Business Surgery: Is your accountant qualified?

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Mark Baker, from Jacobs Allen, explains why it’s important that your accountant is qualified.

In the UK, anybody can call themselves an accountant and offer tax, accounting and business services without any training or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good people calling themselves accountants that are ‘qualified’ by experience, but would you trust your health to a doctor with no qualifications or regulation?

A regulated accountant has gone through rigorous training and passed demanding exams to qualify as a member of one of the main accountancy bodies. Qualified accountants in practice have designatory letters, usually ACA or FCA for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) and ACCA for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. In taxation, the specialist qualification of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) to become a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) indicates expertise in tax at the highest level.

Other regulatory bodies are the Association of Accounting Technicians and the Association of Tax Technicians.

There are a number of groups to which ‘accountants’ can subscribe that may have regulation within the group. However, members of these groups have not received formal training as mentioned above.

Qualified accountants in practice must hold a practising certificate. In the case of the ICAEW this means that the firm complies with the Practice Assurance Scheme that guarantees a quality standard in all work that they do.

What does regulation guarantee as a minimum?

-- The firm is answerable to a governing body – if the client believes they have received poor advice or unethical treatment they can complain to that body.

-- Ethical standards.

-- The firm carries professional indemnity insurance.

-- Essential, up to date knowledge of the latest accounting, tax and business issues.

-- Trusted adviser status.

-- Advice that adds real value.

-- Money Laundering regulations – compliance with these regulations are controlled by the regulatory body rather than HMRC.

Business owners may go to an unregulated firm because of price; when starting up, costs are often a huge issue. However this can be short-sighted. Getting the right advice at the very start and when you are growing is essential. While a regulated firm will appear to charge slightly higher fees, application of their expansive knowledge gives the client the best advice to help them achieve success, potentially save them tax and help them keep more of their hard-earned profit.

As a firm of chartered accountants and chartered tax advisers we are well placed to provide clients with the right advice; all of our client managers hold recognised accountancy and/or tax qualifications and our initial meeting is always free of charge. Even if you only want a second opinion from a regulated accountant just