Selecting a CPA Firm
Relationships go deep between a CPA firm and a client: at least we feel they do. But every now and then a relationship goes sour and a business owner says it’s time to start looking around. That’s when we get the call.
Often the owner or CFO doesn’t necessarily have a long list of issues with their CPA firm, but more of a sense that things could be done in a more effective, timely fashion with a greater level of expertise. That’s when we get the call.
Many owners or CFOs still feel the sting of tax consequences and they’d like to be more pro-active for the next tax season, but they don’t feel they’re getting what they need from their current firm, so they ask their peers. That’s when we get the call.
In response to receiving an inquiry, we like to ask a lot of questions and have some deep discussions. But, we also find there’s some homework a prospective client can do that will make the process easier and more meaningful.
Here are our tips for selecting a CPA firm:
1. Super-Size it?
It might work for McDonald’s but not every client wants to “super-size it” and go with a big accounting firm. Who wants to be a small fish in a big bowl when it comes to your finances? Look for a firm that will give you the attention you need with your account. If you want to have access to a Partner, as well as a working team, then a mid-sized firm like RBF Co is the way to go. If you want the cache and price tag of a larger firm, then understand that you will be less significant to them. The largest firms have a bureaucracy that may not suit your style. Bigger isn’t always better; for your finances or your diet.
2. Call in the Expert!
Who would you prefer as your surgeon – the Doctor with years of experience or the one who has done “similar surgeries, but not this kind?” When looking for a CPA firm, industry experience counts big. Sure, there’s a lot about the XX’s and 00’s in accounting that transfer from industry to industry, but there is nothing that will trump a CPA with industry experience who can go beyond the numbers. You need someone who speaks the lingo, understands industry nuances and can relate to your particular industry challenges.
3. Reputation Counts
When a firm does what it says it will do, it earns a good reputation for integrity and professionalism. Reputations can’t be bought; they have to be earned, and as a result, what your colleagues say about the firms you’re considering is important. Even more important are the comments from current and past clients of a firm because first-hand knowledge trumps hearsay. When a CPA firm hits on all cylinders of a client relationship, its reputation will spread and it will grow from referrals and goodwill. We don’t know whether it’s important to you or not, but here at RBF Co we think a good reputation goes beyond the firm itself to include the reputations of the Partners and team members. We look for a culture that is client centric and Partners who are active in the community and give back in many different ways. We believe that when you give your word, you keep it and you’re only as good as keeping the promises you make.
4. Certifiably Qualified
It’s easy to assess the basic qualifications and certifications of each Partner and team member when you’re evaluating a CPA firm. But we urge you to dig deeper. Not every firm offering “accounting services” may be fully qualified. Obviously you’ll want a Certified Public Accounting firm; but also look for firms that are involved in the industry through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA). Firms must maintain their credentials on an annual basis through Continuing Professional Education (CPE). But firms that really care about their credentials will do more than the minimal requirements. Look for a firm that has a culture of learning and one that encourages all of its team members to continue their education in the accounting industry and stay current with technology.
5. Go Beyond the Numbers
Every CPA can run the numbers for your business. But the work of an accountant is much more. Ultimately, the most successful accountants have one thing in common; their stellar interpersonal skills. When searching for the perfect fit for your business, look for evidence that the CPA firm’s team has the ability to work well with your team. Check references to see if their team produced consistent results, that they took ownership of their performance and that their communication skills and response time was better than just acceptable.
Finding a compatible CPA firm will take some time and effort on your part, but will be worth it in the long run if you follow a rigorous selection process. Working with a CPA firm that’s a good fit for you can make the difference between success and mediocrity.