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How To Handle Your Accountant

Most small business owners make only one trip annually to see their accountant, often with a heavy heart… This trip is perhaps made because there is a compliance issue, either to submit tax returns and /or to present their results to the Your Accountantbank.  In other words, the trip is forced upon them.

For many business owners, the annual accounts exercise is not one that they look forward to. It’s right up there with arranging the refuse collection in the order of their priorities. This is unfortunate, given that the purpose of being in business is to maximise profit, and your accountant should be able to help you with this.

The Problem

The focus of the work that your accountant does for you, should not be about trying to reconstruct history, but about trying to improve the future. Why then is the annual accounts exercise such a tedious one for most people? In Ireland, there is an “accounting pattern” right across the country. For example, many businesses have a year end of 31 December. Those businesses have until the following October 31 to file tax returns or mid-November if they file their tax returns online. Much of the problem with accountant / client relationships stems from poor timing and communication:

  • The majority of self employed people leave their accounts until the latest possible moment, with the majority of those with December year-ends not making contact with their accountant until September at the earliest
  • This causes M50 (motorway) style “tailbacks” in accountants’ offices across Ireland
  • The accountants’ level of service and feedback to clients is compromised by this rush to meet a deadline
  • Opportunities to properly review financial results, cash flow, investments, pensions and investments are consequently lost
  • Most accountants rewrite the books they are given by their clients, as the books are not in a format suitable to prepare the accounts. Most business people are unaware that this even happens, and they think that they are doing a great job with their books and accounts!

Clearly there is fault on both sides here. Accountants should educate their clients more about what is required from them and emphasise the importance of timing. Clients, (business owners), should be proactive in seeking to improve the quality of their records and to bring their records to their accountants at the earliest possible opportunity.

How to Handle Your Accountant

There is a good accountant out there for everybody. You need to find an accountant who is not only competent and qualified, but also suits you in terms of their thinking and how they communicate with you. Your accountant should be interested in your business and make relevant, useful and practical suggestions for your business. But you need to work with your accountant, to enable him/her to give you the best possible advice. Rocking up to your accountant’s office swinging a bag of invoices in mid October is not likely to give you that result!
The best way to handle your accountant? Keep up to date with your books, find an accountant that you can work with and keep the lines of communication open.

Next Time…

In next month’s post I’ll outline my Top Ten Tips for Managing your Books.

What tips do you have for handling your accountant?


Helen Cousins, a chartered accountant by profession, is a business mentor, trainer and consultant for a wide range of Irish SMEs, often working under the auspices of state agencies via her company Xcel Business Solutions. In a successful career spanning more than 25 years, Helen worked in accountancy practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and worked in Financial Controller and senior management positions in manufacturing industry, before starting her own consultancy for small businesses. Helen is also a self catering entrepreneur, operating her own self catering holiday home business in Wexford. She is a director and former Chair of the Irish Self Catering Federation, and she works closely with the tourist industry in Ireland.

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  • Hi Helen, I’ve noticed that the downturn appears to have given some accountants theu00a0impetus to become much moreu00a0progressiveu00a0in how they communicate with clients and win new customers. I love what Martin atu00a0http://gilchristandco.comu00a0has achieved using Facebook.u00a0

  • Hi Niall, I “like” the Facebook Page of http://gilchristandco.comu00a0u00a0too 🙂 I’ve been delighted to work with some accountancy practices who seek to add value to their clients and become more relevant & approachable. Thereu2019s a great accountant out there for everyone! ~ Helen

  • Great post Helen. People tend to associate accountants with bad news and hard work so we are avoided like a plague until absolutely needed. Sometimes by then we can only give bad news and need the client to do more work to get the info needed. Although if clients only communicated more through the year and spread the work throughout the year it wouldn’t be such a chore for them plus the accountant can be more proactive for their business rather than reactive and just picking up the pieces. If us accountants could be handled properly and not put off until last minute then clients would get far more benefit from us. Rant over 🙂

  • Precisely! Thanks Sian

  • Paddy Walsh

    Hi Helen, very good blog and very true. I had a client once who likened the “annual visit” to going to his dentist. It took a little explaining that he should clean his teeth and his accountant was more than a tax consultant.

  • The dentist, yes that about sums up the feeling of many! I think that when an accountant is aware of that feeling and can improve the relationship, with “a little explaining”, as you have done, that the problem just goes away. It’s a communication problem for many. Well done Paddy!

