By DALIA CANTOR
Our profession has evolved vastly over the years and today we are more than just bean counters and tax preparers. A good CPA can be your company's financial partner for life and will help you with decisions from day to day operations to strategic planning. So how do you find the right CPA for your business?
Like any other partner you choose to be by your side, you need to go through the vetting process. The first step in setting the stage for a successful search is to know what services you need and/or want. Given the level of fees you are prepared to pay, you must decide where your responsibility stops and where the accountant's begins.
You should plan to interview three to five candidates and evaluate each potential candidate based on these criteria - services, personality and fees. You will notice that I am not mentioning professionalism and competence because that should be a given fact amongst the candidates of your choosing. The best place to start your pickings are your referral sources such as business partners in your industry, your attorney, or your banker.
Most accounting firms offer tax and bookkeeping services. But what if you need payroll, management consulting, budgeting and forecasting, estate planning? Will the accountant help you design and implement financial information systems? Other services a CPA may offer is assistance for loans and financing; mergers and acquisitions related services; managing investments; and representing you before tax authorities.
Although smaller accounting firms are generally a better bet for entrepreneurs, they may not offer all these services. Do your homework and find out if the firm has what you need. In addition to services, make sure the firm has experience with your size of business and with your industry.
I am talking about long term relationships here so the personality and like mindedness does matter. Is the accountant's style compatible with yours? Excellent organization skills, high degree of precision, focus on the client, extreme trustworthiness, creativity and collaboration are basic skills that a successful and competent CPA should possess. What about your vision? Can you see this person working side by side with you in achieving your goals?
Be sure the people you are meeting with are the same ones who will be handling your business. At many accounting firms, some partners handle sales and new business, then pass the actual account work on to others.
Ask about fees upfront. Most accounting firms charge by the hour; fees can range from $100 to $275 per hour. However, there are some accountants who work on a monthly retainer. Figure out what services you are likely to need and which option will be more cost-effective for you. Try to get an estimate of the total annual charges based on the services you have discussed but don't base your decision solely on cost. Remember that often you get what you pay for.
You should ask your potential CPA candidates questions such as:
- Do you deliver timely services?
- How soon do you respond to an email or a phone call?
- What other clients do you have in the same industry?
- What other services do you offer beyond usual reporting?
- Is your firm tech-savvy and how do you use the latest technology for efficiency?
- What kind of credentials do you have?
- Who in your firm I will be interacting with?
- How are your fees calculated?
- What can I do to help with your work to keep your fees lower?
- Why should I use your firm?
You should also pay attention to the questions CPA asks you. You know your finances, but the CPA doesn't, so are they asking enough questions to understand your entire financial situation?
Accounting books provide a basis for business decisions and measure the financial health of your company so naturally you want someone on your team that understands your business, is reliable, precise, and is as passionate about your business as you are!
Dalia Cantor, CPA, has been practicing as an accountant and tax advisor since 1997. She is a Certified Public Accountant in the states of Florida and New York, and graduated Dowling College with a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting. Dalia is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Prior to establishing her own practice, Dalia worked in public accounting managing both domestic and foreign audit and tax clients. In private industry, she was involved in the regulatory environment, specializing in technical accounting, internal controls, and SEC reporting for publicly held companies. She can be reached at Dalia@mycpasolutions.com