Questions to ask an accountant


22nd March, 2020

Six questions to ask an accountant before you hire them

Whether it’s for advice or tax processing, chances are you’ll need to hire an accountant for your business. Here are the top questions to ask up front.

Alongside bookkeepers, accountants play an important role in business support.

From sole traders to large enterprises, businesses need accountants to act as a specialist advisor and facilitator, most often in the areas of tax processing and compliance. But, depending on the accountant and their practice, they may also offer advice on a wide range of business subjects, such as cash flow management, succession planning and much more.

That’s why knowing how to discuss your business with a prospective accountant, and knowing how to ask questions about theirs, can have a significant influence on the future of your business.

READ: 5 tips for finding the right accountant

Here are six key questions to ask an accountant before you hire them.

1. What services do you provide?

You need to ask about the services accountants provide so you can be sure they can handle the different tasks you need assistance with.

For example, you could require an accountant to work on your annual tax documents, business reporting, online accounting, auditing services or to provide certain types of business advice.

READ: What millennials want (when choosing an accountant)

There’s no point hiring someone who is only trained, experienced and willing to work on one or more of the areas you need help with. Make a comprehensive list of your needs and be sure you get a tick next to each one before proceeding.

2. How do your fees work?

While you will of course ask about the fees an accountant asks, don’t just learn about their general charges.

Really delve into their fee structure to discover if there are any potential ‘hidden’ fees you should be aware of.

This could include things like additional charges for getting work done in a short timeframe, fees for photocopying or postage, costs for working with a particular type of accounting software, and so on.

Learn as much as you can so that when you compare fees for different accountants you’re doing so fairly and accurately.

3. What kinds of clients do you work with?

This question is a good one because you need to find out if an accountant has enough experience working with your type of business.

While a lot of the fundamentals will be the same no matter the industry or niche, there are certain elements which are specialised, which it helps to have your accountant be up to date on.

An individual consultant or writer may be able to claim different expenses to that of a legal firm, for instance, while another type of professional services company may have to follow certain criteria related to how income is reported or how wages are calculated.

4. What online accounting software do you support?

Not all accountants will necessarily be comfortable or confident using the online accounting system you have already set yourself up with.

Or, if you’ve not already started using an online accounting system, this may be the perfect opportunity to get some feedback on what’s available on the market and to hear an independent opinion on what might be best for your given scenario.

But you’ll need to keep in mind that there may be costs involved in switching providers should you need to in future, so be sure to take on an online accounting system that will grow with your career.

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5. How do you communicate?

To get the best possible results out of accountancy services, it helps to develop a solid working relationship with your accountant. Much of this comes down to communication.

As such, ask any accountant you’re interested in using about what their communication style is like, and how often they want to be in touch.

If they prefer to have regular face-to-face meetings but you are more interested in occasional email correspondence, only for urgent requests, the fit likely isn’t going to be right.

6. Will I always deal with you?

This may or may not be important to you, but if you wish to only ever deal with the one person at an accountancy firm, and/or to only have a single person working on your account, you need to find out about likely arrangements up front.

Most large firms have numerous people spend time on a project (with less experienced employees handling basic tasks and high-level accountants handling more complex things), while accountants who work by themselves will cover everything.

If you have a preference in this area, find out if you will always deal with the accountant you chat to when making enquiries.

Also, the answer to this question will alert you to any potential future issues as far as scalability goes.

That is, if your business is growing and getting more and more complex in its set up and operations, you will need more of an accountant’s (or a team of accountants’) time over the years. Someone working alone may not be able to handle all your needs.

By keeping in mind all of the above questions to ask an accountant before you hire them, you’ll ensure you get the maximum (tax) return for the least heartache.

Want to know where to start looking for a specialist business advisor, tax agent or bookkeeper near you? Start your search with MYOB’s Find and Advisor directory.