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.
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 is a good way to make sure they meet certain standards of qualification and professionalism.
Is the firm qualified, or the individual?
It is worth bearing in mind that you may be assigned an account manager who isn’t themselves qualified, but someone at the firm is. For example, for many contractor-related accounting activities, a non-qualified manager is perfectly capable of completing a wide range of tasks.
However, to sign off accounts, or provide a mortgage reference, for example, only a qualified person at the firm is able to do this.
This is often the case in the contracting industry, where accounts production is more akin to a factory line – where client’s accounts are relatively simple and similar to deal with.
You may need to pay a higher fee if you would like all of your affairs to be dealt with by a qualified accountant, rather than an accounts manager. If your needs are relatively complex, or you have other accounting needs – you may be better off seeking a more traditional accountancy firm, rather than a contractor specialist.
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.
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.