AccountantWe see posts all the time asking “How do I choose an accountant?” or even worse “My accountant is ripping me off, who can you recommend?”. I can’t stress enough that any service provider, whether it is an accountant or anyone else, needs to be offering you value.

What you need to firstly understand is that there are various types of accountants. If you are looking to get a tax return done, then simple – you MUST use a registered tax agent. If you are looking for budgeting or cash flow guidance, financial reporting help, software systems setup and support – then this can be done from a management accountant or financial accountant (as well as a tax agent). But find someone who specialises in this service.

No matter who you use and for what purpose, check that your accountant is registered with one of the major Australian professional bodies, this can include Institute of Chartered Accountants (CA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).

Accountants all have a degree qualification, most have further study, professional memberships (which can cost up to $3000 per year), insurance to cover their services, plus we are bound by mandatory annual training requirements of up to 40 hours training each and every year.

“So coming out and saying your accountant is ripping you off, without giving any justified reason, is down right offensive. Have you stopped to think about the skills, qualifications, experience and value that they are offering?”

Or are you making assumptions based on the “friends” you have asked on Facebook – who are giving you advice about what they pay – but you are not taking into account level of service, skills, business structure type, location, qualifications, errors, systems used and any ongoing advice provided?

So what should you look for when finding the right accountant? Here are my tips:

  1. Location is not the most important factor. In this day and age, accountants can and should be working with cloud software solutions. This enable them to help clients Australia wide. The options are endless – Skype, Teamviewer, Zoom, Go To Meeting, MYOB, Xero, Quickbooks Online, Dropbox, Google docs (just to name a few). If you think your accountant needs to be down the road from you – it is time to widen the net and think outside the box.
  2. Systems Systems Systems. If you use MYOB for your business, make sure your accountant can use it too. If they say they have heard of it, this is far different to them knowing how to actually use it and use it well. Same goes for any accounting system. The amount of tax agents who openly tell me they have no idea how to use Xero, yet they have clients using it blows my mind. Ask them how long they have used the software, what they love about it, how it can streamline the tax return process. You have every right to ask these questions, and if they don’t answer…run.
  3. What assistance do you actually need? You see, like mentioned above asking for “an accountant” is like asking how long is a piece of string. There are many types of accountants, and their price will vary depending on the skills and experience you need. However if you can nut out exactly what you need help with, you can ensure you get someone who is qualified and useful to your individual situation – to ensure you are not paying for skills you are not utilising.
  4. Value beats price. With any service provider, you need to be getting value. So the first focus should not be on price. Yes, you can get a tax return done for $79 (I know – EEEEK). But do you get them to deal with the ATO on your behalf, do they send reminders about BAS/GST/Tax instalments, do they give you advice about what you are entitled to claim or do they just process your tax based on what info you give them, are they concerned about your ongoing business operations, are they helping with payroll and superannuation? Most times (generalisation) the answer is no. You need to ensure you are getting value – ask what they can help with, get an engagement letter which spells it out, and follow them up on their services. Price should come secondary if the value you are getting is peace of mind, tax minimisation, business structure for long term success and no more hassle from the ATO.
  5. Personality matters. I know right – personality and accountant doesn’t normally go hand in hand. However, any good accountant should have a personal relationship with you as well as a business relationship. They should know about you, your business, your financial goals, your dreams, your staff, your good habits AND your bad habits. They should be part of your business journey. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your accountant those “dumb” questions, if you don’t feel comfortable telling them the bank balance looks grim, or that you want to hire/fire staff – then this is not the right accountant for you. They should be helping you, always, and you should not fear them.

“So choosing the right accountant is vital to ensure the financial sustainability of your business. But it also ensures you have a trusted advisor on hand to guide you in those areas that are complex. That is the value they are providing.”

So before you jump in bed with “Mr $79 tax return”, ask yourself what value are you getting from your accountant, and is it in line with your vision? Personally, for me the tax return is the final piece of the puzzle, and it is the guidance, tax planning and strategic advice ALL year round that is of ultimate value to me.