Updated 31 August 2021
Finding the right accountant is one of the most important aspects of being a successful small business owner or freelancer. But it's not always the case that your first pick is the best option or remains right for you as your operations adapt and grow. Here are nine of the most common reasons why you should consider finding a new accountant.
1. They're difficult to reach
You're paying your accountant a healthy sum for their services, so it's only fair that you should be able to speak to them relatively easily. If you're finding that your accountant takes days to reply to a simple email or always seems to be away from their desk when you call, even in normal business hours, it might be time to make the switch.
While it's unreasonable to expect your accountant to be on call day and night, it's fair to expect them to return your call or email the same day – especially if you're asking for their advice on something time-sensitive. Chasing your accountant, again and again, could be a sign it's time to move on.
2. Their rates are too high
The average fees for an accountant will vary depending on several factors, including your location, whether they are chartered or not, their areas of specialism and how many years of experience they have. We've answered the question 'How much do accountants charge?' in our previous article, which could give you an idea of whether the fees you're paying your accountant for their services are reasonable or not. But it's also a pretty complicated question.
Accountants operating in London are likely to charge a lot more for their services than those based in a small town, and for good reason. The Trust for London found that London residents need around £2,000 per year more income than residents of other cities to cover the higher cost of living. Add into the mix overheads for any office space, and your accountant's fees probably seem more reasonable.
To get an accurate picture of whether you're being charged a sensible amount, it's best to compare your accountant's fees with others operating in the same area and offer similar services. Unbiased's handy search tool helps you do just that.
3. They never explain anything
Your accountant is the expert, and you pay them to handle matters you either don't understand or don't have time to look after yourself. But if you're brushed off every time you ask a question, they may not be a great fit. After all, it's your money – you have every right to ask for clarification or simply be a bit nosy about what they're doing. At best, it's frustrating, and at worst, it could be a sign your accountant isn't transparent about the services they're charging you for (and potentially not providing).
4. They charge for every little conversation
While your accountant's time is valuable, and they have every right to charge you for an hour-long meeting, some can be overzealous with their attitude to billing. You should feel comfortable giving your accountant a quick call or sending an email to clarify or chase something without getting the sense that every second of your interaction is on a meter.
A great accountant will be happy to have a quick chat or help you get your head around simple issues without bumping up the bill.
5. You're not receiving a personal service
Opting for a trusted brand often means great service and expertise should come as standard. As a freelancer or small business owner, though, it may not be the right option for you. When you're starting out in business, having an accountant you can develop a more personal relationship with gives you the chance to talk through your financial concerns.
The best accountants help you develop plans to tackle everything from a cash flow crisis to complex invoices through to finding new ways to finance your venture. And as a newbie to the complex world of self-employment, this added, personalised advice is likely to be something that's received very gratefully.
6. They use outdated methods
Some of us are traditionalists, meaning a good old spreadsheet is our preferred way of working. Yet, the way things have always been done isn't always the most efficient way to operate, and it could be costing you precious time. Working with an accountant that is familiar with the latest software will make your life easier. You can input any numbers quickly, upload expenses receipts with a snap of your camera and always have clear oversight of their work.
7. You need specialist advice
To date, your accountant has done a stellar job with your invoices, helped you with your tax return and offered lots of sound business advice. But when something a little out of the norm happens, it could be time to seek alternative or additional advice. For example, you may be considering acquiring another company or seeking advice about a new tax or payroll legislation specific to your sector. Your current accountant may not have the knowledge needed to help in these circumstances.
8. They're reactive, not proactive
A great accountant should make sure to flag potential issues as soon as they're spotted. This could include things like cash flow bottlenecks, which allow you to seek bridging finance or utilise your business overdraft to prevent temporary insolvency. Or they could be quick to flag late invoices, giving you a chance to address it with a client promptly, and before they owe you thousands. If your accountant only acts when things have gone wrong, it may be time to move on.
9. Your business has grown
One of the most positive reasons you may need to find a new accountant is that your business has simply outgrown your current accountant. They may not have the capacity to handle payroll and invoicing on the scale you require, or you may be looking to work with a firm or individual that understands the potential challenges of running a larger business.
When should I change accountants?
Technically, you can change your accountant at any time. However, it's sensible to do so at a time like the end of the financial year or during a lull in your business activity when you have no outstanding invoices to pay.
We also recommend not rushing the process. Unless there is an urgent reason why you need to find a new accountant, such as concerns over the way they're handling your finances, it's best to gradually transition between accountants. Taking your time will make sure no important bills or actions get overlooked during the changeover, leading to potential problems further down the line when it's too late to ask your old accountant to act.
How do I change accountants?
Thankfully, the process of switching accountants is usually pretty simple. First, try your best to end things on good terms with your accountant. You could give them a call or send an email thanking them for their work and informing them that you will be working with another individual or business in the future. You could outline why, but unless you have a grievance you want to take further, it may be more polite not to.
Next, you'll need a disengagement letter from your current accountant, which will detail the work completed so far. Your new accountant will also need to send a 'professional clearance letter' to your previous accountant to get their hands on relevant paperwork. They'll also ask if there's a reason why they can't take you on as a client (mainly as a formality). Your current or previous accountant may charge a fee for doing this.
Finally, you'll need to 'assign authority' to your new accountant, meaning you permit them to do things like file tax returns on your behalf. You can do this in a couple of minutes at https://www.gov.uk/appoint-tax-agent.
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