11 signs you’ve got the wrong accountant

Chances are, you’re either currently using an accountant, or you’ve considered using one in the past.  The truth is, there are heaps of accountants out there.  Some of them are outstanding and do a great job for their clients.  A lot of them are pretty mediocre – they’ll do an ok job of what you ask them to do and little else.  The thing that never ceases to amaze me, however, is the surprisingly large number of downright terrible accountants out there who continually let their clients down.

It probably goes without saying that everyone who uses an accountant wants a good one.  But the reality is that the world of accounting can be complex and, unless you’ve got some training or experience, it might be hard to know if your accountant is any good or not.  Rather than tell you all the things that I think make a great accountant, it might be easier to just unpack some common complaints that I’ve heard from my clients about their previous accountants.  Here are 11 signs you’ve got the wrong accountant (in no particular order):

  1. They never get back to you – this is a very common complaint and probably the most difficult one for me to get my head around.  There are some very complex things that accountants have to deal with from time-to-time.  This is not one of them.  It doesn’t take a degree to call someone back or respond to an email – it’s basic courtesy.
  2. All the work is done by their most junior staff – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is no place for junior accountants and, particularly in larger firms, the principal can’t do everything.  But the truth is that junior staff make the most mistakes.  If you don’t have access to senior staff or feel that they aren’t ensuring the quality of their junior staff, then that’s a serious concern.
  3. They charge too much – it’s worth pointing out that cheapest accountants are rarely the best and often takes short cuts to keep fees low.  From time-to-time there will be very complex or time-consuming matters that might rightly result in larger bills.  That being said, I have certainly come across multiple clients where their previous accountant had charged them unreasonable and unjustifiably high fees.  If it doesn’t seem right to you, it’s probably not.
  4. They claim things you didn’t actually spend or you’re not comfortable with – accountants should be looking to minimise their clients’ tax bills.  The Australian tax system is based on the principles of self-assessment, which essentially means the ATO will usually just accept what you’ve claimed is correct.  This doesn’t automatically mean that your claims are valid or legal, and if audited you may be subject to interest and penalties on incorrect claims.  If your accountant is pushing you to claim things that you know or suspect aren’t right, it’s actually not in your best interests.
  5. They make you feel dumb or inadequate – I’ve never really understood this one, but I’ve come across clients whose previous accountants intimidated them.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the way they explain things, their body language or tone, don’t put up with an accountant who makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you.
  6. They’re not good at explaining things – an accountant should be someone you can talk to.  They’re trusted with some of your most personal information and in some cases, the relationship can go on for decades.  Just like any marriage will struggle where one spouse is unable to express their feelings, an accountant/client relationship will struggle where each person speaks a different language.
  7. They’re reactive, rather than proactive – every client should be able to raise their questions, ideas and concerns with their accountant.  Most clients, however, will rarely have the financial knowledge, experience or training that their accountant will – it’s likely there’ll be things the clients just won’t know.  An accountant should, from time-to-time, be initiating discussions with their clients about opportunities or issues that might apply to them.  It shouldn’t always be up to the client.
  8. You get the feeling that they’re not acting in your best interests – unfortunately, not all accountants act in their clients’ best interests.  If you think they’re trying to push products on you that don’t seem helpful/necessary or withholding information that would result in a reduction of work for them, it’s quite possible they’re only acting in (what they think is) their own best interest.
  9. They consistently make promises they don’t keep – trust can only be built by repeatedly following through on what was promised.  An accountant should be able to be trusted.  If they don’t deliver on what they promise, you’ll never be able to trust them.
  10. They don’t adapt with the times – the world has come a long way in even the last 10 years!  Change should always be viewed as an opportunity to improve.  If your accountant is uncapable or fearful of change, they’re likely to miss opportunities to make everyone’s lives easier.
  11. They pretend to know everything – despite what some people think, no one can know everything.  The reality is every accountant will at some point come across something they can’t answer or do.  If you think your accountant is making something up, you could be right.  A much better alternative would be to tell you they don’t know the answer, then research it and get back to you in a timely manner.

These are just some of the signs that you’ve probably got the wrong accountant.  If you’ve still reading this post, chances are you’ve already got some underlying concerns about your existing relationship.  At Stimulate Accounting, we’re always conscious of these pitfalls and do everything we can to provide an exceptional service.  You’re always welcome to get in touch if you’d like to discuss your own situation.

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