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How should a member of the public choose an accountant ...

How should a member of the public choose an...

With most trades it is a simple matter to see their work and get a peer review as well as obtaining references; so everything is transparent

In the case of the accountants everyone is going to proclaim that they are the best and no one in their right mind is going to admit to anything else - but how is the public to know whether one person is better than another. Furthermore, even if their knowledge is inadequate for the job in hand will it be declared or is the client taken on in the hope that one can get up to speed at a later date?

The number of basic level questions being posed on Aweb is interesting because they address issues that most have long forgotten or take for granted - it is not really about lack of knowledge because everyone goes through a learning curve, but to what extent should it be at the expense of the client (you don't have brickie producing a crooked wall because he is learning on the job).

However, bearing in mind the Aweb user profiles, a great many of these questions come from sole traders/small practices who deal directly with clients. Therefore the inevitable conclusion is that in some instances clients are being taken on by those with insufficient knowledge to do the job - although, whether this is/should be declared is an entirely different matter

So the question is – when building a house would you take on a plumber who could replace the washer in a tap but not install a central heating system? – and how can a member of the public ensure that they take on an accountant who has sufficient knowledge/experience to provide a service


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26th Jul 2011 10:16

By speaking to others

In my experience, most small businesses chose their accountants by speaking to relatives, neighbours, friends, bank managers, colleagues and business contacts and asking for recommendations.

If I wanted a plumber to fix a leaking tap I might just find one in yellow pages. If I wanted a central heating system I'd ask people I knew to recommend a plumber since I haven't got the technical knowledge to know whether a plumber is good or not. I'd do exactly the same if I wanted my house selling, car repairing, computer repairing etc.

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26th Jul 2011 10:31

Reasonable competence

The standard by which any individual is held to account in the conduct of his trade or profession is the standard which a person can expect of a person of his qualifications and experience.

This gives rise to the usual arguments for and against qualified v unqualified accountants.

In the case of members of a professional organisation they are prohibited from performing work beyond their competence.However,they may call upon specialists to provide services on their behalf i.e. just as a general builder would employ an electrician or a company specialising in under-pinning work.

It could be the case the questions are posted by accountants who normally specialise in say tax but who occassionally require specialised advice on accounting issues.They obviously have ultimate responsibilty for ensuring the work is correct.


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26th Jul 2011 13:47


Yes, talking to others, and even asking for references.

Of course they are only going to be given references from satisfied customers....  local knowledge is all sometimes.

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By Top_Cat
26th Jul 2011 14:14


Recommendation is the only way.

Qualifications mean very little - their are qualified accountants who shouldnt be let loose on the petty cash, and their are unqualified accountants who are brilliant. I bet you've had a "qualified" car mechanic (probably at a main agents) mess up your car, and someone without qualifications do a brilliant job.

The only real way to judge, whether an accountant, a plumber, or even a surgeon, it to speak to those who have already used them.


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26th Jul 2011 15:15

Do they want an accountant?

Sadly, I come across quite a lot of small businesses, mainly trademan, that don't want an accountant but someone that is prepared to completely bend the rules and turn a blind eye to anything that they may do. All this to my utter disguist.

So a further question could be how do accountants spot these businesses?

I always refer to manufacturing a four legged table but only supplying 3 legs. Yes this will stand very well, if correctly positioned, but if fitted wrong it will fall down when you most want them. So i tell clients it is far safer to actually fit 4 legs on in the first place.

For me reputation and word of mouth is the best way. The vast majority of my clients know they can go to a rouge accountant, whether qualified or unqualified, but they trust me to advise them to the best of my ability, whether it is in their favour or not. If I am unsure of something I always recommend the use of a specialist. I highlight these facts at our initial meeting and also refer potential clients to the medical profession and state that you would not expect your GP to be undertaking brain surgery. 

I highlight the con's of being a sole trader, but I also highlight the Pro's of being one and the con's of going to larger accountancy practises. Not all large practises are good practises, it is the actual person dealing with the client affairs.

Reputation works well both ways, as I do not seem to get that many rouge businesses enquirying to me, as I'm guessing that is the way I have structered my business referrals and why I am not making the turnover or profits that I could do.

It is a matter of choice for the client and the accountant. 

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26th Jul 2011 15:23

I passed my ACCA exams in 1994 ....

 does that make me better than someone who never has? No of course it doesn't (that was before self-assessment for goodness sake!).

