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What to Consider

What You Should Expect From an Accountant

Accountancy is more than just numbers and calculators. It is a service that, when provided by a qualified, experienced, professional team, can generate value for your business or personal wealth.

Choosing the accountant who can deliver this is the tricky part.

Working closely with our clients, and drawing on our many years of experience within a number of industries, we have compiled the checklist below to assist you in making this important choice. Whether you already have an accountant, or are currently looking for one, we believe that you will find it a helpful tool.

One thing to remember is that this is a personal choice. You must feel comfortable with the person you engage because they will probably end up knowing quite a lot about you and your business. Never feel that you cannot simply have a meeting in order to see if you like the person and feel confident about them.

Technical Expertise

An accountant may offer a range of services, from bookkeeping and tax planning, to specialist services such as business sale and fund raising. First and foremost, it is the basic technical expertise that is important. This is represented by professional qualifications, kept up to date by membership of a professional body, which illustrate an accountant’s technical ability.

The three main qualifications and their associated professional bodies are:

  • Chartered Certified Accountants, who have the letters ACCA or FCCA after their names to denote membership of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
  • Chartered Accountants, who have the letters ACA or FCA after their names to denote membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants
  • Chartered Management Accountants, who have the letters ACMA or FCMA after their names to denote membership of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

These signify that the individual has completed a prolonged period of study and passed examinations in order to gain the respective qualifications. Those designated with the letter F, which stands for Fellow, have had a longer period of post-qualification experience.
 
Nowadays, all accountants who are members of these three professional bodies are obliged to undertake a prescribed number of hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE), sometimes know as Continuing Professional Development (CPD), each year. This ensures that their technical ability is kept up to date with current developments.

In order to be a Principle in a Public Practice, a member of these professional bodies must hold a practicing certificate, which brings with it a number of compulsory duties that are regulated by the Institute to which the Principle belongs.

There are several compulsory duties that are common to all of these professional bodies. One of these is that a firm, be it a sole practitioner, a multi-partner firm or a member practicing via a limited company, must hold adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance and must conduct its behaviour in relation to its clients with sufficient Duty of Care and professionalism. This is of considerable benefit to clients, as Professional Indemnity Insurance protects against any loss resulting from a professional advisor's error.

Non-qualified practitioners can still call themselves accountants, even though they may not hold a recognised qualification. They are not under any compulsion to maintain standards or keep up to date. Furthermore, they may not hold Professional Indemnity Insurance.

Experience

While professional qualifications are a valuable indicator of technical excellence, experience in the field is vital. There are quite a lot of accountants who do nothing more for their clients than prepare accounts, prepare tax returns and deal with tax compliance. If you require a more personal service, you need to understand the range of services that a practice can provide.

Larger firms may be more expensive and may concentrate their energies on dealing with larger clients. This can mean that small or medium-sized clients may not always receive the personal attention that they would like.

Large firms do offer some very specialised services, with individuals who only work on one very specific area of, say, tax. There are occasions when this may be useful, although the fee rate for such specialisms is high.

General practitioners vary from those working within a narrow scope, to those who have a wider understanding of the business issues that affect the entrepreneur.

You need to assess your requirements, try to match them with what a practice has to offer and then take a view on whether you are confident that your expectations can be met.

Commercial Experience

There are few practitioners who have worked outside public practice. To balance this, accountants do see a lot of different businesses. You need to consider the following questions:

  • What is the prospective accountant’s area of interest?
  • Do they have an insight into your industry?
  • Do they understand the realities of running a business?

Accuracy, Efficiency, Timeliness

You can expect accuracy and technical competence from a qualified accountant. You do, however, need to assess whether they will answer your calls promptly and whether they can meet your deadlines. There is little advantage in learning that you owe the taxman £60,000 only one day before it is due for payment; far better to have this information 6 months in advance so that you can plan for the payment.

Proactivity

A business often needs an accountant who will do more than just look at the numbers. You need to consider the following questions:

  • Will your accountant think about your business?
  • Are they interested in your success?
  • Do they actually ask how your profitability is?
  • Do they suggest anything to you?
  • Do they respond positively when you ask a question?

Clarity

Good communication is vital. You need to consider the following questions:

  • How good is your accountant at explaining things to you?
  • Are you expected to remember things following a meeting?
  • Are meetings followed up or accompanied by a letter of advice that you can review at your leisure?

Personality

It is best if you feel comfortable and confident about the individual with whom you are dealing.

You also need to ascertain whether, in the absence of your usual accountant, the firm will allow another partner or staff member to deal with your queries. Some practices allocate each client to a specific partner. If this is the case, and your allocated partner is unavailable, it may not be possible for another partner or staff member to deal with your affairs.
 
Added Value

Your accountant should be able to add value to your business operation, over and above preparing your accounts and tax.

Meeting your expectations

Define what you expect and communicate this to your prospective advisor to see if your requirements can be met. To enable your accountant to meet your expectations, you should avoid unrealistic deadlines and provide your information sufficiently in advance.