What is an accountant?

Registered chartered accountant
Posted 2021 by Jane Loxton

According to a recent survey conducted by the Association of Accounting Technicians, one of the joint bodies responsible for accountancy professional standards in the UK, 75% of SME owners were not aware that the term ‘accountant’ can be used by anyone, irrespective of whether they are qualified or not, and is not legally protected.

This does raise some alarm bells and is a stark reminder of the need to exercise due care and diligence when choosing who should provide you and your business with accounting and tax services.

Becoming a Member firm of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) is no mean feat. Chartered Accountants undergo many years of training and examinations and must undertake set minimum levels of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) every year. Their records on CPD are submitted to their Governing body and scrutinised. The same applies to the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Associations that support those two senior bodies.

That is not to say there are not some very excellent advisers who have worked tirelessly for many years in the profession, nor does it guarantee that any Member of an Institute will have all the experience necessary to complete an assignment, and so how should a business owner choose who to take their advice from and trust their business with?

There is no simple answer to that question but as a minimum we might suggest:-

  1. Are they qualified- what experience AND qualifications do they have?
  2. If they belong to a professional body, what are the requirements for Membership?
  3. Have they undertaken the work you are asking them to do before, and on the same scale?
  4. Has the firm got adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance to back any costly mistakes it might make in error?
  5. Do the firm’s terms & conditions make you/your business entirely responsible for the work with no apparent recourse?
  6. How did you come across the firm? Were they recommended by someone you trust or who has had similar requirements satisfied?
  7. What is the basis of their charging structure and is this one commonly used in the profession? Do they charge ‘success’ fees?

The AAT and other Professional bodies are currently pressing for protected status especially where paid-for tax advice is offered, so that this area can be regulated. A survey conducted by the body found that 78% of a sample of 103 MPs backed compulsory membership of a professional body for anyone offering paid accountancy and tax services.

Our advice… be careful!

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