What is important, however, in my view is the fact that:

(a) I am insured

(b) I carry out mandatory CPD to keep me up to date

(c) I have someone that people could complain to if I cock[***] up

If I was Jo public I would go by recommendation and then check up on those essentials before worrying about whether the person was ACCA, AAT, CTA or whatever. QBE is fine by me provided they have those 3 things in place.


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26th Jul 2011 22:53

Not go with someone who is a know it all

and admits to areas they dont know about. Someone who does not see asking questions as a sign of weakness. Accountant  who has the front to ask the most basic of questions that others may be  too afraid to ask or do not want to show to others their gap in knowledge.


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27th Jul 2011 09:04


 That's an easy question to answer. Choose an accountant who you feel certain will be working for you. After all, you pay their fees. 

Putting this principle into practice can be a difficult task. For too long, many accountants have seen themselves primarily as agents for HMRC. A cosy relationship with the local tax office made life easier for them - but often at the client's expense. It was also a handy formula to hide sheer incompetency. 

Thankfully, this is now a diminishing trait. A new breed of younger, dynamic accountants, more responsive to the idea of customer service is taking over . However, some of the old attitudes still persist ( see a few of the above comments) . 

So here are a few guides:

1) Avoid like the plague any accountant who gives you the impression that they are doing you a favour by taking on your company. The world doesn't work that way any more.

2) Look for an accountant who is genuinely interested in what you do, who wants to know the highs and lows of cash flow, where expenditure is key and who has got great ideas to help you run your business more efficiently. These days, there's a lot of them around - but you have to take the time to find them. 

3) Go for someone who appreciates that your main concern is running a business, not filing every receipt for every box of paper clips.  Although it's not ideal, good accountants are seldom phased by the site of crumpled receipts crammed into Tesco carrier bags, along with year old crisp packets. After all, they're there to help.

4) Immediately fire any accountant who spends time worrying about whether they should claim one cup of coffee or two as an expense, or who quibbles over whether you should claim ten rather than twelve miles for a particular journey. Technically, they may be right. However, they're pedants who have clearly lost sight of the bigger picture.  These accountants hinder rather than help business. Do your bit to drum them out of the profession. The world will thank you for it.

5) Don't trust any accountant who compares their work to that of a doctor.  You're bound to lose an arm and a leg.      


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27th Jul 2011 09:26

How would an accountant choose a solicitor to deal with an emplo

I have given this issue considerable thought last night.

This same question should thrown to the audience and asked how they would choose a solicitor to act for them in say an employment dispute (or any other litigation). Or indeed to build up a buisiness relationship with a solicitor.

I would probably look at issues as follows:

1) What do you need a solicitor for? Is it going to be on a reoccuring basis or is it just for a specialist one off assignment. Are you going to let that one solicitor handle all of your issues or are there other areas of competence that you need and maybe you need more than one solicitor/professional.

2) What can I afford? I may be need more but can I afford it? There are several no win no fee solicitors. There are also several accountants offering good incentives for clients to go to them. Price, structure, service, etc.

3) Who do I know that has gone through the same or similar issue and how have they found their solicitor? Did they win? did they appear to know what they were doing?

My wife is going through an issue at the moment in connection to discrimination and unfair dismissal, whilst on maternity. We approached a local solicitor, to whom I have used before (referral), however we cannot afford to be represented for this specific case. We just wanted to pay for an hour's general advice on whether we had some kind of case, someone who has good knowledge of employment law. His final recomendation was to look at our household insurance to see if we have legal cover. We do so we now have an insurance backed solicitor to deal with the complete case (well worth the £180 meeting cost!, money well spent.). We would never have chosen this solicitor outright, but price/no cost to us, means that he is the best person for us for this assignment. I am not saying he is the best person for the assignment, but we cannot afford the famous Mr Loophole. Had we not have spent the £180 initially, then we may not now have a solictor to deal with the case at all. Some would argue that anyone would have informed us of that and we could have paid £nil or less than £180, but this solicitor needed to have known about the topic and also use of legal cover in the first instance. To me the same goes with accountancy and what you know and advise, which could save clients money, it may not.

Back to my thread yesterday, most small businessed cannot afford accountants with specialist knowledge so they go with what they can afford (people like me, general practitioners). They may not need the complete services of an accountant so they mix and match. The problem I have is that in most cases they need someone who has knowledge of the industry and not a novice. I wouldn't go with a solicitor for debt collection simply because I can get this service from a debt collection agency somewhat cheaper. But I would choose a debt collection agency with experience with successfully collecting debt. I wouldn't necessary do my own book-keeping, but I would ensure that the book-keeper that I engage has knowledge and experience in book-keeping and knows when to pass queries up to me to look at.


