How do you know if an accountant is ‘qualified’?

There are few things more worrying than trusting somebody else with your money, but when you choose an accountant you’re effectively doing just that.

Whether you need someone who can manage your personal affairs in a tax-efficient way, or a specialist contractor accountant, there are a couple of useful ways to find a qualified accountant, and safeguard your financial affairs.

Professional Memberships

A professional affiliation is a useful way to single out accountants who are in the career for the long term.

The ICAEW – the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales – has been around since 1880 and has more than 138,000 members based all over the world.

ACCA – the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants – is a global organisation with nearly 150,000 members, and was brought into existence only slightly more recently than the ICAEW, in 1904.

Meanwhile, for businesses, there’s CIMA – the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants – to help managers find an accountant qualified to advise them about strategy, spending and commercial decision-making.

Depending on your needs, choosing an accountant from among the membership of one of these organisations could be a good way to make sure they meet certain standards of qualification and professionalism.

Specialist Insurance

No matter who you choose to work with, things can go wrong – and, when they do, you’ll want to make sure you have some course of redress to fall back on.

This is where specialist insurance comes into play, and the main policy you’ll probably want to look out for is professional indemnity insurance, or PI.

Professional accountants should have a PI policy in place; it means that, if they give bad advice that ends up costing a client money, they can repay the losses by claiming against their insurance.

Working with Regulated Firms?

Accountants are not compulsorily regulated, but they will often work with FSA-regulated firms, and this is a good starting point for any in-depth investigations you might choose to make before appointing an accountant.

Look into how many FSA-regulated firms they work with, and whether any of their former clients have faced regulatory sanctions.

From early 2013, the FSA is due to be dissolved, to be replaced by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, so keep that in mind when choosing accountants in the future.

You can read guidance on choosing an accountant from the FSA itself here.

Word of Mouth

Accountancy is a profession where word of mouth is particularly important, and a good accountant thrives on recommendations from happy customers.

If you know people who have been with the same accountant for a long time, and have never had any problems, you might want to look into enlisting their services for yourself – just remember to ask all the usual questions about qualifications and PI levels if you’re not 100% certain that they’re right for you.

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