Here’s some advice: don’t hire me as your accountant. I’m a Certified Public Accountant. But I’m an idiot. That’s because I’ve always been a believer that if it’s close enough, it’s good enough. That’s not exactly a great quality in an accountant, particularly a tax accountant. I’ve kept my CPA certification because my company sells financial software and does financial consulting where details are not as critical. But when it comes to taxes, I’m definitely an idiot.
I’m not the only one, either. So be forewarned: just because someone knows how to prepare a tax return doesn’t necessarily make him a good accountant. He can still be an idiot. Just like me. But for different reasons. How do you know if your tax accountant is an idiot? Here are three big red flags.
1. He’s not responsive.
If you’re struggling to find and communicate with your accountant, then he’s an idiot. Your accountant, no matter how smart he may be, is not God. You are the client. He is the service provider. That means when you need service, he needs to respond. Fast. Every good service provider knows this, and every good accountant I know returns calls, replies to emails and answers texts.
They are, within reason, available for their clients, even on nights and weekends. They are good with technology. They have a support system in place -- staffers, administrators, answering services -- to make sure you know someone is there to help. Clients don’t want to hear that their accountant is “buried” or that it’s “busy season.” Competent accountants know that they’ll be busy between January and April 15, so they make sure they’ve got an infrastructure to accommodate that level of work.
My accountant is excellent. I have his cell phone number. When I call or text, he replies right away. That’s what people expect in 2016 -- immediate gratification. Maybe that seems unfair if you’re an accountant. If you think so, then you better change professions. Because that’s the way it is.
2. He’s not proactive.
A 2014 survey from the Sleeter Group found that the number one reason why businesses leave their accountants is because they weren’t getting proactive advice. We may not be tax experts, but we’re not totally ignorant. We know that most tax returns can be completed with relative ease using software and a young staffer. We’re not paying our tax accountant to prepare tax returns. We’re paying him to give us tax advice. The code is complicated and every business has its nuances. We’re looking for our accountant to find ways to reduce our tax burden. We don’t want to beg. This should be his primary function.
A competent accountant doesn’t wait for clients to call. He doesn’t hide behind the tax code or nest in his office. He doesn’t avoid phone calls or run away from problems. Good accountants are reaching out to their clients proactively. They meet with their clients throughout the year. They ask their clients for financial information way before the end of the end of the year so they can make recommendations.
Good accountants are also good advisors and consultants. They don’t shy away from helping their clients with issues beyond just taxes. Issues like personal financial planning, insurance, even business management. I don’t know a single business owner who wouldn’t love a smart financial person to be on his or her team, offering their recommendations proactively. If your accountant doesn’t appreciate this need, then he’s an idiot.
3. Finally, he’s just not on your side.
The worst accountants I meet are the ones who think they’re an extension of the IRS. “Tsk, tsk” they say, shaking their heads. “You can’t do that.”
Successful business owners and entrepreneurs don’t want to hear that. Business owners are, by their nature, glass-is-half full personalities. They are leaders. They get things done. They find solutions to problems. They don’t take “no” for an answer. They’re certainly not asking their accountant to do anything that’s against the law. But they are in need of an accountant who is creative, innovative and willing to weigh the risks and rewards of decisions that may or may not result in a tax liability. They need someone on their side.
If your accountant is not on your side, then he’s an idiot. He should be working with you to minimize your tax liabilities. He should be making recommendations and also making you fully aware of your risks. If he truly values you as a client, he will be a partner willing to take reasonable risks with you. If the IRS does come knocking on your door, he should be not only well-versed in the position you’ve taken and ready to provide a solid rationale, but also ready to stand by you and not run for cover. If your accountant is not willing to be in the foxhole with you, then he’s not a partner. He’s just a tax return preparer. And he’s an idiot.
As you enter this year’s tax season, take another look at your accountant. If he’s an idiot, then find someone better. Just don’t ask me. You’ll regret it!