  • Gianni Ponzi

    It would be interesting to see HOW accounts are kept by business and it this is part of the “tailbacks” issue you outlined above.nnA poll on who uses actual accounting software vs the “receipts in a shoebox” model would be interesting.nnIt might even suggest one avenue accountants and business could focus on e.g better training, easier software etc

  • It would be interesting to see HOW accounts are kept by business and is nthis part of the “tailbacks” issue you outlined above.nnA poll on who uses actual accounting software vs the “receipts in a shoebox” model would be interesting.nnIt might even suggest one avenue accountants and business could focus on e.g better training, easier software etcu00a0

  • We are on our third accountant in 9 years, mind you, the first one didn’t last long as he was ‘inherited’.u00a0 I’ve recently changed to one who vows to help her clients understand their accounts. It’s early days but I’m not sure that it is going to happen. I’m also conscious that I am very much a less than ideal client in that I leave getting stuff to them to the last minute sometimes too although I do put everything on an excel spreadsheet that they provided me with.nu00a0

  • I am happy to report that Accountants nowadays are far nicer that 20 years ago. With the onset of Social Networking, it means they can really communicate with their clients and potential clients.nnMy biggest regret was not putting my accounts online, as potentially anyone could then work on my book keeping, providing me with greater choices. I agree that you have to be able to communicate well with your chosen accountant, and they should be proactive about future savings, rather than being happy to recreate the past, as you say.nnA good effort from both sides should improve the relationship, like any relationship 🙂

  • Info

    I wouldn’t agree entirely Helen. I provided my accountant with everything in the April, he still filed my accounts late and I incurred the fee. Obviously I wasn’t too happy and surprised in his professionalisum he didn’t offer to pay considering it was his mistake. Personally I don’t see why Accountants leave it to the last minute.

  • It can be hard to find the right professional…u00a0Next month’s article gives some tips on keeping in control of paperwork, so maybe that will help a little. Fingers x that your new accountant works out for you Lorna.

  • nnI’m delighted to hear that your experience of accountantsnis, in general, good. This month’s “Accountancy Ireland” has annarticle entitled “The Emotionally Intelligent Accountant” (!) andnit’s a sign that the profession is now recognising that accountants need tondevelop skills other than finance to properly service the needs of theirnclients.nnnIn relation to putting your accounts online, itu2019s neverntoo late! You should discuss moving package with your accountant firstu00a0though.nIdeally, you should set up reports and analyses in such a way that itu2019snmeaningful information for you and in a format thatu2019s usable for preparing the final accountsnas well. I always discuss client needs, logistics (how the business operates onna daily basis), and personal preferences with a client before setting up annaccounting system. Then itu2019s u201ctheiru201d system, they understand it and it doesnwhat they want, in addition to churning out VAT returns and producingninformation for accountants and auditors. u00a0nnnThanks Elaine & good luck with your accountant :)nnn

  • nnIu2019m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. If younbrought in everything in April, it would seem that there should have been timento finalise your affairs. nnnNot all accountants are the same. There are good and badnaccountants in the same way as there are good and bad plumbers. I havenencountered a few accountants, (and other professionals), where the quality ofnwork and client service was poor. I wrote a post about it last year, u201cHiring anProfessional: 10 Tips for Spotting a Professional Turkeyu201d. for the comment, a valid point. ~ Helennnn

  • how to use myob

    Great blog, Really this is the great information about the handle accounting.I think, Don’t waste time searching for all your papers before calling us. We are happy to make four or five trips to pick up the papers nttttttby stages. Many lasting friendships can be struck up this way.nttttttNever supply all the pages of your bank statements. Accountants are specially trained to know what was on the missing pages.nttttttnhow to use myob

  • Great advice! Finding a great accountant is as essential as starting a business itself. The accountant is crucial since they keep tabs on all financial assets of the company. Whether using simple column pads or sophisticated accounting software, the skill of the accountant is measured in the smallest of details. n

  • Aileen

    re the online accounting comments, we find accountants are divided firmly in two camps on this. The ones you want are the ones who are NOT afraid of the transparency that online accounting affords. For example the person who dropped everything in in April and was still filing late would have know about that straight away by logging in to see if their data had been entered and accounts reports generated. Agree with you Elaine there are more proactive accoutants out there now, no need to business with any other kind.

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