Looking to Change Accountants ?  It's not just a numbers game.  

Accountants have the power to change the lives of business owners, but most of them aim for average. We're here to change all that.

How many business owners do you know that actually say "I really like working with my accountant!"?  They are out there – but more often than not, their accountant has done a shocking job at serving their customers' actual needs.

It's not a light decision to make the leap to another accountant, but if you've been meaning to change accountants for a while, make it your priority now!

We've put together some important questions that you should ask yourself when evaluating your current accountant, or choosing a new one.

Who does the accountant normally work with? 

This is important to know: Are you a good fit to the accounting firm?  Are they a good fit for you?

It's a two way street, and unfortunately most accounting firms will usually say "Yes"  to anyone – whether they can provide them with value for their money or not.

Be sure you ask for leads within your industry, and even look at their marketing material.  Don't try to be a square peg in a round hole!

What services does the accountant offer?

You need to make sure their experience and skill set matches the service that you're after.

Are you looking for business advice at an accounting firm that just pumps out tax returns? Do you need bookkeeping assistance?

In most cases, if the accounting firm cannot do what you're after, they will most likely work with someone who can.  It's also best that if you need a second adviser, for an international tax matter for instance, that you keep your accountant in the loop, or let them manage the business relationship.

What does the accountant specialise in?

What is the one thing that the accountant would provide you over all other things?

Where is there best value to you as the customer? Look for statements like "we work with you, providing insight into your business and its numbers" rather than "we're really, really good at tax returns". 

After all, any firm can churn out a tax return. Business acumen and advice is another matter. 

How will the accountant charge me?

How do the dollars work?  Do they charge in a way that rewards inefficiency, or do they charge for the value that they provide and the access to knowledge? It's not always what they can do,  but rather what they know.

It's a different conversation and focus for both you and the accountant.  The attention shifts from 'be quick to reduce the fee' to 'let's focus on where the value is'.

Some questions to pose might be:

  • What does the project or subscription include?
  • Do they price each job before they start, so you can both agree to the scope and terms?
  • Do they allow you to pay by the month to spread out the burden on cash flow?

Be sure to get a good understanding of the charges and how they work – it avoids unwanted surprises and you have clarity before moving forward.

What is the response time to my questions?

How quickly will you expect to hear back from your accountant, and who will answer that query?  We regularly hear from new clients that a former accountant takes weeks to get back to them, or doesn't respond at all!

Response time is key number that we focus on – and we measure it in hours, live on our website or by return phone call the same day.

Make sure you ask for a clear understanding of how and how quickly your accountant will return your call or email.

How long does it take to get your work done?

"Turn-around time" is a common complaint heard when businesses are talking about their existing accountants.

If, after an honest look at how you provided information and followed up their queries, your accountant still takes months to finish your work without a valid reason, maybe it's time that you moved on.

What would your standards be if you ran a business that took that long?

This is one of the key numbers that we measure as the Clarke McEwan team – one that we see is important in the eyes of our clients. 

What technology does the accountant use?

It's important to know how you'll be interacting with your accountant on a regular basis.  It's all very well to throw ideas around on a whiteboard in the boardroom, but what about for the "in-between" times?

Do they use the internet, a website and technology to communicate with you or enhance web meetings to describe concepts and run scenarios? 

Be sure that the technology they use makes sense to you.

How often does the accountant talk to you each year?

At Clarke McEwan, what we really love about working with our clients is that we get to learn about their business and their lives.  Accountants can't do that if they only speak to you once or twice a year. 

This is how an accountant will be able to provide you with real insights into your business. It's important that you understand how often you'll be in touch with your accountant, and that you're comfortable with this.

Is the accountant a member of an association?

It's best to choose an accountant that is part of an association.  The three main associations in Australia are:

  • CPA Australia
  • Institute of Public Accountants Australia
  • The Institute of Chartered Accountants

All three have different levels of requirements to join, different membership levels – but all have a set of standards that members must adhere to.  If you've got a problem with an accountant, you can usually take it to their association.

Can you have a coffee or a beer with them?

It's important that you can hold a conversation with your accountant, outside of your business.  Ask whether they will meet you for a coffee to get acquainted.

By the way, John likes his coffee with a dash of milk.