How can you tell whether an accountancy firm is matched to the needs of your business? It’s worth looking at the way in which they’re organised and whether they have a clear sense of the values of their business.
Core values are very important in any business, but when you’re working in a professional capacity with a client’s finances, they take on a particular significance. If you’re considering which accountancy practice to partner with, it’s worth asking whether the firm has given serious consideration to the principles that guide their business.
On a basic level each practice will deliver very similar services, but how they deliver them will define a client’s relationship with their accountant.
Of course, every firm will have its own emphasis and language. But the kinds of things I would personally look out for are trustworthiness, openness and honesty. The very nature of the profession means that these ideas just have to be made explicit. And then their reassurances about their day-to-day operation and the way in which they will interact with you. I would expect to hear reference to teamwork, excellence and service.
When you drill down further, we come to some very practical issues. How exactly is the level of service maintained? It’s quite common for small business clients to become frustrated because every aspect of their accountancy is handled by someone different. Compartmentalisation in a professional firm can be important when dealing with larger clients, but for an SME, it’s often confusing and counter-productive.
If there’s a danger of being passed from pillar to post and finding that one person is responsible for your corporation tax, another for your accounts and a third for your personal tax, you might legitimately ask the question as to whether this is in your own best interests.
For example, many forward-thinking firms are now creating ‘one-stop shops’ for their smaller business clients. In this model, one key figure at the accountancy practice takes responsibility for managing the relationship. They can get to understand their client’s business better and see the bigger picture.
So values are at the heart of any good relationship. And after that, it’s down to service. If you don’t want to get lost in a confusing relationship, it’s best to ask a few pertinent questions up front.