cover holidays & illness?
Believe it or not, even accountants need holidays and sometimes get sick. Make sure the accountant you appoint has capacity to provide you with ongoing support in either of these eventualities. If they’re a one person practice, ask how you will get help and advice if you need it urgently while they’re away from the office for any reason.
A client of ours worked previously with a sole practitioner who sadly became ill, eventually passing away. The accountant’s illness meant important actions were not completed, late filing fines were incurred, and the client was left with incomplete information regarding their financial position.
An extreme example perhaps, but it illustrates how important it is to be certain your accountant has plans in place to guarantee continuity.
3) Do they offer clear & transparent pricing?
There’s no reason why your accountant’s bills should ever come as a surprise, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a clear price in advance of any work being undertaken. You should always request a fixed price quote, or at the very least a minimum / maximum range if there’s uncertainty regarding the volume of work involved.
Some accountants will bill you for ‘additional charges’ such as phone calls and emails, and these can soon mount up, so make sure you clarify if any such charges apply, what they are, and how you will be notified of them.
If you sign up to a payment plan, and exercise your right to leave before the full term, be aware that not all accountants will make adjustments to take account of work not completed.
At Inca we always provide fixed price quotes with no extra charges hidden in the small print, and help our clients spread their investment on a monthly basis. We raise an invoice when work is completed, making it easy for clients to check the services they’ve used. If a client on a payment plan decides to move on for any reason, we will reimburse them in full for any unused balance on their account.
4) Are they using up to date systems?
The government’s initiative to make tax digital and introduce real-time tax management will become reality soon, with implications for every business owner – as well as every individual who has to file a tax return. Check your prospective accountant is fully digital, or at the very least has plans in place to go digital in the very near future.
If you put your accounts in the hands of an accountant using outdated systems, you could find yourself having serious problems with HMRC.
5) Is your business a good fit with their portfolio?
Ask about the other clients they work with. At Inca, we specialise in supporting owners of micro and small service-oriented businesses, including brand new business start-ups. While some practices are generalists, many others, like us, will focus on key sectors, or particular types of business. It stands to reason that you will get better value from an accountant who works with other businesses similar to yours, because they’ll understand the nuances of the sector you operate in, will have experience of the challenges you face and the opportunities you seek.
6) What value will they add to your business?
Any accountant will provide compliance as standard, but what will really make the difference to your business is what value they are able to add over and above this.
Before making a decision, evaluate the potential of the relationship and ask yourself if it represents a good investment. In addition to compliance, Inca clients benefit from personalised family unit oriented tax advice, pre and post year-end conversations, unlimited email and telephone advice, networking invitations, referrals and regular workshops to help improve their business.
7) Ask for client testimonials
Any accountant worth their salt should be able to provide you with testimonials from happy clients, so ask to see them. Ask too if they participate in any award schemes as these can be indicators of the pride they take in their work.
8) Are they someone you like?
Relationships work best when the chemistry is right. Your accountant will be one of your closest advisors, so our final piece of advice is to make sure you choose someone you’re going to get on with. Ask yourself if they’re someone you’d enjoy socialising with over a coffee or a beer. If you can’t imagine it, perhaps you should look elsewhere for someone you find it easier to relate to.
Our checklist is not exhaustive, but it covers the key points you need to keep in mind, and will hopefully help you focus your search.
Could Inca be the Perfect Partner for You?
There are plenty of good accountants out there, and there will certainly be one that’s perfect for you. We’re incredibly proud of the fact that hundreds of small businesses in Oxfordshire and Berkshire have chosen Inca as their accounting partner, and we’d love the opportunity to tell you how we can help you to succeed and thrive. Did you realise that our year on year client retention rate is over 96%?
Call us now on 01235 868888 for a chat. Let’s arrange to have a coffee and see how we get on!