Many people think of accountants only at income tax time when they need someone to fill out their tax forms, prepare their financial statements or to summarize their books and records for the year. However, if you consider your accountant to be more than a tax preparer, you open the door to a wide range of financial expertise and knowledge which is only limited by the experiences of the accountant.
A good accountant should have the skills necessary to provide you and your business with solutions to your problems. In particular, your accountant should be able to assist with the review of your business plan, prepare forecasts, establish bookkeeping systems and procedures, and prepare financial statements and tax returns. Further specialized work such as investment counselling and computer consultations are being handled by more and more accountants. You should consider the search for your new advisor a matching process whereby you choose your accountant based on your specific needs and how those needs match the skill set of your potential advisor.
Even after you have decided that a certain accountant is right for you, perceived high fees, or a confusion over what to expect from the accountant, may stop you from opening the door to a world of excellent financial advice. By following the tips outlined below, your task of finding a new accountant should be a lot easier.
After you have made a list of your needs, ask your friends, business associates, your lawyer or your banker who they use and what their experiences are. This type of information is invaluable in gaining insight as to what the potential accountant is like, his/her work habits, and their disposition. Or check with the provincial association with which the accountant is a member for further information on the accountant's background. Then, make some apppointments and visit their offices. Inquire of each accountant about their expertise and ask for a copy of their profile or brochure. You should be noting how the prospective accountant's skill-set matches your needs.
As far as fees are concerned, most accountants will charge by the hour, and the total fees may vary with the level of responsibility involved and degree of skill required. At the very least, you should expect the accountant to review prior year's financial information, inquire about your financial past, and if you are a small business owner, to visit your place of business, before any fees can be estimated. Expect the accountant to discuss fees openly and honestly as this will avoid possible future conflicts. Beware of the low-cost accountant! There is always someone who will perform a job for less than someone else. If you let fees play too large a role in your decision, you may end up with sub-standard work and service.
Look for genuine interest by the accountant in your affairs. If they don't demonstrate this, then maybe he or she is not the right accountant for you.
In the age of information, you should have confidence that your financial advisor can provide you with fast, accurate information. The use of computers in the 1990's is essential to being able to provide this information. At a minimum, your advisor should be on the same technological level as you are.
Is your accountant willing to meet with you after hours? Long gone is the nine to five work day. Within reason, your advisor should be flexible enough to meet your needs. If you can't always meet, are you able to call your accountant anytime, again within reason, without the fear of additional billings? Remember, you are the client and are just as important to the accountant's success as he or she is to yours.
Don't overlook your level of comfort. You should be able to talk easily and openly with your advisor.
Finally, try to assess the resources of the accounting firm. Will they be able to assist you in future growth plans. Perhaps you wish to expand to another province or country, or you want to implement other plans for growth. Will they have the expertise and knowledge to remain as your accountant?
In all dealings with your accountant, there should be an open and honest flow of information and ideas. You should be prepared to provide and disclose all information related to your financial affairs. By doing this, you can be confident that your advisor will always be able to recommend the appropriate course of action. In addition, by providing sound, detailed information, you will reduce the amount of time that the accountant needs to spend reviewing your affairs. Simply remember that, while accountants can help you manage your affairs, expect him or her to draw the line at any behaviour that is unethical, illegal or suspect.
Treat the process of choosing an accountant as a investment....an investment in your future. Chosen carefully, the return on your investment should be healthy.
Copyright © Ormsby & Mackan, Chartered Accountants
Please read our disclaimer