Your accountant is more than a number cruncher

Often business owners see their accountants as number crunchers — someone to handle taxes, financial statements and the like. What they tend not to see is a business partner.

“Accountants can and should be included in discussions about a person’s business and their expectations for it,” says Cheryl A. Fields, senior sales and use tax manager at Clarus Partners. “Be comfortable with your accountant. They’re really a business partner, so make sure they’re clued in to your plans so they can be more responsive to your needs. The business can only be better for it.”

Smart Business spoke with Fields about how business owners can get the most out of their accountants.

Why might business owners not take full advantage of their accountants’ capabilities?

Business owners often don’t know all that their accountants can do, primarily because they don’t have a full understanding of the accounting profession. They don’t know all they can ask their accountants to do. Accountants have access to a lot of information. It is their responsibility to keep up with all that’s happening with their clients’ businesses. However, if they’re kept in the dark, say about a desired expansion, the accountant can’t go looking for municipal credits that can be used to offset the costs.

On the other side, accountants need to do a better job of asking questions about not only what‘s happening, but also what the business owner is thinking so they can be proactive.

Discussions around tax strategies should be deeper than a cover sheet with bullet points. There’s a lot going on with tax laws. Businesses that work with their accountants to understand the changes can come up with an effective strategy to take advantage of them.

How should business owners start the process of building a better relationship with their accountant?

It really comes down to communication. Set up a time outside of tax season to discuss high-level planning — for instance, an in-depth state of the business and future plans.

Also, business owners should talk to their accountant about their expectations for the relationship. This is both an opportunity for the business owner to voice what they need, but also for the accountant to explain what other services they can provide.

What is an accountant’s responsibility when it comes to getting more out of the relationship?

Accountants should help their clients understand what they’re capable of. They should reach out during the year to check in on busy executives. Ask how things are going or have a lunch meeting to talk about the business. Send articles that cover an issue that could affect the business — a new law, for example. If an accountant is only reaching out to talk tax prep, it could be a sign that they don’t understand the person’s business or that they lack the interest or ability to expand the relationship.

Business owners need to trust their accountant. Accountants necessarily work with confidential information, predictive numbers and strategic plans. Business owners who are the least bit hesitant to disclose information to their accountant need to find someone new. An accountant should also be someone a business owner likes to work with. If the relationship is strained, get references and find someone better.

How do business owners benefit from a better relationship with their accountant?

Business owners who have a good relationship with their accountants find themselves with better tax planning opportunities and a step ahead of legislation, which gives the business time to prepare.

Also, accountants are objective outsiders who might see things internal people miss or that an inside person could be reluctant to bring attention to. In that way their perspective can be valuable.

Ultimately, keeping an accountant in the loop helps business owners on the front end, enabling them to put their business in the best financial situation. Accountants aren’t just numbers crunchers. They are trusted, knowledgeable business partners in a unique position to offer advice.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Clarus Partners