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27th Jul 2011 09:37

@ Mike Bassy

 Long time no hear Mike! What has regenerated your interest in our humble profession? I do actually agree with the gist of what you are saying . Of course the bit about doing the client a favour is a bit unfair as of course we are doing clients a favour by taking them on. It takes up valuable golf time doing accounts you know! 

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29th Jul 2011 17:46

Good presentation, perhaps?

Most of the published replies are good.  They do hold water.  But what about presentation?  If one sends out (or even publishes matter, such as on this forum), and it is mis-spelt, or grammatically incorrect, it bodes badly.  We are here to serve the PUBLIC, not ourselves.  So, if any potential clients look at Accounting Web, and see some of the atrocious spelling, etc that CAN BE AVOIDED BY USING THE PREVIEW BUTTON BEFORE SENDING,  one cannot blame them for not wanting to instruct some of our members.  BEWARE - public forums ARE used by prospective clients.  

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29th Jul 2011 18:18

Finding the right accountant
As they say up North: 'Nout beats experience.'

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By Top_Cat
29th Jul 2011 18:20


If one sends out (or even publishes matter, such as on this forum), and it is mis-spelt, or grammatically incorrect, it bodes badly.


Posted by MartinLevin on Fri, 29/07/2011 - 17:46


Why ?

An accountant is engaged to minimise the client's tax and maximise his profit. He's not employed to proof read a book. Quite frankly if a client is so petty minded that he selects his accountant based on spelling then he is going to be the kind of client who is a pain in the rear and not worth having. 

I always feel that people who nit-pick over "spelling" are inevitably small minded people who delight in pointing out simple errors by others to massage their own fragile egos. 


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30th Jul 2011 12:31

Presentation counts for everything

Whoah there TopCat.  Have you never been on the receiving end of "speculative Curriculum Vitae?".  It takes only a few minutes to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Anyone who cannot present themselves properly to a prospective employer is instantly weeded-out.  That's a trick I learnt from a "Human Resources" (formerly "Personnel") person.  Consider viewing the problems from the CONSUMERS' point.  What's the first contact that a prospective client sees?  A letter, or even a voice answering a telephone call.  I think that, on reflection, you would re-consider this.  Otherwise, you would, probably, get booted off The Apprentice at the first hurdle.  So do, please "proof-read" EVERY article, before pressing SUBMIT.  You appear to have missed that point entirely.  Finally "egoism" has NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

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By Top_Cat
30th Jul 2011 18:27

The stupidity of prejudices
Presentation counts for everything

Anyone who cannot present themselves properly to a prospective employer is instantly weeded-out. That


Posted by MartinLevin on Sat, 30/07/2011 - 12:31



And those who follow such a course are short sighted, and incredibly stupid. All of the following are/were dyslexic. All would have submitted CVs riddled with spelling errors, and your friend in human resources would have instantly dismissed them -


Richard Branson – Entrepreneur

Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor

Agatha Christie – Writer

Roald Dahl - Author

Leonardo da Vinci – Artist

Walt Disney – Film producer


Thomas Edison – Inventor

Albert Einstein - Scientist

Lorna Fitzsimmons – MP

David Fogel – Buying and Merchandising Director of Hamleys

Bill Gates - Microsoft Chairman

Hamish Grant – Chief Executive of Axeon

Guy Hands – EMI Chairman

Lord Philip Harris – Entrepreneur and millionaire

Jack Horner – Palaeontologist

John Irving – Author

Steve Jobs – Founder of Apple

Ingvar Kamprad – Founder of Ikea

Lord McAlpine

Jo Malone – Retailer

John Madjeski – Businessman

Dominic O’Brien – Word memory champion

Theo Paphitis – Chairman/Chief Executive – Ryman and Partners

Zara Reid – Businesswoman

Peter Stringfellow – Businessman


It seems to me that it's not the people who make spelling errors who are stupid, it's the people who judge them by it.



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01st Aug 2011 00:55

Grammar and spelling are important

Top Cat's premises are untenable and his ad hominem attacks on those who hold a contrary view lack the courtesy expected in a discussion between professionals.

A recent report by a BBC education correspondent drew attention to the costs of poor spelling. He reported an online entrepreneur as saying that an analysis of website figures showed a single spelling mistake could cut online sales in half. Sales figures suggested that misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website's credibility.

Poor grammar and spelling are simply not acceptable in important documents like CVs and reports. Their authors should know what standards the recipients expect. If they are not met, it implies that either the author did not have the wit to know what was expected or he could not be bothered to provide it.

