1. A Professional Designation
Consider whether a professional designation, like a Chartered Professional Accountant, is important to you. CPAs are professionally regulated in each province and they help to protect the public through rigorous educational and certification programs. So, not only can you be assured that its members uphold the highest professional and ethical standards, but you have recourse if something goes wrong between you and your CPA. If a conflict or complaint arises between you and your non-designated accountant, you may find your alternatives are limited.
Always discuss fees with your accountant. Fees can vary widely from firm to firm and from accountant to accountant. Some accountants charge by the hour (ie. $150 to $400 per hour) and some charge by the job. Fees should be part of the initial discussion and, for new clients, accountants should be able to estimate the fees based on a review and discussion of prior year work. This discussion will help avoid surprises after the work is complete.
3. Level of Service
You will want to determine the level of service you need from your accountant and whether you can grow with your accountant. For example, as your business grows and gets more complex, can your accountant provide the increased level of service that your growing business needs. Many accountants do not provide audit services or review engagement services which you may find you need at some point.
You will want to find out how available your accountant will be. How quickly do they return phone calls or emails? Generally, within 24 hours is the norm, but two weeks is unacceptable. Also, do you get to speak to the accountant or is someone more junior returning your calls or emails.
5. Use of technology
Technology is changing each year and you will find that you want your accountant to match or exceed your level of technological savviness. If you're using a cloud based accounting software, you can often add your accountant and they can access your accounting records as you do. Not only does this matter from a practical viewpoint (does your accountant ask you to print out a general ledger from QuickBooks Online) but can your accountant offer you advice or training in better use of the software. Talk to your accountant about technology and you should also research them online. Do they have a website? Do they have a social media presence?
6. Risk tolerance
Just as people have different risk tolerances, so do accountants. If you're the type of person who likes to push the boundaries of tax law the opposite value in an accountant will not work long. In addition, an aggressive accountant with respect to tax compliance for a client who may have a low tolerance for risk may quickly find themselves in trouble with a tax agency. The accountant needs to be able to understand the clients' level of risk tolerance and advise appropriately.
7. Speak at your level
You will want to deal with an accountant that can speak to you at your level of financial expertise. You may be ok trusting your accountant to get your work done correctly, but the accountant should be willing to take time to explain or answer any questions you may have at a level that you will understand. After all, you are the one signing off on the work.
The average age of accountants in Manitoba is between 55 and 60 years old. While this experience can be a huge asset, you may find yourself going through the process of finding a new accountant again in a couple of years. You may want to find a trusted accountant that can guide you through to retirement. If your accountant is older and working on their own, what is their succession plan?
Consider the importance of location. You may only meet with your accountant once or twice per year. Do they have an office or are they meeting at a coffee shop? Is parking available? Would it be conveniently located to drop in on short notice?
10. Ask for Referrals
Finally, accountants get a big portion of their new clients from referrals. Happy clients are eager to share with friends and colleagues. Ask someone you know and respect who they use as their accountant, considering the points discussed above, and ask if they'd recommend them. Other people you can ask include your financial advisor, banker or lawyer.