Selecting your accountant can feel like a big decision. It is such an important relationship because one’s livelihood is such a personal matter. It is hard to know who to trust. As with anything, glitter and salesmanship can take over the courtship making it a challenge to really understand what will be the true experience. However I believe there are certain indicators that can help you in assessing your options.
- A Lot of Chatter and Little Listening – Larger firms tend to have a lot of pressure to “sell” new business. This pressure often manifests itself in the accountant going on and on about themselves and why they are so wonderful or why everyone else is so horrible. If your meetings with an accountant consist of them pontificating without end then you can rest assured you won’t get an astute adviser focusing on you and your experiences. An adviser’s job is not only to help an advisee in making decisions but also to help them gain enlightenment and perspective for their situation. It has to be about YOU, the client.
- Know Who’s on First and What’s on Second – You have to know who will be on your team. Firms that are growing very quickly are faced with major challenges in staffing enough of the right people and getting them trained/experienced. If a firm is bragging about their growth then there is a reasonably good chance that they have instability with client service teams. If you are a small client for that firm you’ll have minimal stability and it will show in the service. You also need to know who is the primary relationship person and then you must be comfortable with both the title and level of involvement of that person. If you are a restaurant and your work is primarily tax-based but your relationship is with an audit manufacturing partner then you need to have a clear understanding of how that equates to your services.
- Reasonable & Transparent Fees – Imagine going to the grocery store and shopping without price labels on the shelving. You deserve to pay reasonable and transparent fees for your accounting and tax services too. Most routine accounting and tax services can be quoted as a fixed fee or with a fixed fee range. However you should be very wary of an abnormally low bid. It is an age-old tactic to low bid the fixed fee work with the intention to bill extra for EVERYTHING else. This is not to say that out of scope fees are never warranted but being billed for every little phone call is an old and tired way of doing business. Sometimes we can’t always tell what the cost is until we “get in there”. For some things we don’t have a choice but to utilize the hourly rate structure. Communication cures all. Open and regular communication about fees is a critical element of the relationship. I recommend setting fee parameters which will allow your accountant to proceed as needed but also know when they should seek approval in advance.
- How Good is the Promise? – I think you can tell a lot about someone simply based on whether or not they have a tendency to deliver on a commitment. We all know things can and will happen. Schedules and timelines must be adjusted. However if there is an issue every time and everything is always adjusted then you are either a low priority or you don’t have the advocate that you need and deserve. I was once described by a client as “a thorn in my side that I’ve come to rely on”. I wouldn’t let my client’s permanently-busy schedule set us back on our commitments to each other.
Every situation is unique and there are pros and cons to each option in choosing an accountant. These four indicators will cut through some of the noise and allow you to focus on the merits.