How to Choose an Accountant
Choosing an accountant can be difficult and daunting. It is a big decision and you want to get it right. You should first decide what it is you want and need from your accountant for example: just bookkeeping or annual tax returns, assistance setting up a business, tax and VAT returns etc.
- Just bookkeeping or annual tax returns
- Assistance setting up a business
- Tax and VAT returns
- Tax appeals and enquires, or insurance against investigation
- Ongoing professional advice
- How often you want or need to communicate with your accountant
- How you want to communicate with your accountant
Then you need to decide if you are comfortable entrusting your financial affairs to someone that simply calls themselves an accountant or to someone who can prove they are a qualified Chartered Accountant who has passed rigorous exams to get his/her qualification and has to do hours of courses every year to keep up to date, who has professional indemnity insurance to cover against bad advice or negligence, and who is a member of a professional body to which you can complain.
What is a Chartered Accountant?
Chartered Accountants, who use the letters ACA or FCA after their name, are an Associate or Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), Scotland (ICAS) or Ireland (ICAI).
Chartered Accountants have to undergo a rigorous 3-year training programme under the tutelage of already-qualified Chartered Accountants, and pass demanding exams each year. Most candidates do not pass all of the exams, and do not end up becoming Chartered Accountants. Once qualified, Chartered Accountants must continue to study to keep their knowledge and skills up to date, and must have insurance to cover any claims made against them.
Chartered Accountants have established such a reputation for competence and integrity that, in 1996, Certified Accountants (who use the letters ACCA after their names) and Management Accountants (who use the letters CIMA after their names) applied to use the "chartered description", and began to call themselves chartered accountants. It is important to note that ACCA and CIMA accountancy qualifications are not the same as the ACA and FCA qualification used by the original Chartered Accountants.
In recent years, other accounting organisations have begun to spring up, some with little or no formal training or exams. As it is so easy to become a member of these organisations, their membership has become very large. Some members of these organisations have also recently started calling themselves chartered accountants.
Other Accountants have called themselves Certified Public Accountants (CPA). Note that the CPA is only a US qualification, irrelevant in the UK.
To add to the confusion, unqualified practitioners, bookkeepers and technicians can also call themselves accountants.
How can you tell if your accountant is a genuine Chartered Accountant?
Chartered Accountants belonging to one of the ICA institutes (ICAEW, ICAI and ICAS) usually use capital letters in their title (Chartered Accountant; to indicate a title), whereas members of other bodies often use lower case (chartered accountant; to indicate a description). However, the only sure-fire way to know of which body your accountant is a member is to ask them.