What’s the definition of a “good accountant”?

Now, if I was going to answer that question with the punch line from an old accountancy joke, I’d be telling you that it’s someone who has a loophole named after them. But I’m pretty certain that you’re not reading this blog for comedy kicks…and I’m even more certain that the vast majority of people in need of an accountant don’t want one that sails so close to the wind as to drag them into the loophole naming process!

Having worked in this industry for nearly ten years, I’ve come to realise that the vast majority of contractors are hard working and honest. Sure, they don’t want to pay more tax than they need to (as if anyone does!), but they’ve no desire to aggressively dodge tax either. The reality of the situation is that the image of the “good accountant” conjured up by that old punch line is worlds away from what your average contractor wants from the person they entrust with the important task of organising their finances. Putting that inaccurate punch line to one side, then, what do most contractors actually want from a “good accountant”?

Well, we put just that question to a selection of the contractors that we work with and here’s a summary of some of the responses that we received:

  • A good accountant must be self-confident and knowledgeable in the areas of accountancy relevant to contracting. Now, this might sound like a bit of a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many contractors choose the services of a generic high-street accountant rather than an accountant that specialises in dealing with the freelance market!
  • A good accountant must have great organisational skills. Contractors appreciate that they aren’t their accountants’ only client, but when it’s their time with their accountant, they want to feel like they are their accountants’ only client.
  • A good accountant must be an easy-access accountant. When they need to contact their accountant, they want to be able to contact their accountant. When explaining the type of easy-access relationship that they wanted, two contractors actually offered up the example of the relationship that they have with their mobile phone operator as an example of the kind of relationship that they didn’t want to have with the person that looks after their money! If you’ve ever been kept on hold for twenty minutes after working your way through a maze of automated voice options, you’ll know what they’re on about!
  • A good accountant is an ethical accountant with a moral compass similar to that of their clients. In many respects, contractors are effectively looking for their finances to be looked after by a more financially knowledgeable version of themselves, not by someone who’d “sell” them into options that they would never themselves consider.
  • A good accountant is an up-to-date accountant. Accountancy is constantly evolving and contractors expect their accountant to keep up with those changes. Experience is great, but experience is all about what happened in the past, contractors need advice about the present and the future too!

As you can see from the above responses, being a good accountant requires a mixture of numerous skills and attributes, many of which have nothing specifically to do with accountancy per se. One of my colleagues sums it up quite nicely:  “If you’re a decent bloke with good people skills, you’re already over half-way towards becoming a good accountant”.

Liberty Bishop have been providing payroll and accountancy services to contractors since 1995. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to give us a call to chat through your options.

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Posted by Stuart Marquis on September 20th, 2013

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