Here are 10 tips, including questions to ask in an interview:

  • Get referrals: Ask around and see who in your circle of friends have have much success with an accountant. It has been reported that when an accountant gets a referral. They feel obliged to perform better since it is someone trusting them to refer them a friend or family member.
  • Determine your business needs: Do you want an accountant to just handle the books and file your taxes, or someone who can give advice, and who will be there as your business grows? Most business owners want someone to advise them on a range of things. “A lot of people go to their accountants before they go to a lawyer, because they can help them deal with leases, franchise agreements – we have that well-rounded knowledge,” says many accountants around Montreal, adding it’s also important to ask if the accountant has the credentials to sign financial statements and do statutory compliance work.
  • Get licensed candidates: There are three professional accountancy designations, each with different educational requirements and duties. Chartered accountants (CA) have global recognition and their services range from startup counselling to acting as a trustee for receivership, insolvency or bankruptcy. Certified management accountants (CMA) integrate accounting expertise with advanced management skills, and chartered professional accountants (CPA) have a range of duties, from providing insights into financial statements and reports to overseeing internal accounting processes. “You have to get a certain degree of education and a certain amount of experience before you get these designations, and there are ethical rules that have to be met,” says the board of professional accountants.
  • Determine accessibility: If just starting out, you may need to be in touch with your accountant more often at first. While some accountants are sole proprietors, like Mr. Renna, who says he’s available pretty much round-the-clock for clients, many work in firms and have someone covering for them when they’re away. “If you have a bigger business, more employees, more complex issues, you need to gauge accessibility; is this [accountant]a one-man show, do they have staff – is another staff member assigned to your file?” It’s important to feel comfortable with whomever you talk to.
  • Ask what they charge for services: Most charge by the hour (usually anywhere from $40 to $400 an hour, depending on their duties). Ask what those fees include – for instance, do they charge every time you call for advice? “Find out the hourly rate – will they be flexible in billing, especially if your business is just getting off the ground?” . Bring a copy of your tax returns to accountants you’re thinking of hiring, to see if they can give you an idea of the cost of their services.
  • Get names of other clients and references: Accountants who handle other companies are more likely to have insight into the relevant business laws. References and professional associations can tell you if there have ever been any issues, complaints or disciplinary action taken against an accountant.
  • Ask if they have ever owned a business: It’s not vital that an accountant has been a business owner, but it can be a plus. “An accountant has to give you lots of advice, but is it based on what they learned in school or from reading a book, or did the accountant actually get their own hands dirty and have their own failures and rewards?”.
  • Talk about technology: Spreadsheets and other accounting paperwork are giving way to computers and digital filing. Paperless accounting saves time and money: “I got a call from a client who was refinancing, and needed his financial statements to go out to his new banker while he was on the phone with me. I sent him an e-mail with his financial statement within a minute; four years ago, that would have taken us four hours.” He also suggests asking the accountant how computer literate he or she is, whether the firm has a website, and if they use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Gauge risk tolerance: Look for someone who is not overly aggressive, yet can be creative while working within the rules. Ask how they would treat certain kinds of deductions, income or strategies. Some accountants may be aggressive in terms of tax compliance, which can put the client at risk. There may be good aggressiveness working within the rules as you interpret them and knowing what [does] and doesn’t work while keeping the client out of trouble.
  • Ask to be kept in the loop: Some accountants in Montreal have newsletters or blogs that keep their clients informed. Look for an accountant who will provide you with information when [they]comes across an idea, concept, article, etc. that could be of interest or benefit to you.