How to Choose Your Accountant

A few minutes with Google with show there are numerous accountants to choose from with, apparently, very little difference between them. A few checks before making your choice can save time, money and inconvenience. Factors to consider include:

Cost +

You should obtain at least three written quotations. These must be a considered response after discussing your requirement, quiet possibly by phone, and not a list price from a table of charges. If the accountant cannot be bothered to spend a few minutes discussing your needs before you sign up, it takes little imagination to understand what their attitude will be to you if you were to become their client.

Consider also the method of payment required by the accountant. There is an increasing trend towards monthly payment by direct debit. Ostensibly, this is to make payment easier for you by spreading cost over the year. The reality is that you are paying in advance; this helps the accountant’s cash flow at the expense of yours; this is not a sign they have your interests at heart.

Qualification +

You would expect professionals to be properly qualified. Doctors, dentists, solicitors, electricians, driving instructors and so on are. Amazingly, in the UK accountants may not be; anyone can set themselves up as an accountant. Indeed, it is not unusual for trainees who failed to complete their qualification to set up independent practices as no one else would employ them.

A proper qualification is far more than evidence that the accountant passed exams as some stage in their past. It shows the accountant has kept their knowledge up to date. They will have demonstrated the highest professional standards. They must comply with best practices and professional standards. If something does go wrong, there will be a complaints procedure.

Above all, a qualified accountant may well be no more expense than an unqualified accountant.

HM Revenue and Customs require the taxpayer to take due care in preparing their accounts and tax returns. Engaging a properly qualified accountant will normally meet this requirement. With an unqualified accountant there is no such assurance.

In conclusion: make sure your accountant is qualified and has a current practicing certificate.

Location +

A local practice does undoubtedly give a more personal touch. For regular hand over of a large volume of documents, such as receipts used to prepare a quarterly VAT return, it would be more convenient.

However, some businesses may find all communications can be fulfilled electronically or with occasional use of the post. In this case, location may be of little significance.

Size of Practice & Range of Services +

As with most businesses, accounting practices range from one person operations to multi nationals. Larger practices will provide a greater range of services but will be less personal (or totally impersonal) and may be more expensive. A small practice may provide a limited range of services but will be sufficient for most small businesses turning over up to around £1m per year.

A general guide is to use a practice of similar size to your business. As your business grows, your requirements will change and you may need to find a new accountant. This is not difficult and your existing accountant will assist with this (if they are properly qualified, yet another reason for avoiding unqualified accountants).

Recommendation +

A personal recommendation from someone you trust does give tremendous peace of mind. Do not be tempted to rely solely on such a recommendation; consider the other factors listed here. You may find, too late, that the recommendation was based on experiences that do not match your needs.

Negative feedback is always a bad sign; you should definitely look elsewhere.

Website +

The website should not be a significant fact in you final choice. By all means use it to filter your initial search but remember a website is a marketing tool. Impressive looks may be due to a professional website developer but it gives little indication of the quality and suitability of the practice.