This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia.
Business owners often have a stereotypical view of the relationship with their accounting firm — that they’ll get a financial statement audit or tax advice, and that’s it. That mindset, however, can result in a missed opportunity to build a more meaningful relationship.
“Businesses often see their accounting firm as a group of professionals who just do the taxes and other financial statements that all businesses are required to produce — things that they might see as a necessary evil,” says Lisa G. Pileggi, director-in-charge, Tax Strategies, at Kreischer Miller. “And accounting firms, similarly, can be so focused on these compliance matters that they neglect to communicate to their clients all of the other services that their firm can provide. The result is that both parties are missing out on an opportunity to have a deeper relationship beyond just the traditional services.”
Accounting firms are capable of helping companies save money, improve business operations and achieve the owners’ goals when companies see their accountant not as an external service provider, but as a business adviser and an integral part of their team.
“When companies and accounting firms take a bigger-picture approach to their relationship, it benefits everyone,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Pileggi about how businesses and accounting firms can form a more rewarding relationship.
What should businesses expect from their accountant?
Businesses should expect an open, year-round dialogue. Things may seem quieter after the taxes or audit are completed, but there should still be regular touchpoints so the firm can understand what’s happening with a client’s business. It shouldn’t be a purely transactional relationship — one in which a few emails are exchanged at tax time, files are transferred and deliverables received.
Having a more in-depth relationship allows your accounting firm to provide proactive guidance that’s uniquely tailored to your business and its needs. For instance, the U.S. just went through the biggest tax reform since 1986. Some companies are still working their way through that, trying to understand the implications for the business as well as its owners. There are elements of the tax plan that are not yet well understood, but that could have significant ramifications for a business. So, a conversation with your accounting firm can help you sort through the intricacies and determine which areas require greater focus.
In a good company/firm relationship, companies should feel comfortable asking their accountant questions to better understand an issue. Where clients don’t initiate that dialogue, it’s on the accounting firm to reach out and help their client understand the issue better.
How should businesses go about choosing an accountant?
The best fit will be with someone with whom the business owner feels comfortable. This needs to be someone who an owner respects, values their input and is open to their guidance. There are many reputable accounting firms with highly skilled professionals. But it takes a strong relationship to have an open dialogue that ensures an owner’s business and personal goals can be achieved every step of the way.
What mistakes do businesses make in the process of selecting an accountant?
Businesses tend to undervalue the investment that needs to be made in accounting services. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between firms on the surface and it can be tempting to select the lowest cost provider. But the decision really shouldn’t hinge on price alone. The quality and depth of the relationship, as well as the breadth of services provided, are what matter.
Sometimes, in dealing with difficult business decisions, the answers that come from an accountant may be frustrating. That’s why it’s essential that the business owner trusts the person providing the advice. Having a strong relationship and regular contact with your accountant means they can stay on top of issues, leaving you to focus on running your business. ●
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