What are some non-negotiable qualities you look for in an accounting firm or individual and why?
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Someone Who Doesn’t Pass the Work Off to Someone Else
Having fired two accountants in the past, I look for an accountant who will do the work himself / herself and not pass the work off to someone else. Secondly, this person has to be able to explain how certain numbers in the book or tax return are derived. If they cannot answer my questions in a heartbeat, that is unacceptable.
2. Can They Answer Basic Questions?
When I hired my current accounting firm, I interviewed multiple firms. I asked basic questions, such as “Describe the difference between accrual and cash basis accounting.” I was shocked to see the variations in answers as well as the number of answers that were simply incorrect! A good accounting firm should know basic principles and be able to communicate them to their client.
3. Understanding of My Situation
Getting to know me and my business on a human level is important. Many accountants know the basics and shell out one-size-fits-all recommendations. But accountants/CPAs that take the time to get to know me, my business and situation can provide much more valuable services, recommendations and consult. I’ve found this to be the major difference in working with a great versus just okay accountant.
4. A Solid Process
Do they have a process? In business, we all have a little snowflake in our workflow, but in accounting, we should be able to have consistency. Assets will always equal Liabilities + Equity; your firm should have a good process to get you to solid, consistent reports so that you can run your business.
I want to work with reliable, trustworthy individuals who I can always count on, especially when stakes are high and turnaround times are tight. In addition to experience and the proper knowledge base, reliability is a non-negotiable trait I always look for in team members.
6. Industry Expertise
The firm must fully understand your industry. My companies are in the staffing space. Our accounting firm specializes in staffing, so it understands the pains and successes we experience daily, which allows us to work together more efficiently. This approach has been so successful that we have applied it to all service providers including insurance, retirement, marketing, etc.
7. Ethics and Strong Moral Character
I want to make sure my financials are being managed by someone who puts ethical decisions first rather than profits and greed first. If I put someone in charge of my financials who is dishonest, it reflects back on me in terms of reputation and any fines or penalties. When I work with people with strong morals, I know they will do the right thing whether I’m watching or not.
8. Quick Communication and Forward-Thinking
Accountants have a reputation for being poor communicators. It’s important to me to have open lines-of-communication with quick follow up. More so, it’s important that my accountant not only does the work at-hand, but helps me plan into the future and advises me on strategies. It’s best when they work with my financial team, as well (lawyer, financial advisor, bookkeeper).
9. Involvement and Frequent Updates
Most accountants and other financial advisers tend to work backstage and only update you when “bad” things happen. I can say that after checking a few vendors, our accountant at Ranky, as well as our outsourced tax advisers at ExpatTaxPro, are honest, clear and give us the feeling that we are involved in the process.
10. Excellent References
It’s hard to land an accounting contract from me if you don’t have an absolutely glowing list of references. I prefer to see major companies that do work in the same field that I do, or at least work with that many or that kind of transactions. I don’t really consider new accountants unless even their early experience was with top names. Low bids for inexperienced accountants don’t entice me.
11. A Wide Skill Set
An accounting firm or individual needs to know more than just how to prepare a business tax return. Long-term financial planning and the abilities to map out a growth plan and help with financial analyses are crucial. It is also essential to have knowledge of balance sheets, income, cash and other financial statements.
12. The Right Certifications
Put a bit of thought into what you might need now and in the foreseeable future. Will their tasks be basic or complex? You won’t want to pay for a firm that is overqualified, but you won’t want to hire a new firm to repeat what an under-qualified firm already did. Different services require different qualifications, so make sure to get a firm that will fit your needs.
13. Specialized Knowledge of Your Industry
Common belief is that accounting firms are one size fits all, but in reality this is not the case. Your firm can save you thousands of dollars (or more) every year just by understanding tax implications and operating procedures of your industry. Ask your accountant if he or she has ever worked with a client like you before and ask for references who you can share best practices with.
14. Business Experience
Taking calculated risks with your accounting is the same as any risk in business: it should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Most accountants are too parochial, and are unable to see their work holistically and in the context of an entire business. That’s why we prefer accountants with an MBA or side business of their own. They understand the golden rule: maximize value.
15. Attention to Detail and Organizational Skills
The firm or candidate must have strict attention to detail. Mistakes can happen, but a process to double check must be implemented from the start. More importantly, the individual should be organized. I love seeing how organized their workspace and computer setups are (including the computer desktop). A chaotic desktop with lots of icons, files and folders is usually a bad sign.