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What kind of accountant do you want?

As I sit reviewing sets of accounts and tax returns, I wonder how many other firms have standards as high as ours. Based on what we see when new clients join us, there are a lot of them that don’t. I am pretty sure that it’s not intentional in most cases, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. In my experience, hiring unqualified and inexperienced people, failing to train them, and not having the right systems and processes in place are the main causes. But how are you supposed to know what kind of accountant they are? Given that anyone can call themselves an accountant, what should you ask to make sure that you choose someone with high standards?


Here are 7 areas to focus on

  1. Qualifications & Experience
    • what qualifications do you and your team have?
    • who are your regulatory bodies?
    • when was the last time that you were assessed?
    • what experience do you have of my kind of business/industry?
  2. Training
    • how much time do you and your team spend doing CPD? (this means Continued Professional Development, if they don’t know, that’s a huge red flag)
    • how do you make sure that your team have the right skills for the work they do?
    • what do you do internally to encourage learning?
  3. Systems
    • what systems do you use to manage your workflow and ensure that deadlines are not missed?
    • how do you communicate with your clients and each other?
    • how do you mitigate cyber security risks and keep my information secure?
  4. Processes
    • how do you ensure that work is completed consistently?
    • what internal checks do you carry out on the accuracy of work?
    • how do you record what work has been done?
    • what supporting documents/evidence do you ask for?
    • how often do you review your approach?
  5. People
    • where are your people based?
    • how do you choose who will do my work?
    • what do you do to take care of your team?
    • what is your staff turnover like?
  6. Anti Money Laundering
    • what do you do to check your clients’ identities?
    • what kind of risk assessments do you carry out?
    • how many SARs have you filed in the last 5 years? (a SAR is a Suspicious Activity Report and is filed with National Crime Agency)
  7. Insurance
    • who is your professional indemnity insurance provider?
    • what’s your level of cover and how many claims have you made in the last 5 years?
    • what fee protection insurance do you offer clients in case of HMRC enquiries?

We all get the accountant we deserve

What do I mean by that? Well, you need to demand high standards and you must be willing to pay for them.

I’d ask you to consider what a prospective client told me recently. A local firm had quoted her £75 to file her quarterly VAT return. The average salary for a qualified accountant in our area is £40K. This translates to a minimum of £45K when you factor in National Insurance and pension contributions. At VERY best 70% of an accountant’s time will be “billable” (this means doing work that clients are charged for like tax returns). This means that the starting cost is £33.27 per hour. Like all businesses, the firm needs to pay for memberships, training, software, insurance, and premises. And it needs to make a profit on which it will pay tax.

What exactly do you think that you would get in return for £75? For the simplest of VAT returns, we would charge £150. It is not possible to do a good job for less.

Before you sign that letter of engagement, you need to inform yourself. At Composure, we are very proud of our high standards. It is an integral part of our culture. If you want to find out how we achieve this, tell us about you and we’ll be in touch.

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