The role of ‘accountant’ is not officially regulated which means people can call themselves accountants whether they are or not. People without any professional qualifications at all can quite legally call themselves an accountant so it’s important to be cautious.

Is my accountant qualified?

There are many different qualifications which provide accounting expertise. Your chosen accountant should have a qualification which ensures them membership of one of the below professional accountancy bodies:

•    Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (ACMA or FCMA)
•    Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CPFA)
•    Association of International Accountants (AIAA or FAIA)
•    Association of Accounting Technicians (MAAT)
•    Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ACA or FCA)
•    Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (CA)
•    Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI)
•    Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA or FCCA)

Why use a qualified accountant?

Choosing a qualified accountant mean they have had to pass exams to prove their expertise but it also means they need to adhere to the rules, standards and guidelines of their specific professional body.

Similarly, if your accountant is offering accounting and tax services directly to clients they have to have gained adequate experience to hold a Practicing Certificate. This certificate is only issued by the professional body once evidence has been shown of the accountant’s experience.

Accountants with a Practice Certificate must also have Professional Indemnity Insurance which protects you as the client in the instance a legal complaint or litigation becomes necessary.

Are all unqualified accountants terrible?

Not for a minute. There are definitely many talented non-qualified accountants out there. They can often be spotted by the term QBE (“qualified by experience”) at the end of their title. It’s up to your discretion whether you want to use an unqualified accountant and choosing an accountant without formal training you are taking more of a risk.

A QBE like the title suggests learns through their experience and the choice is in your hands whether you trust this type of professional with your business accounts.

What if my accountant makes a mistake?

Qualified accountants attached to a professional body as required to have a complaints procedure so you can see the steps involved if you do have to make a complaint due to errors in their work. You as the client will have the right to complain to their professional body if you aren’t happy with how your accounts have been handled. In serious cases the accountant could be struck off.

Choosing a non-qualified accountant means they have no necessity to provide a complaints procedure nor do they have a professional body to report to. This again further highlights the risk in choosing a non-qualified professional.

The Essential Checklist

Below are the essential points to consider when choosing an accountant:

•    Seek recommendations from other businesses and connections using a reliable accountant
•    Check out the qualifications of the accountant
•    Check out their past experience and its relevance to your business
•    Ask them about their client base and how many clients they have similar to you
•    Ask for a breakdown of all their charges – Do they offer fixed fees?
•    How will they guarantee your deadlines are met to avoid fines?
•    Check if they are regulated by a professional body
•    Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
•    Ask to see their complaints procedure

It’s a big decision choosing an accountant and doing your research will help ensure you make the right decision for your business.

You can also join our Google+ Community “Startup in Britain” which is packed with help, resources and articles to get you started. Use it to get tips, advice and start building your network! 

Back to Tax