Few decisions are as critical to an organization’s financial health as choosing the right accountant. It’s more than just a matter of qualifications or cost; a Certified Public Accountant who fits your company’s needs must also be a good fit with your goals. Here’s an overview of what you need to know to find your ideal accountant.
What Do You Need in a CPA?
What is the first thing you need your accountant to do? The answer will tell you a great deal about what sort of CPA you should work with. Your immediate challenge might be assembling accurate, complete financial statements after a recent merger or acquisition. You might need a forensic accountant to spot and explain anomalies in records.
Perhaps you need someone to handle routine accounting duties such as payroll and general ledger maintenance. Maybe you want a Long Island accountant with extensive knowledge of state and federal tax laws. Your ideal accountant might play a key advisory role, helping your organization grow. All of these and more are good reasons to seek a CPA with a specific skill set.
In-House or Outside Accounting Firm?
In the beginning, many business owners and entrepreneurs handle their own accounting using readily available bookkeeping software tools. Successful enterprises quickly grow beyond that point, and then executives face their first major accounting decision: Should they hire a CPA in-house, or should the company work with an outside accounting firm?
For growing businesses, the expense of a full-time accountant may be too great, especially if the company needs experience with a wide range of skills. Hiring CPA services from an outside firm is a smart choice that puts expertise in a variety of areas at a business owner’s fingertips. Large, established businesses face a different challenge: They can afford an in-house accountant, but the volume and scope of their financial transactions may require additional help at times. Turning tax preparation over to an outside CPA relieves pressure on the in-house staff.
Outside accountants are able to handle every aspect of a company’s finances, including:
– Tax compliance
– Attestation and assurance
– Forensic accounting
– Audit and review
– Budget and forecast preparation
– Analysis and problem-solving
In-house accountants become familiar with a company’s inner workings and are part of the fabric of the organization. They work with outside CPAs during times of flux such as a merger or sale. Businesses often ask inside accountants to manage:
– General ledger
– Accounts payable and receivable
– Treasury and bank reconciliation
– Daily transactions
Qualifications for Your Company’s Accountant
A larger company has more complex financial needs and requires an accountant with a more extensive skill set than a smaller business. When looking for an accountant, consider these qualifications and areas of expertise.
Certification separates accountants from CPAs and CMAs. Accountants may have either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree and do not need to pass a qualifying exam. A Certified Public Accountant earns a minimum of a four-year degree and must maintain a schedule of ongoing education to retain certification. They must also take and pass a standardized test to meet state certification requirements. Some accountants focus on the needs of businesses and become Certified Management Accountants, or CMAs. Like their CPA counterparts, CMAs graduate from a four-year program and pass an exam to earn certification.
Aside from certification, experience is another key qualification to examine. CPA services for specific industries may be specialized, and accountants who have experience in those industries are particularly valuable. Accountants familiar with wholesale, retail, services, and other specializations help businesses in these sectors succeed.
When working with an accountant from an outside firm, size matters. A sole practitioner may not offer the versatility of a larger firm, whereas the Big Four may cost more than they save a growing business. Ideally, an accounting firm gives clients versatility and Big Four-quality service at a more accessible price. A mid-sized CPA firm that delivers individualized service is a good starting point for most companies.
References and Interview Tips for CPAs
Some of your most promising leads to find the ideal CPA come from colleagues or vendors. Ask associates within your industry about how they fill their accounting needs; they can often point you in the right direction. Professional associations and industry organizations are also useful when starting your search for the right accountant, so ask around at events and meetings.
A CPA is more than a bookkeeper. A business’ accountant deals with sensitive information, so discretion and availability are vital. CPA firms that instill a company-wide
culture of service ensure you and your firm will be treated as priority clients. Look for firms that offer hours that fit your needs and put you in touch with your accountant, not a voice at a call center.
Whether you want routine bookkeeping, knowledgeable tax preparation, or financial guidance through periods of change in your company’s history, the right accountant plays a crucial role in your business’ success.
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