Posted: Tue 17th Dec 2019
Your accountant has a wealth of expertise acquired over a number of years. A chartered accountant will have three years' post graduate training and experience. If it is their own business they will have at least two years experience since gaining that qualification. This means that they have around 10,000 hours of expertise. Minimum. Yet many people still try to do their own accounts with little idea of tax law, which changes every year.
Numerous surveys show that accountants are the most trusted adviser for businesses. Yes, there are some bad apples but here are some ways to avoid them.
Della Hudson FCA, Enterprise Nation member, business coach, speaker and author, shares advice on how to select an accountant for your business. Find out more about how Della can support your business and book a free taster session on her Enterprise Nation profile page.
What to look for in an accounting firm
It is important that you find an accountant who is not just technically competent but somebody that you can get along with. Having a good personal relationship and open communications will enable you to get the best out of your money.
In all but the smallest accounting practices, after the initial meeting, you may not deal with the owner themselves but they will be overseeing all the work. Richard Branson does not install every Virgin Media line. Make sure that you are happy with your regular contact person as well as the accountant you first spoke to.
Ask for recommendations from business that you aspire to be like. Smaller businesses may be happy to refer you to their mate but, if you are scaling up, you may need a different sort of accountant from those who deal with smaller start ups. There will be different tax issues to consider as well as different business problems for which you may seek advice.
Beware of tax schemes which sound too good to be true. You may have heard of numerous cases, including some quite high profile ones, where people have been caught out by these schemes. Always ask your accountant for the risks as well as the benefits, so that you understand what you are signing up to.
No matter who you engage as your accountant, the ultimately responsibility for your accounts and tax returns lies with the directors. Ask any questions that you need to to satisfy yourself before you sign them off.
If you're not ready for a chartered accountant then some bookkeepers and accounting technicians can produce year end accounts and tax returns for simple businesses. This is probably enough for a start-up but, as you start to grow, your business will become more complex and you may need to move to a chartered accountant at this stage.
Needless to say, I have numerous tales of the relief clients have felt at being able to hand over a task which they hate to a competent but friendly individual who loves nothing more than creating order out of the chaos.
The role of different qualifications
The title 'accountant' can be used by anybody and is not protected in law. Select a chartered or certified accountant who has the letters ACA, FCA, ACCA or FCCA after their name. This means that they have reached a minimum technical standard and Fellows have 10 years post-qualification experience (and probably the grey hairs to go with it).
They may have trained in an accountancy business or as an accountant within a number of businesses. This will give them a slightly different set of skills.
ACMA and FCMA
ACMA and FCMA are chartered management accountants who usually have more expertise in the numbers to help grow your business but less training on the tax side.
Ask about their background and experience to decide if this would be more suitable for you. Alternatively, you might choose separate accountants to work with you on the tax side and the management reporting.
Chartered tax advisor
A chartered tax advisor (CTA) is the recognised experts in this field. Some work directly with the public but most provide a source of expertise for accountants. Larger accountancy firms will employ their own tax experts for advice and planning on tricky areas.
Chartered accountants are regulated by their professional bodies, sign up to a code of ethics, have to stay technically up to date and will have
professional indemnity insurance in the event that something does go wrong.
Qualified by experience or ex HMRC
While some of these can provide an excellent service it can be more hit and miss than with a qualified accountant who is a member of a professional association.
Finding a bookkeeper for your small business
Some accountants employ bookkeepers which means that everything is under one roof and, hopefully, the accountant and bookkeeper are talking to each other regularly. Even if they don't employ them directly most accountants know the better bookkeepers around.
There are a number of recognised qualifications for bookkeepers:
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) train accounting technicians who can do more that just the bookkeeping with some tax and accounts training. There are four levels to achieve the full qualification so do ask.
Institute of Certified Bookkeeper (ICB) members study purely bookkeeping and are required to have less experience than AAT. Their expertise is in bookkeeping but don't expect any of the extras.
Like the professional accountancy bodies, AAT and ICB members sign up to a code of ethics, have to stay technically up to date and will have professional indemnity insurance in the event that something does go wrong.
A good bookkeeper is worth their weight in gold!
Accountants can signpost you to other sources of advice
Many accountants advertise themselves as business advisers but there is no clear definition of this term. Often their skills are in tax advice and access to finance. Others can offer a broader range of advice to actively help you to grow your business. Again, be clear on what you need and what the accountant is offering.
Your accountant should become your most trusted adviser and they can also signpost you to other experts when you need help in other areas. Choose wisely and make sure that you are comfortable with the relationship as your business grows.
This article's an extract from Della Hudson's book Growing by Numbers: How to scale up your small business.