How To Choose A Good Accountant: Personally + For Your Business

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How To Choose A Good Accountant: Personally + For Your Business

Written by: Krystine Canny-Smith l Accounting Team

 

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to look for in an accountant.

Like any other professional, there are some things that are non-negotiable expectations and others that make the accountant a good fit for you and your circumstances.

Non-Negotiable Expectations Of A Good Accountant:

Ethics

As one of the industries that has been allowed, for the most part, to govern itself, accountants are expected to always behave ethically.  What this means for you is that you can expect:

  • Act in your best interests: your accountant to act in your best interest.  I know that sounds simple, but it means they shouldn’t receive any benefits from completing your work that you haven’t been made aware of.  This includes commissions for recommending products or services.
  • Not use the knowledge they obtain from completing your work to benefit themselves or other clients: Your accountant should not do this.  Again, this is very simple, but there have been cases recently of accountants using knowledge gained while providing work, for the benefit of other clients.  The aim in these instances is for the accountant to benefit by increasing fees and taking advantage of inside knowledge.  Most recently PwC has allegedly used confidential information, gained from one client, to market its services to other clients whose interests are directly opposite to those of the original client.  If you operate a business, you should be looking for an accountant who you feel confident will not disclose anything they learn about your business., including your strategies, trading, and IP, without your explicit permission.
  • Fee disclosure: your accountant should disclose their fees in advance as much as possible, or at the least be able to provide an estimated range of fees.  This is now very common, and I don’t believe any accountant will be offended if you request a fee estimate or agreement in advance, in fact we usually like it, as then we are all on the same page and know what to expect on completion of the job.

Competence

There is also a certain level of competence you can expect.

Bear in mind that accountants are like everyone else and can’t be across all areas of tax and business.  The main thing to look for is an accountant who knows what they can do well, what they can’t do, and can recommend someone to you who is able to do the things they can’t.  In some ways you can think of your accountant like your GP.  They should be able to get a good picture of you and your circumstances, let you know where they can help, and then get someone else (either inside or outside their organisation) to refer you to where you need specialists.

Thinking about starting a business and not sure where to start?  Check out this previous blog we put together to help you with some handy tips: Steps To Start A New Business

Open To Feedback + Questions

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t go home and realise there are questions you forgot to ask and things you didn’t understand.

It’s also normal to want a second opinion.  You should be able to tell your accountant that you have misgivings or need to think about things.  You should be able to take time to make decisions and get second opinions.  Like other professionals, accountants may well have different preferences for how they handle things, some may make different recommendations, but a good accountant will want you to make an informed decision and will encourage questions.

Other things to consider, which will vary depending on your circumstances are:

Network + Availability Of Expertise

One of the appealing aspects of very large accounting firms is that they can handle international accounting, manage very large business clients and complete projects that require very specific and detailed knowledge.

If you are a large business and operate around Australia or internationally then the size of your accounting firm is very important.  If that’s not your situation, then it may be that you just need confidence that your accountant is the right size for your business and can either provide all the services you need or refer you to others where necessary.

It’s important to drill a bit deeper into this aspect so here are some examples:

  • Business Essentials: your accountant needs to be able to help to cover the myriad of essentials for your business.  Although you may not have thought of these (that’s okay it’s not your job to think of them) your accountant should.  Some things that you can expect your accountant to help you with include registering items on the PPSR (Personal Property Securities Register) where necessary, providing employment contracts, terms and conditions, privacy statements and all other essential business documents.
  • Financial services and super funds: there have been significant changes within the financial services industry in the last ten years that have convinced many accountants to stop providing it. It has left us in the position where we need to be very careful not to provide anything that may constitute financial advice unless we have the relevant qualifications and registrations.  It has also become quite expensive to provide.  Many accountants will refer that out, with it generally working well, however the benefits of having it provided by the same team who provides your accounting services are significant.  For example, your accountant may work with your financial adviser to ensure there are no gaps in your financial plan and goals.  This can include maximising opportunities for superannuation, self-managed super funds and Special Disability Trusts, among other things.
  • Wills and Estates: for many years we referred out work on wills and estates.  This generally worked well, however was often frustrating as we found ourselves playing phone tag with legal professionals. No doubt they found it equally frustrating trying to understand our explanations around our clients’ business structures and tax circumstances.  In the end, we decided we needed to provide this in-house.  It has taken years to finesse this but the ability to view the client’s situation from every angle has huge benefits to the client.  it can be overlooked, but if you don’t already have a legal professional working with you, check with your accountant who work well with you and meet that person to see how you can all work together to succeed.
  • Finance Broking: generally, a finance broker will provide excellent services in this area and having an accountant with a strong relationship to at least one, if not several, brokers is all that is needed if they don’t provide broking in-house.
  • Once-off advice: if you aren’t with a large national accounting firm, then there will be instances where your accountant needs to get expert advice externally.  This is okay as they can’t be everything to everyone.  The main thing is that they refer to professionals who cover off on the non-negotiable expectations above and are always open in their dealings.

Empathy + Understanding

You may well find accountants and business advisers who fit the above, but if you don’t connect with them, it may not work.  Don’t forget these soft skills in the adviser you are looking for.  If you want to build a long-term relationship with mutual respect and trust it’s important to meet with your potential accountant and make sure they are the type of person, at the type of firm, that YOU like working with!

“Clients don’t come to us because they love us, they come to us because we love them” – Stan Canny

The final item, but potentially the most important is being loved.

Your Professional Advisers Need To Love You – Trust The Accountants Geelong Trust

At first look, this appears to be a strange sentiment.  I grew up listening to my father repeat this to me until I understood what it really meant.

It is easy to find advisers who care about you when things are going well.  When you can pay their bills on time, your business is easy to manage and all they need to do is meet with you once a year to tell you how well you are going, every adviser wants to be your friend.  What is difficult to find is an adviser who will understand what you are going through when you can’t pay the bills on time, when you need payment plans with the Australian Tax Office, or when you need help to organise payment plans with your creditors.

Businesses often go through hard times – only a naive person would believe that every good business makes a profit every single year.  What you need to make sure you have is an accountant (and a lawyer, financial planner and other professionals) who is happy to get down in the trenches with you and help you to ride out the tough times.  This is what will really set them apart from the crowd!

Canny Group clients will know that the best part of being one of our clients is our passion and compassion to help you and your business to succeed!

Get in touch with us to discuss how Canny Accounting can offer the most experienced and personable advice to help with any of your business structure needs.

Canny Group Director, Krystine Canny-Smith standing in the center of the picture wearing a black dress.

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