Most large businesses and corporations have the financial means to employ qualified accountants as permanent staff members, but this is out of the financial reach of small businesses. For them, having a competent bookkeeper, either full or part time depending on the size of their business, is sufficient for most of the year. At tax time, or if they need more than basic financial advice, they meet with their external accountant.
Fees for these consultations can sometimes be difficult to quote upfront, especially if the work is more than a basic tax return. As the accountant begins the work it may become far more complex than was first thought, and if the business owner has agreed on an hourly rate, a couple of hours work can quickly increase from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
Some accounting firms offer fixed price agreements, which provide their clients with some certainty regarding the fees, but this is usually a private arrangement that is not universally available. For the business owner, finding out if the fees they are being charged are fair and comparable to others doing the same work can be difficult.
There are several regulatory and professional bodies that can assist. Before choosing an accountant, regardless of fee arrangements, business owners should check credentials. Ensure the accountant is a member of a professional body such as Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, Institute of Public Accountants or Certified Practising Accountants Australia.
Members must have an accredited tertiary qualification and comply with a set of professional standards. If a client feels their accountant has not complied with these standards, they can make a complaint to the relevant professional body. Business owners should also be aware that only registered tax agents can prepare and lodge tax returns. Accountants who are doing this work must also be registered with the Tax Practitioners Board.
As with most decisions, a good place to start is by seeking recommendations from other business owners, including asking them about the fees they are paying. In Australia, the accountancy profession is not regulated so there are no scheduled fees. The marketplace is the final arbitrator of accounting fees, which ensures they stay competitive.
This is also the case for companies offering their services to assist SMSF (self-managed superannuation fund) trustees to keep their funds compliant with regulatory requirements. Companies such as SMSF Assure provide administrators who understand the complexities of SMSF legislation and work with their clients to ensure that all documentation is in place and all lodging and other requirements are met.