What to look for in a CPA

Great financial professionals are everywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is right for your needs.  There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” accountant. Recently, I shared an article on Facebook and on Twitter:  11 Signs That It’s Time To Find A New Tax Professional.  It’s a good guideline about red flags you should look for when dealing with your financial advisor.  This part really caught my eye:

But you’re not paying for the paper [forms]: you’re paying for the advice.You’re paying for the hours of education and experience that goes into figuring out what to include – and what not to include – on those forms. If your tax pro balks at offering you advice (examples might include how to maximize your deductions, figure your withholding, or keep better records), you’re missing out. Even worse, you’re not getting what you’re paying for. Ask questions. Expect answers. That’s the value of a good tax pro.



It’s the absolute truth.  The majority of clients need someone they can trust and are seeking professionals that are truly interested in helping them.  How some accountants stay in business I’ll never know; here are some additional things to look for and to be wary of when searching for an advisor:

Your advisor doesn’t treat you with a professional attitude:  While an individual or small start-up will not need as much work as a larger business, your finances are still valuable as is your business.  More complicated clients require more time and are therefore billed accordingly, but that is no reason to be dismissive about clients that will take fewer hours to assist.  If your accountant always pushes your work aside for a bigger dollar client, or makes light of your needs then he or she is not providing the service or respect that you deserve.  Never give your hard earned money to someone who doesn’t want it.

Your advisor doesn’t know or care about your business or industry:  If you are a niche or industry specific business, it only makes sense to hire a financial professional that understands your unique needs.  If you need simple bookkeeping or payroll, then you can hire an excellent bookkeeper or accountant, regardless of industry.   Sit down and meet with any prospective accountant to fully discuss your needs and if they understand enough about your industry to give reliable advice.  A tax professional that knows your industry is essential to ensure that you are receiving all of the tax and financial benefits available.

Your advisor is trying to milk every penny they can from you:  Your financial professional must be someone you can trust to look out for your best financial interests.  Understandably, trust and confidence takes time to build but honesty and integrity begins from day one.  Last week during a preliminary meeting with a prospective client, we discovered that their current CPA was charging per hour for manual data entry when it is possible for their current accounting  program to collect the information automatically.  Personally, I would have used this as an opportunity to teach my clients about the various software features and how it could help them streamline their accounting process. Some financial professionals lose sight of a longer term professional relationship because they only see an opportunity to bill, bill, bill.

Your advisor purposefully misleads you regarding his or her abilities or expertise: The complexity of financial transactions can run the gamut from simple to incredibly intricate.  As with most things, a straightforward financial question can sometimes be quickly researched by anyone.  However, there are very specialized fields of financial and tax  expertise that would in no way be considered a “quick look up”.  There are also many issues that are multi-layered that require an expert to do research.  

financial needs, trust

Albert Einstein is quoted in 1963 as saying “the hardest thing in the world to understand is income taxes.” I can assure you that the American tax system has only gotten more complex in the past 50 years.  A financial professional that is not fully confident in his or her abilities should not take a “fly by the seat of your pants” attitude.  Your trust and your finances are not something to be gambled. Regardless of your needs, your financial advisor should have enough integrity to admit if it is not within his or her scope of expertise and refer you to another professional that does.

When seeking an accountant, be upfront about your needs and expectations.  Any potential accountant should be up front about rates and approximately how long the job will take.  Once you’ve chosen a tax professional, he or she should draw up an engagement letter outlining work to be done, an estimate of how many hours of work are expected, and their billing rate. The engagement letter gives a solid foundation for both parties and can be adjusted accordingly.

Be communicative with your financial advisor. Some people need more assurance than others, so if you have concerns, you should feel comfortable discussing them with your accountant.  I am not suggesting to call your accountant ten times a day, but if there is a problem or concern it should be addressed.  Like most things, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and while a good accountant wears many hats, “psychic” is not one of them.

Lastly, and most importantly, trust yourself.  It doesn’t have to be some loud, flashing warning alarm to warn you.  Your gut instincts are there for a reason, even if you can’t pinpoint the cause. Don’t be afraid to shop around for an accountant until you find one who understands and wants your business.


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