Five-minute money masterclass: hiring an accountant

For an entrepreneur lacking financial know-how, hiring an accountant can be nigh-on essential. But making sure you pick the right person for your startup is just as important

Five-minute money masterclass: hiring an accountant

For many with entrepreneurial ambitions, one of its big draws is going it alone and carving out their own path. This is often achievable but what happens to those who just can’t quite nail down the monetary side of things? Whilst some entrepreneurs will come from a financial background, for those who don’t, hiring an accountant may become a necessity. Yet how can a business owner make sure the person tasked with crunching the numbers is the ideal fit for their enterprise?

 Check their credentials

In an era where job applications come in faster than you can read a CV, SME owners are finding less and less time to do the appropriate background checks on their potential employees. Recent research by software provider Clear Books has revealed that only 8% of small firms check an accountant’s qualifications before hiring them. What makes this even more worrying is that, unlike some professions, the term accountant is not protected by any law. This has some serious implications. “The first thing to remember is that anyone can call themselves an accountant,” says Jessica Jewers, chartered accountant at Ecovis Wingrave Yeats. “It is, however, against the law to refer to yourself as a chartered/certified accountant unless you are one. Selecting an accountant who has qualified through one of the main accountancy bodies will provide you with the necessary assurance about their professional and ethical conduct.”

Test their industry knowledge

Whether you are in the technology or food industry, as an SME owner it would be impossible to have a successful brand without a good amount of knowledge of your industry. This is no different for the company’s potential accountant: they must be well-versed in the SME sector and should not just be expected to look after the company’s finances but also help the brand to grow as a business. “As an entrepreneur, you have a vast knowledge of the sector you work in and it’s crucial your accountant understands the way your industry works too,” says Katarina Miller, co-owner and partner at MillerWash Associates, the accountancy firm. “This does not necessarily have to be experience gained in a work capacity; it could be through personal interest or a hobby.” Gaining this information is an important part of the interview process. “I would recommend discussing your industry within the interview and maybe drop in a few current-affairs-related questions,” Miller adds. 

Trust them with your life

When looking at hiring employees, it is important to remember that, despite analysing them objectively, they are also humans, and being able to trust your accountant is imperative. “For many businesses, the relationship with the accountant is the lynchpin of the company not least because the focus is retention of company and personal wealth. This means trust is probably the most important factor when choosing an accountant,” says Diane Brennan, managing partner at Jackson Stephen, the accountancy and advisory firm. “With trust, a working relationship can flourish, often to the benefit of the business and its employees, which can then increase loyalty between the parties.” And this trust is extremely important in regards to the information you will share with your accountant. “Remember that you are going to give your accountant a lot of crucial and confidential information about your business, so listen to your gut instinct and make sure that you can trust them,” adds Emily Coltman, chief accountant at FreeAgent, the accounting software provider.

In it for the long haul?

As an SME, it is almost certain that your company will grow and change at a rapid rate, and having an accountant who is willing to adapt with the brand is a must. “Any business with serious growth potential needs a person who can adapt quickly to their changing management accounting needs and ideally be able to build and manage a professional finance function,” says Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK. “Business growth is never even and rarely goes according to plan, so it’s vital to have the right skills in place early.” Having a bond with an accountant who is willing to grow with the company will undoubtedly assist in building a long-term trustworthy relationship that will help your brand to thrive.

Drop the fancy lingo

Being able to communicate clearly with your accountant is essential so there is no space for flowery language and technical jargon. To fully cooperate and work with their accountant, SME owners must be able to understand the number cruncher to avoid any potential misunderstandings. “Accountants who use a lot of technical jargon and leave you feeling confused will not help you make the right decisions,” says Jewers. “An adviser should be able to articulate their thoughts in a clear and precise manner.” But don’t panic: this is something that will become clear to you during the interview process. A few questions to prompt their accountancy knowledge will soon show whether they are able to communicate to a level that you are comfortable with. Remember that an accountant is your partner; if you find someone with whom you can have a flowing conversation about your brand, then the potential for growth is huge. 

Tom Davis
Tom Davis

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