Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Use QuickBooks – Do I also Need an Accountant?

I Use QuickBooks – Do I also Need an Accountant?

The traditional role of an accountant is changing. In previous years a small business would class a good accountant as one of the fundamental requirements when starting a business. Their support and guidance towards all matters connected with the set up and launch of a business was perceived as essential in order for a small business to be ultimately successful. The perceived importance of the role accountant’s play with small business has been increasingly bought into question as the internet has grown and developed. The advice that accountants used to charge for regarding company formation, company structure and VAT registration is now largely available for free on the internet. Furthermore, the rise in online accounting software has made it easier than ever for a small business to keep their company books in good shape. We wanted to explore why more and more small businesses are choosing to use online accounting software and how this has impacted the traditional role of the accountant.

Why are business owners using online accounting software?

•Cost – When the accounting and bookkeeping world was inaccessible to owners of small business the large cost burden of having a professional accountant was seen as simply a core running cost of the business. The cost structures of accountants differ widely from per hour, fixed fees for defined work and some even charge by the minute for telephone calls. Whatever the cost structure having an accountant look after all of you small business financial affairs will be a significant burden to your cost and business profits. Basic software for accounting can be available from as little as $50 a month.

• Time Schedules – A piece of software can continue working 24 hours a day whereas an accountant has set schedules and opening times. As a small business you will very rarely be working to a 9-5 schedule and therefore having the rigid nature of accountant opening hours can be frustrating. Even more so if a deadline is required that requires an accountants help and you are charged overtime for an accountant working out of hours.

•Ease of use – Software for accounting has become very user friendly with many products available that do not require the user to have any accounting knowledge at all. This allows tradesman and sole traders to be able to easily to control of their financial affairs.

•Improved business Performance – There can be real business performance advantages of taking control of the company finances as opposed to outsourcing them.

•Accountability – An obvious advantage of taking control of you financial affair is that there becomes greater accountability to deliver. Software for accounting allows small business owners to be much closer to the financial affairs than when they are outsourced.

• Collaboration – one of the risks out outsourcing all financial management to an accountant is that it stifles people from within the business talking and engaging about disciplined financial management. Taking control of financial affairs internally within the business increases engagement and collaboration across the business to improve the company’s financial performance.

If more businesses are using online accounting software is there a role for traditional accountants?

In short, yes, but in a different capacity to how they have traditionally been deployed. Accountants need to focus less on the bookkeeping and daily accounting of small businesses and focus more on the provision of advice that optimizes business performance. Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are becoming well versed in the many advantages that exist within doing your own accounting via an easy to use, cost effective software package. That said, many small business owners still have a requirement to discuss future business optimization with a financial planning expert.

Software cannot possibly understand a business’s objectives and work with the owners to produce a strategy or business plan optimize performance. Nor can a software package proactively restructure the company books to save tax as the company grows and develops. Once a small business is established they would benefit from advice from an ‘auditor’ regarding business structures, financial efficiency and tax planning. This annual audit ensures that the business is on the right track for sustainable growth and success.

Software allows small business to complete their day to day accounting enabling the owners to stay close to their financial affairs at a fraction of the price of an accountant. However, a good accountant can engage with the owner about optimizing the business to ensure that the right plan for growth exists. This type of engagement with an accountant can be done as a cost effective fixed fee arrangement which can be easily planned and budgeted for within the company accounts. The answer to whether a small business should have an accountant or accounting software is – they should have both but deployed for different purposes.

Good Practices for Choosing an Accountant

Here are some tips for avoiding common pitfalls and needless headaches in your search for a small business accountant:

•Determine your needs
There is no one-size-fits-all method for managing small business finances. Make sure that your accountant specializes in small businesses, and ideally has knowledge of your industry. Beyond that, you will need to decide what level of support is appropriate and affordable for your business. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants, and tax attorneys bring different skills and charge different rates.
•Just ask!
Word of mouth is a good way to find good accountants. Talk to your family, friends, peers, even your attorney for recommendations. You can also inquire with institutions and organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants*, your state Board of Accountants, or a local Chamber of Commerce.
•Interview your candidates
Remember that you are hiring someone that will fulfill your business needs and requirements. Treat it like a job interview that you would give to any potential employee. Ask about:
•Professional qualifications like their licenses and experience
•Personnel who will actually do the work, and their response times
•Fees and charges to make sure they are in line with your budget
•Specialized services that you may want in the future – for example, financisal audit support
•Clientele (past and current) so you can gauge their expertise

Gustavo A Viera CPA

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