Choose an accountant for your business
Accountants can offer your business a range of services, from basic bookkeeping to specialist business advice.
You may employ an accountant to prepare financial statements for your end-of-year tax return or for other services, such as auditing. By law, your business accounts must be audited each year, although some small companies are exempt.
This guide will help you understand the benefits of using an accountant and how to find an accountant that is right for you.
Benefits of using an accountant
An accountant can help you with all or some of the following tasks:
- Keep certain records, including PAYE (Pay As You Earn) records if you have employees, and VAT records if you're VAT registered. This will involve regular bookkeeping work.
- Submit an annual tax return to HM Revenue & Customs. This will involve the preparation of financial statements.
- Appoint an auditor to carry out an annual audit of your accounts, unless the company is exempt - the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales provides details of audit exemption in Northern Ireland.
- If you're a limited company, you also have to file accounts with the Registrar of Companies - see filing company information using Companies House Webfiling.
You could decide to do some of this work yourself, but many businesses prefer to employ an accountant for at least some of it. For example, you might not have the time or necessary skills available in-house to do all the accounting work yourself.
In addition to basic accounting functions, many accountants also offer other services, such as start-up business and management systems advice.
Chartered Accountants Ireland provides a directory of accountants that you can use to source the right accountant for your business.
Choose the right accountant for your business
Before choosing an accountant, consider the size and complexity of your business - you might need someone who understands a particular type of business. You should also consider what other services your business may need from an accountant.
It's best to start looking for an accountant well before you need to use one, to give yourself enough time to make an informed decision.
It is recommended that you look for someone who has professional accounting qualifications. It is also advisable to ensure that potential advisers have professional indemnity insurance.
Accountancy is a complex area and there are many accountancy associations to choose from. You may wish to seek advice or recommendations from business associates, your bank or lawyer, or from professional or trade associations - particularly if you're looking for an accountant that specialises in your industry.
Once you have identified some potential candidates, draw up a shortlist of about six accountants you'd like to contact.
What to look for in an accountant
You should speak directly to each accountant on your shortlist.
- Experience - eg do they have experience in your sector and of businesses of a similar size? Can they deal with your business' specific needs?
- Costs and charges.
- Size and personnel - eg how many partners do they have and who would look after your business? Sometimes smaller accountancy practices suit smaller businesses.
- Efficiency - what response times do they work to?
- Additional services - can they offer specialist business advice or help beyond basic accountancy services?
If their experience and services match what you are looking for, the next step should be to arrange a visit with them to discuss your business needs in more detail. You should check whether you will be charged for this meeting - see ten things to ask before hiring an accountant.
Once you have chosen an accountant, let them know that you have selected them and they will issue a letter of engagement, which should detail:
- your responsibilities
- the accountant's responsibilities
- their fees and how they will be charged
Qualified accountants usually have the word 'chartered' attached to their title, indicating that their body was incorporated by Royal Charter.
You can search for a chartered accountant on a range of online directories including:
What questions should I ask an accountant?
Different accountants can help your business in different ways, so think about what you are looking for before choosing an accountant.
Once you have drawn up a shortlist of potential accountants who would be suitable, arrange to meet them to make sure they are the ideal choice for your business. You should take your business plan and other useful information about your business to the meeting.
Questions to ask when hiring an accountant
To make sure you get the best value for money, there are things you should find out about any prospective accountant:
what are your qualifications?
how many partners are there in the practice, and who will look after my business on a day-to-day basis?
have you dealt with businesses of a similar size and at a similar stage of growth, and how could you help develop my business?
what are your estimated response times?
will your service be proactive eg will you remind me when I need to submit accounts?
do you offer any additional services eg inheritance planning or advice on information systems?
what services will you charge for and how and when do I pay for them?
will I have easy access to the data held about your business?
Chartered Accountants Ireland have further information on the role of chartered accountants and provide a directory of accountants that you can use to source the right accountant for your business needs.
Managing the relationship with your accountant
To get the best out of your accountant you should arrange to have regular contact with them.
You should make sure that you always:
- Keep agreed records or deadlines.
- Inform your accountant of any changes to your business.
- Discuss major issues with your accountant - such as tax implications of amounts you take out as drawings, salary or dividend.
- Pay your accountant on time. If you don't, your accountant has the right to withhold your figures and other business data until payment has been made, except for limited company accounts that must be filed with Companies House.
However, just like with any business relationship, there could be problems with your accountant. For example:
- they may be difficult to contact
- they could be failing to provide you with necessary information
- you could be receiving unexpected fee invoices
- you might need an accountant with different specialist skills and experience
- the service offered may not be as proactive as your business requires
Your accountant should be able to adapt as the needs of your business change. However, every three to five years, it is a good idea to review the relationship with your accountant. Questions to consider:
- Am I still getting value for money?
- Is my accountant informative and easy to contact?
- Does my accountant still suit the needs of my business?
Changing your accountant
If you choose to change your accountant, you should manage the process carefully. You should bear in mind that you must terminate the agreement with your existing accountant before you sign any agreement with a new one.
Before you do anything else check the terms and conditions that you have agreed with your accountant. You may find there is a notice period you must honour.
You should then check that you have access to all the data relating to your business. You should make sure that these are transferred to your new accountant prior to the handover.
If you need to complain about your accountant
If for any reason you suspect your accountant of misconduct then you could raise this with them directly. If you are still not satisfied you can make a complaint to the professional body they are accredited with. However, the professional bodies will not help you get compensation for any funds lost as a result of the misconduct - to do this you will need to seek legal advice.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland provides a breakdown of solicitors by area that can be used if you need to seek legal advice.