You should also expect that they’ll be a trusted partner of you and your business - providing solutions to problems when they arise. You’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to the accounting firm you pick. So what sort of criteria would be non-negotiable in your selection process? As experienced accountants and business advisors for more than a decade, we’ve seen our fair share of businesses who’ve come from accountants that may have met some basic needs, but not positioned themselves as that trusted partner.
In this article, we’re going to discuss some shortlist criteria for any business currently shopping around for a new accountant. What are your non-negotiables?
A clear quote
Accountants may not be able to give you immediate pricing because each business’ needs are specific to them. Before the accountant can give you a price and confirm this, they’ll want to ask you about the business and your requirements from them. But once you’ve given them the required information, you should expect a clear quote. This should outline the amount you’ll pay for specific deliverables, or the monthly fee (which typically is used to split up the costs of activity evenly across the year, along with any recurring consulting/support). It should include GST, payment terms and any exclusions.
As a business watching every last dollar, it's only reasonable for you to expect clarity when an accounting provider sends you their pricing. You should make sure you know what activities might fall outside this quote and be subject to hourly rates - and get this in writing.
Transparency over the services provided
The next must-have, that’s somewhat related to the pricing, is that of the services themselves. You’re paying an accountant to do tasks that you don’t have the knowledge or time to do yourself. But you should expect a description of each part of the engagement in plain language. What tasks is the accounting firm providing for what business purpose? Think of things like GST return filing, annual financial reporting, end of year tax filing, business financial advice and so on.
It’s probably not necessary to ask for granular detail on every element of what the accounting team will be doing, but you should have transparency over all the deliverables you’ll get as the paying customer.
Proactive suggestions or guidance
At RightWay, we pride ourselves on being business advisors as much as qualified, reliable accountants. We take the role seriously and know that our clients can really benefit from guidance on financial matters that may not be visible to them. You should expect accounting professionals to provide strategic guidance on matters related to your financial, tax, GST etc. This might include things like how often your business should pay GST, adjusting your estimated provisional tax when heading into a quieter financial year, tips on recording expenses and transactions accurately and tools you can use to do this.
If you’ve found you never hear from your accountant outside of information on what you need to pay for tax, maybe consider if you couldn’t get more elsewhere.
Attention to detail
In this industry, the numbers and details really matter. Whether it’s building an accurate financial statement, coding expenses properly and of course filing accurate tax returns, you should expect the accountant to pay close attention to every detail. An accountant should spot anything unusual in your financials and look to understand this, not simply proceed with completing reports or filing. It’s this care that helps protect your business from having to untangle issues later. You should expect reassurance from your accountant as to their processes when handling your accounts. Accountants must be accurate - although they will rely on the information your business supplies.
An understanding of how your business operates
There’s a number of factors that can affect your accounting and tax obligations that are determined by your business and how it operates. Think of things like paying PAYE staff (payday filing obligations), working in a dangerous industry (ACC levy impact), and the types of costs you incur to supply your customers. Any accountant that you consider for your business should demonstrate a desire to get under the hood of how your business works. This helps them pick up on some of these details required for your obligations and also provide tailored advice around how you manage your finances.
Responsive to questions
Accountants are there to help you when you need it. You should be able to pick up the phone or email with a question and get a response within a reasonable timeframe. It’s probably not realistic to expect immediate response to the technical detail of your question, but you should receive acknowledgement with an estimated time to come back with a full answer. At RightWay, we build close working relationships with each client, and make a point of coming back as soon as possible. As you look for a potential accounting partner, ask about their process for responding to questions as they arise and whether this is included in your monthly fees.
This one is much bigger than you might think. Accountants might have a reputation as number crunchers first, personalities second, but that’s not a fair stereotype in our opinion! RightWay and many other firms pride themselves on a focus on the client relationship, with accountants that serve as approachable advisors as much as anything. When you look for a new accountant, really test their communication ability by having meetings (video call if in person is not possible) and phone calls. You should start to build a picture of what they're like to deal with. Friendly, supportive approaches might not be critical when filing is straightforward, but you’ll really feel the benefit of good communication style when you need to ask any questions or require help with any complexity.
As the paying client, you should expect respect and approachability from your accountant. If that’s important to you, we should chat.
Get help running your business
In addition to our accounting and business advisory services we also offer bookkeeping and payroll to our clients. You don’t have to hire for these functions internally - simply chat to us about your needs and we can help build a plan that works for you. It will free up time for you to focus on growing your business and doing the work you love.
By building a better business, you'll build a better life!