Can your CPA work for you?

What is your perception of a certified public accountant (CPA)?
Do you immediately associate

an accounting professional with taxes
and audits? Sure, crunching numbers is
the foundation of an accountant’s practice, but even more important is service, experience and specialty. In today’s
complex tax environment, accountants
focus on areas of concentration, just
like doctors do.

“CPAs manage a deep range of financial
activities, but our codes of ethics prevent
us from denoting this clearly,” says Gary S.
Shamis, CPA and managing director of
SS&G Financial Services., Inc. “So from an
outsider’s perspective, we all look the
same.”

The best way to maximize the value of
accounting services is to seek out a CPA
whose strengths accommodate your
needs. You should partner with a professional who understands your industry, can
communicate clearly with you about pertinent business issues and serve as a loyal
adviser.

Smart Business asked Shamis how to
find the best CPA for your business and
why you can’t afford to settle for less.

Explain the role of an accountant today.

In a sense, accounting today has
become polarized: One focus serves
clients in an advisory role, while the other
serves assurance services.

First, let’s take a look at the accountant/adviser. In this role, business owners
certainly rely on CPAs for a certain
degree of compliance services, but mainly, the accountant is a financial resource.
Even beyond that, the accountant is a
sort of spiritual adviser for entrepreneurs
who don’t have business partners.
Sometimes, owners look at their accountants as silent partners. They want an
accountant who takes an advocacy position and can help them perform better.

On the other hand, accountants who
perform assurance services, including
audits for the benefit of the general public, can’t serve as an advocate to business owners. It is critical that this focus of
accounting is independent — not
involved in steering the business, offering
financial advice or playing that ‘partner’
role. Their role is one of due diligence.
Period. This separation between the two
services of accounting, as I refer to them,
is even more profound today in lieu of
Sarbanes-Oxley and the attention dedicated to internal audits.

What qualities should business owners seek
in an accountant whom they also want to
serve as an adviser?

All CPAs have comparable training, but
different professional experience. This is
where asking the right questions is important for determining whether the accountant’s specialty matches your business.

First, you should tune into the way the
CPA communicates with you. Does he or
she make difficult concepts easy to understand? Also, ask about the return-phone-call policy. Can you expect answers the
same day? How often does the CPA generally meet with clients and are these discussions face to face? What is the best way to
contact the accountant: e-mail or telephone? Is this mode of communication convenient for you? Most importantly, you
must partner with an accountant you trust.

How can a business owner determine a CPA’s
strengths?

Years ago, CPAs were generalists, but
because of the body of knowledge today,
CPAs must be specialists. They may focus
on international tax, valuation work, audits
or small business. You want to find a CPA
that has the experience you need for your
industry. Ask whether he or she services
clients with similar businesses to yours.

What are some traps business owners fall
into that prevent them from maximizing the
relationship with their accountants?

If you need open-heart surgery, don’t you
want the best doctor, even if he or she
costs more? Your financial health is one of
the most important aspects of your life.
You should want the best CPA, regardless
of the price. The old adage that you get
what you pay for couldn’t be more true. If
you want a quality CPA who knows your
industry, the return you will realize from
the relationship will be your best investment. Settling for the best-price CPA will
cost you in terms of not getting the best tax
and business advice for you and your business.

How should business owners maximize the
value of accounting services?

Arrange year-end planning meetings with
your accountant and ask for financial physicals. Ask your CPA to review your
progress and share your goals with him or
her. It is critical that your CPA understand
your long-term goals for your personal life
and business. For example, if your goals
are to have an estate plan and pass your
business to a second generation and your
accountant doesn’t know it, the process
could end up being inefficient.

GARY S. SHAMIS, CPA, M.Acc., is the managing director of
SS&G Financial Services, Inc. Reach him at (440) 248-8787 or
[email protected].