Top Cat's list of intelligent and successful people who are, or were, dyslexic does not support his premise that competent grammar and spelling are not important. It only implies that dyslexia is not incompatible with intelligence and success. Agatha Christie may have been dyslexic (I have not checked) but I have not noted that her Miss Marple and Poirot are strewn with solecisms. I doubt that many of the people he has listed would allow an important document to be issued in their name without proof-reading.

I agree with Martin Levin's view that presentation is important. In describing Martin as short sighted and incredibly stupid, Top Cat may have presented readers of "Any Answers" with the impression that he himself would be a more fitting recipient of such pejorative epithets.

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By Top_Cat
01st Aug 2011 08:54

Caber Feidh

Top Cat's premises are untenable and his ad hominem attacks on those who hold a contrary view lack the courtesy expected in a discussion between professionals.


Posted by Caber Feidh on Mon, 01/08/2011 - 00:55



So does personal attacks on other posters (as opposed to their opinions) yet your post is littered with personal insults and abuse.  The rest of your contentions seem to be drawn from unscientific articles. We can all find articles on the internet to support virtually any contention (even that the earth is flat), that does not mean it is a fact. 

However, as you seem to suffer from an obsession with spelling and grammar, I assume you wont bother to read any more of my posts. 


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01st Aug 2011 16:33

Not an ideal world!

On the whole, I agree with Caber Feidh. But, of course, to a degree, Top Cat is right - ruling out an accountant because of spelling or grammatical errors may mean ruling out a fabulous accountant who just happens to not be good at spelling and grammar. Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world with unlimited time on our hands. To decide between candidates, we have to make some arbitrary decisions. For example, publishers would not bother reading a manuscript which has been submitted handwritten. That doesn't mean it isn't any good - it might be a prospective best seller - but the publisher, like the accountant's client, has to use some criteria to weed out potential authors/candidates - and that's just one of them. The best way for a client to choose an accountant would be to interview all possible candidates personally, look at their work, get references from their clients and maybe even check their CPD is up todate - but it just ain't gonna happen!! Unless, that is, you are a stonking big company who can afford the time to undertake that sort of process and invite tenders.

So clients will use other more obvious and easily identifiable criteria - cost (a very cheap accountant may be brilliant but a potential client may equate cheapness with inadequate service), personality (some bad tempered or downright offensive accountants may be fabulous at accountancy) and attention to detail (which is where the spelling and grammar come in). In the process they may overlook the best person for the job but it's probably a price most are prepared to pay to work the short cuts in life. 

In the absence of a referral for a tradesman, I, like many others, get a couple of quotes in and see what I think of the individual - not ideal but practical given the time etc that I have available - and this is really about practicality versus idealism.


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01st Aug 2011 16:45

Not really an answer, but another question

On a forum such as this, I don't really care whether the spelling or grammar is correct, so long as the message and intention is clear.

We are all good at some things, and bad at others, but if a CV arrived at this office full of spelling mistakes it would end up in the bin. OK, some people may be dyslexic, or just be lousy at spelling, and they should either point that out on the CV, or take the trouble to get someone to check it over for them, otherwise it looks as though they don't care how slapdash their presentation appears to be.

We all have weaknesses. Should we try to overcome them, or develop strategies to reduce their effect?

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By Flash Gordon
01st Aug 2011 17:23


Given that Word etc have spellcheckers I can't see why any professional document (including CVs) should have spelling mistakes. It would be lovely if AWeb spell-checked automatically (maybe this is included in the new version) as it can be easy to mispell, particularly when you're typing fast because you know you've wasted far too much time on the site as it is! But if you're trying to make a good impression then getting the basics right is vital. If you don't make the effort on that then the impression you're giving is that you don't care. No different than turning up to a first meeting with a corporate client in your pjs and slippers saying that you overslept - the client would think 'if they can't be bothered to get up on time and dress then they're unlikely to put any effort into making sure the figures in my accounts are right'.

I also bin CVs that are addressed to 'Dear sir / madam' - if they can't be bothered to find out the name and sex[***] of the person responsible for hiring then I can't be bothered to read the CV. Even more so when the name is clearly stated in the advert!

I had a friend who was severely dyslexic - she'd always get her website and her studywork proof-read by someone else because she knew there would be loads of errors.

Maybe it just depends on whether you think other peoples' views matter? I'm sure if you have an ego the size of King Kong then what anyone else thinks is irrelevant to you but if you have a more normal ego then you might take other views on board.....

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