What Makes a Good Accountant?

Here’s an old joke, but it’s relevant…  A man stands in a field, watching a hot air balloon descend towards him.  The balloon halts three feet from the ground and the passenger in the balloon shouts down, “Hello!  Where am I”?

The man in field answers, “In a hot air balloon, three feet above a field”

To which the passenger replies, “You must be an accountant, because that information, while factually accurate, is of no bloody use to anyone!”

Somewhere along the line we have adopted this idea of accountants as being serious people, with serious attitudes, who do a serious job but who are, how shall we put it?  Really boring?  Like all stereotypes that is both wrong and unfair.  Numbers are crucial to any business, especially when those numbers represent money, and accountants are there to ensure that you, as a business owner, are on top of the information you need, day by day, to make informed decisions.

I am a loyal follower of Edinburgh Gossip Girls (EGG) on Facebook, and every now and then a post will come up seeking a recommendation for a ‘good accountant’.  This got me thinking about what makes a good accountant and I came to the following conclusions: they should be approachable, knowledgeable, flexible and understanding.  I’m taking it as read that they can count competently!

As a business owner myself, it is critical to be able to phone my advisors and get an answer to a question that I can rely on. And if needs be, I need to be able to go see them. In short, I need to build a relationship with them so that they know what is going on in my life and business.  A good accountant will understand more than just the financial ins and outs of a business, they will also appreciate the working lives of the people behind it.  Personally, I travel a lot, and therefore I occasionally need to be reminded of deadlines, so I can act accordingly.  Knowing this about me isn’t vital to the numbers in my accounts, but it makes a big difference when it comes to ensuring that everything is done in good time and not in a last-minute rush.

I think it is great that people ask each other for recommendations for accountants, but I so often see recommendations that are simply repeats of what has been suggested before, and that may not be what the person asking really needs.

Speaking as an accountant, my suggestion is that you try to be clear about what you need from an accountant?  Is it just to minimise your tax liabilities? Do you need someone who can offer business advice, someone who is well versed in dealing with HMRC or tracking down business funding?  All of these will give you a better idea of who is right for you and your business.  Once you have given some thought to ‘why’, consider ‘who’.  In this increasingly on-line world, I believe there is still real benefit from being able to sit down, face-to-face with you advisor and discussing your needs.  Your relationship with your accountant should, ideally, be a long-term affair, and like all relationships you need to be sure you have the right person.  If that’s not possible, even Skype meetings are better than a constant exchange of emails, but I still prefer the personal approach.

Although their news and views may not always be what you want to hear, not being able, or worse, not wanting to talk to your accountant is no basis for such an important association.  Recommendations are all well and good but ultimately, it’s your business and your decision that counts.

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Annja LoucaAccountant, SMEs