Choosing An Accountant
“Why should I choose you?” is a question I hear often from dentists who are contemplating a change. My typical response is that I am not saying you should—at least not without doing your homework first.
Choosing an accountant is a very personal decision, and although I might be a perfect fit for one practice, I might be a lousy fit for another. When contemplating a change, you need to develop a set of criteria, based on what is important to you, to grade your current accountant and others that you might consider as a replacement. In this blog, I address a few characteristics you might want to consider.
Your accountant must know the tax rules inside and out. Does this mean that he must be able to recite every chapter of the Internal Revenue Code? Of course not! But it does mean that your accountant should have a firm command of the major tax rules and trends that govern your industry and a plan for how to use this information to drive the best possible tax outcome for you and your practice.
Another area of professional competence is a foundational knowledge of practice finance, cash flow, capital requirements, debt management, and expense benchmarking. It also helps if your accountant knows the other professional advisors and suppliers that serve your industry. Otherwise, how can your accountant tell you how the practice is performing and where to improve?
Solid Communications Skills
The adage, “if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough," is relevant. Your accountant should be able to effectively articulate financial and tax concepts in a way you can easily comprehend. Most, if not all, of your accountant's advice will have a significant financial impact on you and your business. It is vitally important that you receive advice in clear and concise terms so that you can make well-informed financially sound decisions and appropriate plans.
One of the golden rules of effective tax planning is always to guard against the ugly tax surprise. If you are going to owe $50,000 in April, your tax advisor should be telling you in January, if not sooner. Although there will certainly be times when your tax bill is more than you want to pay, there is never really a reason why you shouldn’t be able to rely on your accountant to help you effectively budget for those payments well in advance of when they are due.
Returning phone calls and emails in a timely fashion is a common professional courtesy, but one that is occasionally disregarded by professional advisors. We accountants are deadline-driven professionals (March 15th and April 15th being the busiest deadlines for most of us), and we often work very long hours in order to satisfy the tax filing and other requirements of our clients. Nonetheless, a failure to respond timely to client inquiries is never acceptable and reflects either a failure in the accountant's own business model or a disregard for clients the accountant is paid to serve.
Same-day or next-day service is typically a reasonable expectation, and in the event your advisor is not available (for example, due to vacation or illness), then accommodations should be made.
Trust and Verification
So how do you know how a prospective accountant will grade out on these and other criteria you may choose before you hire them? Approach the process no differently than if you were hiring a member of your team or choosing any other partner. Develop a checklist of desired core competencies and attributes, interview all candidates vigorously, and check their references. This systematic process will give you the best shot of identifying and hiring the right accountant for you and your practice.