Depending on a variety of factors, you may have an accountant or CPA on staff, or you may be a client of an outside accounting firm. In either case, you want a professional who welcomes your questions. If you receive answers that are full of jargon or feel like you’re being patronized, then you may need to change accountants.
You’ll find a selection of suggested questions in this article, not all of which need to be asked repeatedly. Change the frequency of your questions and topics to suit your needs. The first two questions are generally more applicable to an accountant you’re considering hiring, but they may be appropriate to clarify matters with an accountant with whom you have an established relationship.
Can We Talk?
It doesn’t matter how astute you or your accountant are; you won’t have a satisfactory relationship if you don’t have clear lines of communication. Discussions can be in person, via email or online services, in a telephone call, or some other mutually acceptable method.
Expect your accountant to establish schedules for consultations about routine matters and updates. If your accountant is not on-site, then they must have staff and systems in place to respond promptly when you contact them should something unexpected occur. A professional who is too “busy” to get back to you appropriately isn’t providing the service for which you’re paying.
What Is Your Philosophy?
This isn’t about how you think, although Socrates’s advice to “Know Thyself” is apropos. Expect your accountant to share your values concerning business practices. If you’re cautious about tax deductions, you won’t be happy with someone aggressive about write-offs. If one of your goals is rapid expansion, you don’t want an accountant who advises you to be content with the status quo.
This doesn’t mean that you want a professional who agrees with everything you say. Part of your accountant’s job is providing reliable financial advice. You must be able to depend on them to be honest with you regardless of the subject.
What Are You Doing for Me?
If you regard your accountant as nothing more than a “bean counter” or math whiz, you are short-changing yourself. Expect your accountant, especially a CPA, to have a wide range of knowledge and experience. Your accountant has the ability to distinguish the trees in the business forest. Expect them to be aware of upcoming changes that can impact your business and help you meet any challenge.
Expect your accountant to ensure that reports are filed accurately and on time. That includes payroll tax returns, income tax returns, and other financial data required by one or more agencies. Expect them to represent you in audits, whether requested by tax or regulatory authorities, investors, or lenders.
How Can I Slow the Flow?
Cash flow is money moving in and out of your business. One of the reasons that money flows out faster than it comes in is your accounts receivable. For a variety of reasons, not every customer or client pays immediately for products or services. You, however, have paid out money for payroll, inventory, overhead, and other expenses. You may have some accounts payable, but you jeopardize your ability to stay in business if you fall behind in payments.
Expect your accountant to be skilled in cash flow analysis. They can pinpoint problems and offer solutions. If you have a seasonal business, expect them to help with plans to avoid shortfalls during slow times and correlate cash flow projections with budgeting, financial forecasts, and marketing data.
How Would You Run My Business?
Accountants understand the financial workings of a variety of businesses and industries. Expect them to share insights into successful practices. Expect useful recommendations. Perhaps they know of companies similar to yours that have cultivated markets of which you were unaware. Perhaps your accountant knows just the specialist your team needs to move to the next level.
Expect your accountant to suggest new or better ways of conducting your business. Expect them also to point out practices that you might need to change.
Malware, Ransomware, Spyware, Scareware, Trojans, Worms, Viruses: How Do I Prevent Attacks?
Traditionally, accountants were generally more experienced with fraud and embezzlement than internet security. That’s changing. Expect your accountant to implement good data security within their office. Expect them to offer suggestions as to how you can protect your financial transactions and business data from cyber theft.
Expect them to look at what you have in place and recommend newer or updated software if needed. Expect recommendations for additional employee training, enhanced physical security, and off-site storage of backup records as appropriate.
Can You Resolve My FUD About Cryptocurrencies?
Bitcoin has hundreds of successors. You aren’t the only one experiencing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) as to whether to accept cryptocurrencies as payment for your products and services and how to record the transactions. Expect your accountant to start with your marketing team to determine whether cryptocurrencies, if any, are to your advantage.
Expect your accountant to explain how to record the resulting transactions. Industry authorities such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) have not yet issued definitive guidelines. Accountants are generally recording transactions in normal dollar amounts and classifying the difference between that and value of the cryptocurrency separately. Until FASB and other authorities issue guidelines, businesses vary in how they are recording and tracking cryptocurrency values. Expect your accountant to stay on top of guidelines and keep you in compliance.
How Can I Keep Taxes from Being the Death Of Me?
Expect your accountant to know the current and proposed tax laws as well as how those laws affect your business. Schedule tax-planning meetings throughout the year and before any significant changes to maximize tax savings. Expect to receive advice as to the best times to invest in assets or inventory. Expect to discuss everyday decisions such as whether you should hire employees or independent contractors.
Play fair with your accountant and avoid dumping everything on them April 14. You and your accountant will have agreed on business expenses and deductions, but there may still be items to be discussed. Expect understandable answers to any questions you have.
What Do You Want from Me?
Few accountants can read crystal balls. Unless yours can, expect them to answer this question with a request for more or better information. Are you giving them all the documents they require on time? If they have asked for your data in a specific way, are you complying with their request?
Expect your accountant to ask that you consult with them before major decisions that involve finances. It’s easier for them to help you avoid pitfalls than to try to unwind a disadvantageous deal.
Why Do I Need You?
You probably see regular advertising for inexpensive, if not free, software that records all your transactions. Tax preparers/programs that promise a refund to proliferate during tax time. Why can’t you use some of those to save money? Expect a response from your accountant that’s a polite version of “you get what you pay for.”
Expect to pay your accountant for knowing more than how to keep your books and prepare tax returns. You are paying for expert advice that includes knowing that a tax refund, if legitimate, is a sign of poor financial planning. Expect your accountant to help you choose software and other technology that is genuinely beneficial.
Your accountant’s goal is to help you improve and maintain the financial stability of your company. Expect them to provide you and other members of your team with financial data that’s accurate and timely. Your questions will assist both you and your accountant in achieving that goal.
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