The right accountant can be a very valuable resource for the SME, but their real value depends on the services they offer.
Choosing an accountant needs to be done with some care since anyone can set up as an accountant without any qualifications whatsoever.
So, the first thing to do is to make sure that any you are considering are actually properly qualified. There are two recognised bodies, the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales).
There is a third body whose members focus on bookkeeping rather than advice, the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).
Each has its own examination and qualification system and all three require annual membership renewal which includes the proviso that the applicant must show evidence of CPD (continual professional development) they have undertaken in the intervening year.
Decide what services you want from your accountant
At a basic level, the information processor is essentially a bookkeeper who will do no more than prepare your management and annual accounts and may advise you of your tax liability. Indeed, all too many SMEs only prepare annual accounts months after year end which provide little information to help make decisions about the future.
However, increasingly accountants are becoming proactive and offering a great deal more, much of it as valuable advice to SMEs.
They include reporting the management accounts on a regular basis in a format that provides insights such as project reports or profitability by client or by product category. They can also help with analysing alternative funding options and produce forecasts.
You may also be able to appoint them as an arbitrator on your behalf if there is a dispute with HMRC over payments or liabilities, similarly with VAT and PAYE returns.
Again, there is a qualification for accountants offering this service, the CTA (Chartered Tax Advisor). Accountants must be ACCA, ICAEW, or ATT qualified to take the CTA exams.
The additional benefits of the studying, qualifications and professional development, are that your chosen accountant will have the technical knowledge as well as experience from their client base. This can help them understand the needs of your business and provide the basis for giving advice on any problems they foresee or any opportunities there may be to develop and grow.
They will also be able to advise you on the financial implications of any business initiative you may be considering.
Despite the opportunity for accountants, not all of them take this approach as it involves taking the time and trouble to really understand your business. It also requires investment of time on your part as well as some cost for the accountant’s additional input.
So, do you want your accountant to be an information processor or an information interpreter? Remember it’s in their interests to help you grow because as you do, so will they.