The difference between a great and an average accountant can be significant. Not only is tax one of your biggest annual expenses, but a great accountant should be able to proactively identify other financial opportunities, in addition to tax-saving measures.
Typically, the more complex your financial situation is (e.g. if you are self-employed, running a business, have a trust or SMSF, etc.), the more you have to gain from having the right accountant. That said, working with a great accountant is in everyone’s best interest.
How do you know if your accountant is great or not?
It’s difficult for clients to tell whether their accountant is proactively looking for, and has identified, all financial opportunities. The reality is, you don’t know, what you don’t know.
To help you, I have listed below some common traits or behaviours that may indicate if your accountant is great or not!
They take a long time to respond to your calls/emails
This is a common complaint by many people. A lack of timely responses causes two problems.
Firstly, it suggests that they have too much work, are under-staffed or have poor organisational skills. Neither of these things will allow them sufficient time and space to be able to provide you with proactive advice – because they will always be (reactively) rushing onto their next task.
Secondly, it will discourage you from seeking their advice or keeping them updated about changes in your circumstances. However, if you know your accountant is fast to respond to emails, then you will be encouraged to run things past them. Doing so will give your accountant more scope to add value.
They don’t ask questions – just follow last year’s work
It should come as no surprise that preparing the same tax return, year-after-year can be repetitive work. That said, its dangerous to fall into autopilot mode because if you make a mistake or miss an item one year, you will continue to repeat that mistake in subsequent years.
To combat this risk, good accounting firms regularly rotate staff so that the same person is not preparing the same work many years in a row – and also have well defined review procedures.
If your accountant rarely asks you questions or for additional information during the return preparation process, then it could be a sign that they are running on autopilot.
They don’t share ideas to improve your circumstances.
Great accountants have a very broad amount of knowledge and experience including tax planning (of course!), investments, superannuation, business acquisitions and optimisation, insurance and so on. They have learnt a lot through observing past client decisions.
This puts them in a position to be able to identify opportunities for their clients. But this process must be embedded in their processes and systems. For example, at the end of completing each job, your accountant should be asking themselves “if I was in their shoes, what would I be doing or thinking about”. How often does your accountant do that?
They are stuck in the 80’s!
Accountants are not known to be dynamic, forward-thinking people. But the truth is, great accountants are.
Great accountants realise that their clients don’t want to pay them to manually prepare workpapers and keep doing things the old-fashioned way. Therefore, they are constantly on the lookout for ways to automate and streamline their processes, which inevitably requires the adoption of technology. This approach allows these great accountants to spend more time on more proactive work.
If your accountant is paper based, resits the adoption of technology and is stuck in the 80’s, you should be concerned.
They used lack of licenses as an excuse
In order to provide financial advice, your accountant must hold an Australian Financial Services License. And to provide mortgage advice, they must have an Australian Credit License.
Some accountants use this as an excuse to avoid thinking about their clients; “sorry, I’m not licensed to answer that question”. It’s a very convenient (yet selfish) excuse to get out of doing any extra work.
As such, you are best to use a holistic firm that holds these very important licenses because you want your professional advisors using their best efforts to help you achieve your lifestyle and financial goals. This includes them workshopping ideas with other suitable qualified, experienced and licensed professionals to uncover valuable strategies for you. Unfortunately, this type of generous work is not all that common.
They are not investors themselves
A person that has a natural interest in investing and building wealth will make a better accountant. It is likely that they will spend a lot of their personal time thinking about, researching and educating themselves about investing, because they enjoy it and find it interesting. Of course, they may be doing it for personal reasons, but the benefits from this flow onto their clients too.
An accountant that has a high level of intellectual curiosity about investment matters is more likely going to share such ideas with you.
Being too income tax focused can end up costing more
You really want your accountant to look at the big picture. You don’t want your accountant to do something just to save a few dollars in income tax if it costs you more money in other ways.
A common example of this that we see is owning personal cars in a business’ name. Depending on the cost of the vehicle, this can give rise to very costly consequences such as Fringe Benefit Tax and the requirement to remit GST when you sell the car. A great accountant would never make or suggest such a mistake.
Making sure a client’s tax strategy is congruent with their investment strategy
Aggressively reducing a client’s taxable income may also, in effect, reduced their borrowing capacity. Whilst the tax savings might be pleasant, the inability to borrow may prevent them from achieving lifestyle goals or investing. This will probably be less desirable than the tax savings.
Again, this is why it’s important for your accountant to keep an eye on the big picture.
Is it difficult to change accountants?
No, it is a very simple process.
What is the process?
If your new accountant is a member of a professional body such as CPA or CA ANZ (and they should be), then they must send your incumbent accountant an ‘ethical letter’. An ethical letter asks them whether there “is any professional or ethical reason why we should not accept this appointment”. At the same time, the new accountant will ask the old accountant to forward any documentation to ensure continuity of service including past tax returns, scheduled, etc.
This is a very standard practice and in almost all circumstances, accountants respond on a timely basis and in a courteous manner.
Concurrently, we would add the new client onto our ATO tax portal, ASIC register and update any correspondence details.
In summary, your new accountant does all of the necessary work.
How do I find a great accountant?
You already have! You are on their website now (click here for more about our service). 🙂
The best way to find any trusted professional is by referral. Ask a few friends, colleagues or family members that are in similar financial situation to yourself.