Five tips for choosing the right professional accountant

Five tips for choosing the right professional accountant
In his 2014 budget vote, the Minister of Finance noted that 15 000 tax practitioners are now registered with the 11 professional bodies accredited by SARS in terms of the Tax Administration Act. He advised the public to use only accredited tax professionals.
“The professionalisation of the tax practitioner industry is a good thing from a number of viewpoints. It certainly provides businesses and private individuals with a useful basic minimum against which to assess the merits of tax professionals,” says Faith Ngwenya, Technical and Standards Executive at South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). “But how to find the right accountant out of those 15 000?”
SAIPA offers five factors to bear in mind when deciding which professional accountant to appoint:
  • The first factor to consider is cost. However, a number of surveys have shown that while clients are looking for value for money, cost is never the deciding factor. Business owners obviously don’t want to overpay, but they will pay to get the best skills possible, secure in the knowledge that a good professional tax expert will save money in the long run.
  • Service excellence is playing an ever-increasing role in buying decisions, both in the retail and professional sectors. This trend is particularly marked in business because accounting advice is so critical to sustained business success—a professional accountant who is committed to learning his or her client’s business thoroughly will deliver the most value. This type of professional accountant will truly understand what a particular business needs and will take his or her place as a valued member of the corporate team.
  • Prospective clients should investigate a professional accountant’s ability to contribute to business success. While financial accounting is vital, a true professional accounting partner should be skilled in management accounting, which involves translating a company’s financial statements into budget and cash flow documents. Also essential is the ability to optimize tax planning.
  •  Many companies also look carefully at a professional accountant’s experience, both in terms of industry sector and familiarity with accounting packages. A professional accountant with a broad range of experience is more likely to be able to contribute new ideas and insights. Of course, there may be requirements for specialist knowledge.
  • A professional accountant’s reputation is a good way of understanding how he or she is viewed by current clients. The first place to start is by checking their  standing with the relevant industry, but it’s also worth asking for client references. Friends and professional networks are canvassed about the standing of service providers like professional accountants, an activity that is moving online fast as social media continue to redefine both business and social life.
“The pool of professional accountants affiliated to a professional body like SAIPA all meet strict criteria and are subject to a code of ethics,” says Ngwenya. “Use these factors to help identify the professional accountant best suited your needs. This is really  something worth taking the trouble for.”