5 Questions for your prospective accountant

I recently had the pleasure of writing for a guest blog spot on Wendy Tomlinson’s Morning Business Chat Blog page, the topic was ‘5 Questions to ask when choosing and accountant’. I know how daunting making that first visit to an accountant can be, perhaps these questions can help you to relax a bit and feel a bit forearmed in that initial meeting; so I decided to share the information here on my own blog as well.

If you are wondering:

  1. Where do I begin with the bookkeeping and accounting that needs to be done?
  2. Do I have the time?
  3. Do I have sufficient knowledge to deal with the ins and outs of Companies House and HMRC?

If you answer no to any of these, then the time is right for you to hire an accountant to help you through what can sometimes be considered murky waters and an ever changing tide of rules and regulations.

Who do you appoint, how do you choose, there is so many and all those letters and qualifications, what do they really mean? Well, here are my ‘Top 5 Questions to ask’ and why you need to ask them:

So here they are in a graphic:

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1. Are you regulated by an accountancy body?

Unlike in other professions, the anyone can call themselves an accountant, they don’t need to have any qualifications or have undertaken any formal training. Although many in the profession want to see this changed, as yet there is still no regulation on the word accountant. This of course makes finding a truly qualified and appropriate accountant a little more difficult to the uninitiated.

As a qualified accountant, the member is required to take part in continuing professional development courses to stay on top of the changes and regulations in the world of tax and accounts. This ensures that you are given the most up to date and best advice possible.

A qualified accountant will be regulated by a professional body such as the ACA, ACCA, IFA, & CIMA, there are others but these are some of the main ones. If a qualified professional is practicing as an accountant to the public then each practice will have a practicing certificate. Don’t be afraid to ask about qualifications and practicing certificates.

Alternatively, you can search the professional body’s database of professionals to confirm qualifications etc. ACCA, ACA, IFA, CIMA

2. Can you provide references from existing clients?

Many people choose their accountant based upon recommendation from someone they know, therefore references are really important. Don’t be afraid to ask for them. You may simply decide to check out their testimonials on the website or social media sites or you may decide you want to speak to a client directly.

3. Who will be my point of contact?

This will of course depend upon they type of practice you are dealing with; with a small sole trader you will be looked after directly by the owner of the business as there this no one else. Any larger practice and you will may be allocated a client manager.

A client manager will be your day to day point of contact, they may or may not be qualified and may or may not be experienced in your particular business sector. There may also be subordinates allocated to physically carry out the majority of the work such as bookkeeping etc.

Make sure you find out who will be dealing with your account, it is important that you are able to effectively communicate with them.

4. What experience to you have working with business in my industry?

We all know that experience counts for a lot. Each type of business has its own issues when it comes to accounting, treatment of income, when to recognise it and understanding how the business itself works, the flow of information and the significance of the processes.

There may be particular tax allowable items or ways of accounting for income or expenditure that is unique to your industry, in which case experience of dealing with your industry could be key to ensuring you represent the accounts correctly and pay the correct tax to HMRC.

5. What services do you offer and what are your fees?

To many, this will be the most important question.

Although most accountancy practices offer very similar services it is still worthwhile to check that they offer all of the services you require now and those that you think you may require in the future. This could be anything from simply preparing year end accounts and tax returns to bookkeeping, management accounts, forecasting or budgets, payroll services, CIS returns and VAT returns (to name but a few).

How will you be invoiced for the services? You may be expected to pay at the time of the service being performed either on a fixed rate or an hourly rate. Are you happy with this type of agreement, you may end up with a surprisingly high bill if you agree to an hourly rate rather than a fixed fee. Can you afford to pay your fees in a lump sum at the end of the year?

Many accountants now offer a fixed price agreement whereby fees are agreed in advance with the cost spread over a 12-month period of time thereby spreading the impact of the fees over the year, making it easier for you to budget for your accountancy costs. These agreements are often expected to be paid either by standing order or direct debit each month. Be aware however of the cost of ad hoc questions that you may ask your accountant, are there any of these included with the fixed fee or will you be billed on a time basis (anything from 6 minute chunks of time up to 15 minute chunks normally).

So, here is my parting shot….

Above all and probably most importantly, make sure that the person or firm you choose is someone that you can work with and have a good working relationship. There is an accountant out there for you, it just may take some time to find the right one.

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