Choosing an accountant involves a number of steps to ensure the right match. The process often starts with referrals from friends and colleagues, but it shouldn’t stop there. Whatever your situation, you’ll have the best chance of finding a great fit if you vet potential providers through the lens of three basic questions.
Can they do the job? The first issue to consider is competency as it relates to your specific needs. You want to be confident that the provider you choose is equipped to handle your current and short-term future needs. Ask the CPA to describe his or her ideal client. Your primary needs should fall squarely within this description. For example, do you mainly need tax preparation, personal financial planning, business advisory services or help managing an estate? Tread carefully with anyone who claims to be able to do it all. It’s hard for a single professional to bring the range of expertise required to perform well in a large number of accounting niches. If this person is part of a larger firm with multiple specialists, the claim may be true. In that case, however, will your individual needs receive the careful treatment and focused attention they deserve? Inquire about the firm’s target market to ensure you won’t become a small fish in a big pond. Also verify appropriate licensing and learn about previous experience. While a brand new CPA may be an excellent service provider, a history of success serving clients with needs similar to yours offers support for this premise.
Will they do the job? Beyond technical proficiency and experience, you want to see a strong commitment to being responsive to your needs. This will be influenced, in part, by the business model in place. Many firms still cling to the outdated billable hour fee structure, but most clients appreciate the more value-driven project pricing or annual service contract approach to fees. Another question to ask is whether the provider (or firm) receives revenue from selling products or making referrals to third parties. While not necessarily problematic, these arrangements may skew advice towards options that result in additional revenue to the provider. Also inquire about collaboration between firm members: Will you have access to the combined expertise of professionals who focus in multiple areas, or does the internal revenue division mean your needs will be effectively siloed within the range of expertise offered a single CPA? And finally, who will be managing the account and actually performing the services you need? In larger firms, the answer is probably “many different professionals,” and that can mean less personal relationships and lower awareness regarding your individual situation. Again, it’s not a deal-breaker in every circumstance, but it is something to be aware of from the outset.
Will they fit in? Gauging personality is less objective than qualifications or business models, but no less relevant. A comfortable relationship leads to more productive interactions. If you find a prospective CPA isn’t interested, personable and approachable in the initial stages of developing the relationship, be aware that it won’t get any better from here. If you aren’t quite comfortable, you may hesitate to reach out and thus fail to reap the full benefit of the available expertise. And if a solid relationship no longer feels good, consider that you may no longer be an “A” client based on changes to your business or your CPA’s – or both. Whatever the cause, it’s time to either work on the relationship or move on.
A positive relationship with your accountant is critical to maintaining optimal performance for business and personal financial growth. Vetting potential providers carefully will help you establish a comfortable relationship with a CPA who can and will meet your individual needs.