Date posted: 23rd Dec 2020
Thinking of changing your accountant? It’s a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Lee Watson, Tax Director, talks through some of the aspects you should consider if you want to avoid the pitfalls and pick an accountant that’s right for you.
Facebook is a great application – it connects us, which is something that was desperately needed in 2020! It also gives useful reminders when you’ve been searching for your wife’s Christmas presents on Google and then totally forgotten about them….
It also has local noticeboard where users can post requests such as “where is our local tip?” and “what time does Morrisons close on Christmas Eve?”
There are also requests for recommendations for reputable, skilled trades people. Oddly however, I have also seen requests for recommendations for accountancy and tax advice.
Of course, recommendations are a valuable source of new work for accountants and other professionals such as solicitors and financial advisers. However, is simply being recommended enough? How else might you find a great accountant?
Every business is different in size and scope and in terms of its goals and objectives. No two businesses will be the same structure or have the same ethos and culture.
So, if you are making one of the most important decisions regarding the future of your business in terms of choosing an accountant, what should you do?
Here are the steps that I suggest you follow when reviewing potential prospects to ensure your choice has a positive outcome:
- How good is their website?
A good website should clearly state the services provided and have a “meet the team’’ page so you get some background on the people behind the firm.
It should also provide news articles on the latest updates impacting financial and tax matters.
Check for areas of expertise that meet your needs and look for reviews from existing clients on service levels provided.
Overall, it should give you some insight into the culture and ethos of the firm and you can then establish if this is a fit for you.
- Check professional memberships
The three biggest institutions for accountancy firms regulated in the provision of advice to private companies and individuals are:
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
- The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT).
- The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
You need to consider this because, remarkably, there is nothing in law to stop almost anyone calling themselves an “accountant” or “tax adviser”.
You could end up choosing an “accountant” who does not have any professional qualifications. Unfortunately, we have seen many instances of people ending up with huge tax bills because of poor advice from unqualified accountants. It is more common than you might imagine.
This may come down to an issue of cost. Don’t mistake cost for value and remember that good advice is invaluable. It could make the difference between the success and failure of your business.
- Review the services they offer.
Do they offer services that are simply routine in nature, such as the annual compliance of filing accounts and tax returns or do they offer services that will help grow your business or save you money?
A good accountant should help you achieve your business and financial goals.
Compliance and basic accounting are a given and you should expect these as a minimum, but as an example, we also offer the following;
- Corporate finance – assisting with finance raising for growth as well as selling and buying businesses.
- Grant applications – assisting with raising funds from various grant schemes.
- Tax advice and planning for individuals, corporates, and trusts.
- Cloud accounting software and integrated accounting system solutions. Some of these can be bespoke but we can also advise on apps which may increase your productivity and reduce costs.
- Do they offer a free initial consultation?
Most good accountants will offer a free initial meeting – however you should check.
Our introductory meetings previously took place in person at one of our offices. Sadly, the COVID-19 restrictions mean that this is rare, but not out of the question. Most accountants should have adapted to using technologies such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom for virtual meetings in the meantime.
You should really “interview” the prospective accountant and ask about the background of the firm, their additional services and the people you will be dealing with. Ask probing questions such as how they have helped current clients save time and money.
It is important at the meeting to establish exactly who your contact would be as it is important to develop a personal connection based on mutual knowledge and trust. If you don’t have a regular contact, you are unlikely to get the best value from the relationship.
- Confirm fees.
Last but not least, ask them about fees.
Do they charge by the hour? Do they offer a fixed fee quote? Do they charge for additional calls and meetings throughout the year?
It is important that the position is quantified up front so that there can be no nasty surprises further down the line.
This will help you establish the true costs for the work rather than just initial fees. It is always best to scope the total costs, particularly when you are starting a business. This is a crucial opportunity to ensure that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot later and a good
accountant should be proactive enough to save you time and money in the longer term by offering good practical advice on tax savings and business growth.
Finally, you may already have an accountant and be looking to change to new advisers. This could be due to outgrowing your current firm, increased fees, or poor service levels.
Changing accountants sounds like a frightening prospect but in fact, it should be relatively straightforward. All you need to do is advise your old accountants that you are leaving and for them to expect a “clearance letter” from your new accountants.
The new accountants will write to the old accountants and ask for the appropriate information required to engage you and your business as a client. This is usually a very straightforward process and requires little input from you.
It could be New Year, new accountant! If it is, I hope you found these steps useful and that you get the best accountant to take you on your business journey to success.