At the onset, picking an accounting firm seems like a straightforward affair. Essentially, you need someone reliable to do the bookkeeping. But when you include aspects such as budgeting, auditing, analysing and reporting of the financial status into consideration, you realise that necessary competency is harder to gauge.
While technical skills are necessary, it takes a lot more than just data crunching to make for a good accounting firm. And for a business, the effects of an underperforming accounting firm may not be felt immediately, but the impact will be there after a year. And because changing accounting firms is in itself a tedious process we would all like to avoid, it’s better to just ensure we hire the right one for the business in the first place.
As you speak to candidates, here are some questions you might want to ask.
What services would you recommend to my business and how do you support your clients?
Even though you’ve done your research, this ice-breaker of a question actually has another purpose – to help determine the connection you have with the accounting firm and its representatives.
As they walk you through their services, you can gauge how the communication is going. Do they use a lot of jargon? Or are they good at expressing ideas so they are easy to understand? The latter is always preferred. After all, you’re sharing your business finances with them, and if you can’t be comfortable or understand what they are doing, then it’s unlikely to be a smooth relationship.
How do you charge?
Accountants are great with numbers but it may not be the case when they represent themselves. If the accounting firm comes back quickly with clear categorisation of their services, it indicates experience and confidence. That said, because the scope can largely differ from business and industries, it’s important that you also accurately share your expectations to ask for a fee structure – whether it’s set, or hourly.
Don’t hesitate to ask for a breakdown. Whether it’s to file tax forms or compiling a statement for net worth, good accounting firms will be familiar with their rates for financial tasks.
How is the work distributed in the company and will I have a key liaison?
It depends on the scope of tasks, but a good number of clients are content to meet their accounting firms once a year just to review tax-filing. But even so, asking this question helps you to better understand the workflow for the accounting firm and recognise the person to contact when you have a financial question. In some cases, you can also get a sense of the company’s organisation and capabilities – such as determining if they might be understaffed.
Knowing if you have a liaison makes for great accountability no matter what situation might arise, and knowing that you’ll enjoy consistency throughout the hire. Do ask too on their availability, such as their policies on out-of-office hours calls and the lead time for in-person meetings when necessary.
What other companies have you worked for?
Credibility would be one reason you ask for the accounting firm and their references, but it also helps one to determine their familiarity with your industry. When the accounting firm has several of your company’s market peers in their portfolio, you won’t have to worry about them taking time to assimilate into your accounts and business goals. As part of the accounting firm’s role is to connect the business with relevant financial products and policy changes in the industry, their familiarity with yours would grant a faster overview and turnaround time.
Verify their claims through their online presence, reviews and plain old word-of-mouth.
How can you help my company to set goals and reach them?
An effective accounting firm should not only bookkeep and compile finances for the business, but also be able to recommend strategies to introduce savings and arrive at goals. Some will be more savvy with efficient procurement and grants, while others can closely monitor progress with projections to aid you in visualisation for improved business decisions.
Find out the accounting firm’s goal setting policies. Depending on your own financial knowledge, you’ll want someone that can close the gap to give you in-depth financial advisory. This determines a successful business financial partnership, and will become a critical piece to a successful enterprise
Speak with our accountants at PLCO and come determine for yourself if we can help your business grow.