Frequently Asked Questions
I know it's a difficult decision choosing an accountant and you've probably got some questions you want to ask.
So below are the answers to the questions we get asked the most (just click on the heading to see the answer). If your question isn't here, just email me at [email protected] and I'll get back to you with an answer.
How do I know if an accountant is qualified?
The term 'accountant isn't regulated so anyone can call themselves an accountant regardless of their background, experience, training or professional qualifications.
Like any industry or profession, there can be cowboys or people who don’t have the ability to advise clients on all aspects of accountancy and taxation.
If the accountant gets it wrong it will be their client who ends up in trouble. This can result in HMRC imposing fines, penalties and at the very worst – a prison sentence on the client.
Most qualified accountants in practice in England will be members of one of the following (Lesley is a member of the ICAEW):
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ACA or FCA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (CA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI)
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA or FCCA)
A lot of accountants are also members of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT or MAAT). This is often the qualification accountants take prior to taking the further exams necessary to join a Chartered or Certified Institute.
As tax is such a specialised area, you may also find that the practice you deal with has qualified tax professionals as well as general accountants. So they will be members of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) and will have the letters CTA (Chartered Tax Adviser) after their name. In our practice, Richard is a CTA.
Alternatively, a professional may have taken the entry level tax exams and will be a member of the Association of Taxation Technicians.
Why do I care that you're qualified?
You might not. And you might have a really good non-qualified accountant.
And we've come across some pretty shocking examples of poor advice and bad practice given by both qualified and non-qualified accountants.
However we can hand on heart say that in our experience, we've come across more problems when taking on clients who've been dealt with by non-qualified accountants than when they've been dealt with by qualified accountants.
So why would that be?
Well, an accountant who is a member of a recognised accounting body should adhere to rules/ standards/ethics/guidelines set by their professional body. And a client can go back to the recognised body to complain if their accountant seriously lets them down (by the way, we don't suggest this as a normal course of action, but it does mean you have more leverage to sort out a problem with your accountant without needing to take such a drastic step).
In addition, if qualified accountants offer accounting and tax services directly to clients, they must have gained sufficient experience to hold a 'Practicing Certificate' (PC). A PC will only be issued by their accounting body once they have shown evidence of having the necessary experience.
Accountants holding such a Practice Certificate and providing services to clients must take out professional indemnity insurance, which gives their clients protection in the unlikely case of a complaint or litigation being brought.
Of course it may well be the case that a non-qualified accountant (often referred to as 'Qualified by Experience' - QBE) has the equivalent experience and insurance cover.
However the challenge lies in just how you measure the experience of a QBE accountant.
Formal training ensures that qualified accountants have been exposed to many, if not all, aspects of accounting and taxation. And all qualified accountants are required to keep up their level of knowledge in the light of changing rules and regulations.
A QBE learns by experience. And if they have not experienced a particular aspect of taxation or accounting, they will usually not have learnt about it.
So it's a bit like if you've got a back problem. Would you rather go to a qualified Physiotherapist or take your chances with the guy down the road who's learnt on the job.
And dare we say it, but your business is as important, if not more important, than your back!
How do I make sure I choose the right accountant?
Choosing the right accountant is critical for your business. So here's a list of 10 questions you should ask before you appoint any accountant:
- Ask prospective accountants for client testimonials or for the names of reference contacts.
- Check the accountant’s qualifications.
- Find out about their relevant experience.
- Ask how many clients that they have like you.
- Ask for a full break down of their charges – is their fee fixed or will you be expected to pay any ‘extras’?
- How will they ensure your deadlines will be met and that you won’t have to pay any fines?
- Are they regulated by a professional body?
- Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
- What is their complaints procedure?
- Have they had any complaints or been sued in the last 10 years?
Can I work with you no matter where my business is based?
We're an online practice so we will work with you using Skype, phone and email. So you can work with us wherever you are.
What happens about outstanding accounts?
We're happy to produce any accounts for you which are outstanding when you join us. The maximum we'll charge will be 12 times the appropriate monthly fee - and often it's nowhere near as expensive as you think.
If you have a set of accounts outstanding, then we will charge you a maximum of our annual fee (12 x the appropriate monthly fee). We will agree an affordable payment plan with you for this charge so that your cash flow doesn't take a battering.
And often the catch up fee will be less than our annual fee - so drop us an email for a quote.
As an example:
If you join us in September 2014 and have a year end of March, your March 2014 accounts may need completing. We would charge you a maximum 12 x the appropriate monthly fee to complete those accounts - and we will agree a payment plan with you for this fee. So as an example, we may ask you to pay this fee over the next 3 months ie October, November and December.
I'm half way through my year and want you to complete my accounts - do I only pay 6 months fees?
What will happen is there will be a catch up fee for those months when you weren't a client.
As an example:
If you join us in September 2023 and want us to complete your March 2023 accounts, there would be a catch up of 6 months (April to September). We will agree a payment plan for you for those fees eg we may ask you to pay twice your usual monthly fee for October 2023 to March 2024.
I'm completely happy with my accountant
If you’re completely 100% satisfied with your accountant then it might be difficult to contemplate a change. After all a really good accountant that fully understands your business doesn't come along very often!
But please look carefully at what we offer and ask yourself whether your existing accountant is able to offer you the same value for money 'WorkSmart' system we do.
If they can’t, then maybe it’s time to come and talk to us.
I'm too busy to think about this right now
We totally understand how you feel. A lot of people are under pressure and when you’re trying to run a business it can often seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
This is precisely why you need our 'WorkSmart' system to help free up more of your valuable time and regain control of your business.
I have a bookkeeper to do all this
That’s great. They can use our online bookkeeping system which means you get up to date visibility of your accounts.
You still get access to the Business Growth System and if you're on our Accelerate package you can attend the monthly webinars – which will be recorded so you can watch them at a time convenient to you!
Or you could look at switching to our 'done for you' service – which is quite often better value than using another bookkeeper.
Changing bookkeeping systems is really difficult
We can't promise you that the transition to our system will be completely painless. However in the long run you will save hours, days, weeks, months, years even that you would have otherwise wasted struggling with paperwork.
We also promise to ensure you're using the easiest bookkeeping system for your business needs. And we will also give you simple step by step instructions showing you how to use the system.
And if at the end of your 90 day trial you still decide 'WorkSmart' is not for you - you just walk away and we'll refund every penny you've spent with us.
Changing accountants is really difficult
Nearly everyone thinks it's really difficult to change accountants - but we've made it amazingly simple with our EasyChange service. All it takes is one signature from you and we do the rest!
There are cheaper online providers I could choose
Our fees are about average in our marketplace – we’re cheaper than some firms but more expensive than others.
We can’t compete with the lower end of the market (and neither do we want to). Our fees reflect the knowledge, experience and expertise of our qualified staff who belong to the gold standard accountancy and tax professional bodies.
So we won't promise to be the cheapest accountant you'll find...but we will promise to be the best value.
That's our promise to you...
And our favourite quote?
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten (Benjamin Franklin)
I love what you're offering but I can't afford your fees
We know we're not the cheapest accountant you can find - we don't aim to be! But we truly believe we are the best value you'll find anywhere.
And remember, implementing just one idea from our Business Growth System could pay for our fees many times over.
Still worried you can't afford it? Give us a call and we'll see how we can help you take the first step to success.
My accountant is my brother-in-law
OK - you've got us!
If your accountant is a family member then we can't compete with that!