Choice of accountant - what to look out for
Q . I am working freelance at the moment and I need some help to get my accounts in order. What should I look for in an accountant and what is the best way to find one? A . Accountants are not just there to do your accounts, although this is a key service they offer. Many now have a wide range of knowledge and skills to help with everything from personal investment advice to business planning and expansion consultancy.
This wide package provides a comprehensive range of services, but can make it a little daunting to choose an accountant, particularly for the first time. It is important to understand the different services on offer and what they mean in terms of legally and independently dealing with your finances.
DECIDE WHAT YOU NEED
As you are self-employed, you will file your accounts annually under the Revenue’s self-assessment system, known as Pay and File. If you are registered for VAT you will also need to regularly file VAT returns and an end of year summary. There is more information about your taxation duties on the Revenue’s site, www.revenue.ie, as well as information and access to the Revenue Online Service (ROS).
You will need to keep proper books in order to file your accounts according to the Revenue’s requirements. You may just need a book keeper to set you up to do your own accounts or to do them for you and assist with filing them on time (to avoid penalty charges) and accurately. Alternatively, you may want an accountant who will also help you make your money grow, for example by recommending savings or investments; or find cost savings, for example, by recommending tax efficient steps you could take; or help expand your business further down the line.
If you are looking for advice, make sure that it is independent financial advice and not tied in any way to a single financial service provider (for example, being a sole agent for a particular pensions provider) as this will more than likely limit the options put forward to you.
ASK PEOPLE YOU KNOW
The next step is to talk to other people in a similar situation and find out the bookkeeper/accountant/financial adviser that they use and how satisfied they are. Referral is a one of the best ways of finding providers of professional services, such as accountancy and financial advice, as recommendations are usually only made if someone has had a positive experience.
MAKE A SHORTLIST
Make initial contact by phone. Explain what you are looking for and include those that can provide it on a shortlist. If you don’t manage to get any referral contacts, go through a local listing such as one in the phone book or from the local chamber of commerce.
If you are looking for an accountant, the first criteria they should meet is to be a member of a recognised professional accountancy body as this ensures they meet the regulations laid down by that body. This is important as currently anyone in Ireland can use the term accountant to describe their services and it is a way of identifying those that meet an accepted standard.
The Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority is responsible for supervising accountancy bodies and how they regulate their members and has a list of the relevant bodies on its website (www.iaasa.ie). If you are looking for a book keeper, who may have experience of doing accounts but no professional qualifications or affiliations, referrals are particularly important. In both cases, it is advisable to ask for references.
GET IN TOUCH
Call the names remaining on your short list, find out how they would meet your needs, how much it would cost and exactly what is included in the price. For example, do you have to pay for each visit to the accountant and what is their availability by phone or email. Select one or two that meet your requirements and go see them in person.
It is useful to prepare a list of questions before the meeting that focus on ascertaining if the prospective accountant can meet your needs. A face-to-face meeting will also help you decide how easily you would work with that person – it is important that you meet with the person who will be your ongoing contact, and not a key person brought out solely for prospective clients, as you will need to build an open and honest relationship with that person.