What to look for in an Accountant

The choice of an accountant is a fairly subjective thing – you need to pick someone that you

This original article was published on Find An Accountant South Africa, you can read it here if you prefer.

You have taken your business to the point that you can no longer do it all yourself. You have selected the tasks that you are willing to outsource so that you can focus on what YOU do best and you realise that accounting is definitely one of those things. But how do you pick that accountant?

The choice of an accountant is a fairly subjective thing – you need to pick someone that you personally like, someone you will be happy to deal with for a long time.

You may prefer an accountant who has embraced technology, or maybe an accountant who still does things old-school.
Or you may want to deal with someone who will chat to you on the phone as opposed to someone who will communicate via email.
Or maybe you want to deal with someone you never actually have to ever meet with in person.

No matter your personal preference for communication, methodology and relationship, there are some common things that you should definitely be looking for in your accountant. A good accountant will always meet the following criteria:

  • They are law-abiding. Yes, you want them to help you reduce your costs and your tax bill as much as possible, but if they give even the slightest indication that they will consider illegal means to do so, walk away. They are not the person who will carry the responsibility if your company breaks a law – you are.
  • They are ethical. Being ethical and law-abiding are linked, but they are not the same. A person can be law-abiding and not ethical, in other words, they dabble in grey areas and questionable loopholes. But generally speaking, someone who is ethical is also likely to be law-abiding. 
  • They are trustworthy. You are giving this person access to the most sensitive and most important section of your business. You have to trust that they will not steal from you or purposefully mislead you in any way. You need to trust that they have your and your company’s best interests at heart. And you have to trust that they will protect the information you have entrusted to them and consider it sacred.
  • They are knowledgeable. Nobody knows everything, but a good accountant should know the basics of their profession extremely well and have a broad knowledge of the industry as a whole. 
  • They are humble. A good accountant is willing to admit the limits of their knowledge and will go and ask someone else who knows more than they do on a particular subject.
  • They have a team. When a person thinks they can do it all, they are normally wrong. Every person has unique strengths and value and surrounding yourself with a diversified team makes you better at what you do. This doesn’t mean you can’t go with a one-man-show – just makes sure that he has affiliated himself with other professionals and isn’t trying to do it all alone.
  • They are easy to understand. Too many accountants have a tendency to speak accountingese instead of English. Look for one who explains your numbers to you in a way you can understand.
  • They want to help you. As a business owner, you need more than just tax compliance and financial reports that you never look at. You need an advisor. You don’t have to do everything they suggest but you want an accountant who is truly trying to help you and who gives you advice on how to move the business forward and do things better.

Finding an accountant or changing accountants can be fairly stressful – you don’t want to have to do it too often! Look for these criteria first, and then see if you enjoy dealing with the person who meets them – if you do, you have found the accountant who will be perfect for you and your business.

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