PracticeAuditClose your eyes and pick one.

Close your eyes and pick one.

It's one of the tricky problems facing anyone when they set up in business. Everything else they get help with, but finding an accountant? Yes, they're told it's a good idea to have one, but not how to find one, except 'look in the Yellow Pages'.

For a start, you need to know if you want an ACA or an ACCA or an IPCA or whether you need them to be qualified at all. All you want is somebody that’s good and cheap.

People don’t love accountants, even lawyers have more going for them: compare Gene Wilder, neurotic and obsessional in The Producers, with George Clooney, sharp and vicious in Intolerable Cruelty. Lawyers on screen are sharp and cold-blooded. Accountants are terminally uninteresting.

We used to laugh at my brother-in-law when he trained as a chartered accountant and worked for less money than a student grant, which in the sixties was not a lot. (We didn’t laugh as much after he retired at 50 with more pension than most of us have income.)

An accountant called Charles Lawson stood in the 1999 European election in Scotland as an independent under the banner of ‘accountant for lower taxes’. He got 1,632 votes and finished last, 450 votes behind the Natural Law party.

People think of accountants as sad people, albeit sad people who rule the world. Rather like Terry Pratchett’s wizards, if you get the wrong one, he could mess you up big time. You don’t have to look far to see how wrong things can go at all levels of the game, from Enron to the man next door.

So how do you find one? There’s only one answer – personal recommendation.

There’s a bloke in the pub who swears by his – never misses a chance to save tax and has the dogs on the payroll. Your uncle has his bank accounts in the Channel Islands branch and doesn’t have to pay tax on them. Then your cousin’s accountant disappeared with the funds of the charity he was looking after, and your neighbour’s accountant never told him he was under investigation until it turned out he owed the Revenue £15,000.

Perhaps I’ll look in the Yellow Pages after all.

  • Simon Sweetman, vice chair of the tax policy group at the Federation.

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