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It goes without saying that as a business owner you need the independence and support of a trusted accountant, one who has your best interests at heart and the objectivity and drive to see your goals to fruition, no matter what it takes.

As owners of the business you have so many tasks to juggle that compliance obligations (taxation, superannuation, ASIC etc) can easily be neglected, thereby increasing the risk of higher costs and penalties.

Increasingly, smart business owners consider their accountant as a business partner and expect them to provide the added value of astute, proactive advice about prospects for the business, now and in the future. Not only does this demonstrate the business acumen of the Accountant, more importantly, it demonstrates dedication to your success.

Such accountants don’t wait to be asked for this advice, but offer it proactively and consistently. That is why they become a vital member of your management team. Your accountant must understand all the implications of being in business – including every process and challenge both strategic and financial. An understanding of accounting and/or taxation matters only is no longer sufficient.

So how do you find an accountant like this?

Selecting an Accountant

Credible people recommend credible people!

Ask for referrals from those you know well and trust. If you have enjoyed or observed exemplary performance from any of your peers, clients, suppliers and service providers ask them who they use.

Don’t just ask an accountant what they can do - ask what they have done!

Where possible choose an accountant that has dealt with businesses like yours – they can bring that experience to you confidently and quickly.

Choose an accountant who shows a genuine interest in your business. For example, the accountant should be willing to visit your premises from time to time. How else can they understand what you do and what you really need?

Make sure they are able and willing to provide service to you as required throughout the year. Don’t just leave it until after the year end. It may well be too late by then. Choose a qualified and experienced accountant. The more senior and experienced your accountant is, the better able they are to provide the strategic support you need.

Can you relate to your accountant on a personal level? Do you talk the same language?

There are many accounting practices that really offer only a basic bookkeeping and income tax preparation service. Unless you have access to other advisors, this type of accountant is probably not ideal.

Do you need to use a large accounting firm? Bigger is not always better!! Find the right person and everything else will fall into place whether you use a sole practitioner or one of the largest firms.

A good pro-active sole practitioner will have a team of specialist advisors to call on in the same way as the large firms.

Keeping Costs Down

Don’t use your external accountant as a bookkeeper, they are very expensive bookkeepers!! Too many Accounting practices continue to perform services at very high rates that should be done either in-house by the client or by 3rd party bookkeepers.

Don’t accept fee accounts without adequate detail. Ask for a summary of people, dates, times and rates.

Where practical, negotiate a fixed annual fee and offer to pay it monthly. This saves lots of arguments and also saves time at both ends. One off tasks can always be quoted/estimated separately.

Never fear to call your accountant for advice. It is easier and cheaper to avoid the mistake rather than pay your accountant to fix it.

Evaluating your accountant’s performance

How long does your accountant take to return your phone calls?

How long after you have provided all your information to your accountant do you receive your completed tax return, activity statement, financial statements or other business critical documentation?

Your accountant should provide you with regular copies of ATO and ASIC reports so that you know that everything is in order. Whilst you can check with the ATO and ASIC yourself, you should not have to do this. If you must check, perhaps ask why your accountant isn’t doing it.

Don’t just accept everything your Accountant tells you, Ask challenging questions and ensure you are satisfied with the answers. If you are unsure, ask around and seek a second opinion. Accountants are human (so they say) and they make mistakes and sometimes do the wrong thing!!

You will be surprised at how many really bad accountants are out there causing havoc for unsuspecting business owners. If you feel that you need to change accountant, don’t procrastinate and wait until next year. Do it now!

The additional tips below come from the hard learned experiences of SMEs just like yours…

  • Make sure the ATO and ASIC have your correct address for service of notices.
  • If you are behind in your obligations to the ATO be aware that you risk a Director Penalty Notice (DPN). Recent changes now include unpaid Superannuation contributions in addition to unpaid PAYGW amounts. These need to be acknowledged and resolved within 21 days of issue. Failure to check your letter box could cost you more than just your business.
  • If a PAYG withholding debt is over three months old and has not been reported to the Australian Taxation Office, the directors will now be unable to avoid personal liability through the usual means of making a formal insolvency appointment. In some circumstances, associates of the director may also be personally liable.
  • Google “ASIC Company Alert” for the link to this free service – this will automatically notify you of any activity at ASIC regarding your Pty Ltd company such as Wind Up Notices!!!
  • Google “My Veda Alert” and subscribe for both the business and personal reporting service. This is an excellent way to minimise identity theft and also to be alerted to any adverse listings on your credit report. Again you will receive a copy of your full credit file plus an email whenever any activity is recorded on your file.
  • Don’t be an Ostrich!! Avoiding your problems with your head in the sand won’t make them go away, they just get bigger and more expensive to resolve. Contact your accountant & tell them what’s going on and if they won’t or can’t help proactively it might be time to look for someone else.
  • Make sure that you read very carefully the “Engagement letter” that your Accountant asks you to sign. This document is, in effect, your contract with your Accountant and you need to be careful. The engagement letter should spell out in detail what your Accountant will do for you and what your Accountant expects from you. It should also deal with the question of fees.
  • I have experienced situations where clients sign engagement letters only to find out later (when the relationship sours) that they have given away their right to ownership of basic accounting reports that they have paid substantial fees for. The Accountant then refuses to even provide a copy. This is reprehensible behaviour. If you pay your Accountant to prepare accounting records they belong to you – at the very least you are entitled to a copy. The law requires you to have a copy of your accounting records. Make sure that you do!!

The above thoughts are a result of 35 years’ experience as an accountant/business advisor and lately as an accredited family business advisor. For more information Contact us, or call 1800 630 531.

The material and contents provided in this article are informative in nature only. It is not intended to be advice and you should not act specifically on the basis of this information alone. If expert assistance is required, professional advice should be obtained

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