Did you know that anyone can call themselves an accountant?
Unlike solicitors who have to be a member of the Law Society to be able to use the term “Solicitor” anyone can attach the title of Accountant to their name without challenge or regulation.
They do not need to:
- Have any accountancy qualifications
- Belong to an accounting professional body
- Have passed any examinations
- Have any accounting or tax experience
- Have any professional indemnity insurance
- Have a valid complaints procedure or route for you to complain to a regulatory body
So what this means is that you can have someone running an accountancy business who is not an accountant e.g. an accountancy business (limited company or unincorporated organisation) with owners / shareholders and / or directors who are not accountants.
Of course that is fine, as they can employ accountants within the bushiness to provide the necessary expertise as long as you have an accountant as your main point of contact who is able to answer your specific accounts and tax queries.
What about Regulation?
The issue always comes to that of regulation – who do you complain to when something goes wrong if the firm is not regulated?
Well frankly …. no one.
There isn’t even an Ombudsman for the wrongdoing of non regulated accountancy firms.
In the world of accountants it is certainly buyer beware.
So what should you look for to make sure your accountant does know what they are doing ……
Make sure that it is an accountant doing your work
Your main point of contact should be an accountant; not to be confused with the term account manager (which is more of a sales rather than technical accounting role). Your may have been recruited as a customer by a marketing or sales team but it’s the accountant who likely have the accounts and tax expertise that you’ll need for your queries.
Check what qualifications that they have
Accountants regulated by professional bodies will have initials such as, but not limited to, ACA, FCA, ACCA, FCCA, MAAT, ACMA etc after their name. If in doubt ask them for the name of their profession body and check it out on the internet.
It may be that the accountant is qualified by the number of years of expertise and experience in their field; this is known as Qualified by Experience (QBE). Again there is no problem with being QBE as long as the necessary experience and expertise actually exists.
Do they have professional indemnity insurance
Ask for details of their professional indemnity insurance (PII) provider. All regulated accountant must have PII with many professional accountancy bodies insisting on a certain level of cover e.g. The ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) insist on three times fee income as the minimum level of cover.
What is their complaints procedure
They should provide you with their complaints procedure in their Letter of Engagement which should be sent out at the start of your relationship. If they do not provide you with the details or do not send you a Letter of Engagement then ask them for both.
Make sure that the complaints procedure includes a level of escalation outside of the firm to e.g. a professional accountancy bodies.
Of course external escalation to a professional body will only exist for those firms of accountants , or principals (those running the firm being shareholder, director or owner), who are members of a professional body!