When you compare accountants, is local still best?

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

It used to be the way that, when you needed a startup accountant or some help with your small business, you would take a walk down the high street and see who operated locally. There wasn’t a need to compare accountants as such; you just chose whoever was there.

The advent of the internet made that search a little easier and wider, but not too much - tap “accountant” into Google and it will still ask if you mean “near me”. You’ll still compare accountants, but they will be in a certain proximity to where you are.

Yet technology has made the world a much smaller place. We can get anything from anywhere at any time - so do we really still need to choose a locally? Or should you spread that search far and wide to find someone best suited to your needs?

Is the traditional startup accountant on the way out?

Traditional startup accountants have worked in the same ways for years. You’ll usually find there’s a dedicated on-site hard drive or server where data and records are stored, and desktop-specific software - such as the old Sage systems - run the books.

This, however, means there’s limited access, and limited users who can make entries to it. It also means downloading spreadsheets and records to share them, and waiting for updates. The view that startup accountant had was historic and backwards-looking, and updates to the software had to be manually performed.

A startup accountant using older means will require you to come into the office to discuss your accounts, which is why choosing someone local was often your best bet - it limited travel time and made those meetings easier.

But technology - and better transport links - have all but eliminated that need for a local accountant.

The impact of cloud accounting

Cloud accounting is now the recommended way for small businesses and startups, and many even undertake the day-to-day bookkeeping themselves using these systems. The cloud-based nature means that your startup accountant can see exactly what you can see, and updates happen in real time. You can also make updates from anywhere, including your mobile phone.

Cloud accounting simplifies how you run your accounts, and ensures everything is always up-to-date and compliant. It’s also more productive - Xero, a cloud accounting software, carried out research that showed small businesses who partnered with an accountant and Xero for their accounting needs grew net profit 23% faster.

Working with new technology such as cloud accounting makes it easier to share data, ensure everything is backed up, and that your business’ finances are kept safe and secure. It puts some control back in your hands, rather than all in the hands of your accountant.

Technology drives operational change

And as HMRC moves further towards Making Tax Digital, startup accountants are being forced towards more digital means of conducting their business and looking after their clients.

But technology also means you can communicate with your startup accountant in new, easier ways. You don’t need to go into the office for a monthly meeting unless you want to; you can instead communicate by email. You could transform your meetings by using Skype, Google Hangouts or a similar video conferencing system, which means if your questions or your meeting turn out to be quick, you haven’t wasted an entire morning.

Of course, as they compare accountants, most startups will not still choose a local one because they want to be able to go in to see them. Today, you don’t have to choose local, you should compare and make decisions based on: responsiveness, expertise and price not on proximity.

Compare accountants to find the right one for your business

Whatever criteria you use to choose your accountant, it’s important your ultimate choice is the best fit for your small business. Remember to ask the right questions to compare accountants on equal footing:

● Check their qualifications

● Check they have experience with businesses like yours - both sector and size

● Ask for testimonials from clients similar to you

● Ask what’s included in their rates - and, importantly, what’s not included

And, importantly, ask how you will communicate with them. If the answer is by telephone, email or even Skype rather than in-person meetings, does it really matter where they are located?

A good startup accountant can help your business to thrive, but choosing one can be a difficult and uninformed decision. PROfiltr takes the pain out of finding a good accountant; compare and get your free quotes here.