You might have read and enjoyed our recent article on the Top 5 Reasons People Change Accountants, and while it’s great to know what we see most often in new clients coming to us from other CPAs, we thought it would be helpful to share with you some tell-tale signs you can look for that it’s time to switch CPAs.
Why are we sharing this? As accountants, we have a long list of duties, including creating budgets, keeping track of cash flow, preparing financial statements, and filing taxes, to name a few, all of which contribute to the financial stability not just of your company, but for every company on our roster. We don’t always managing all of these components for every client, nor are any two clients the same. There’s certainly a bit of a mystique around what exactly it is that we as accountants do, and what is a normal or not normal experience, especially because every person or business’s needs are different. Sometimes, we’ll get a new client who has been putting up with some weird processes from their old CPA they shouldn’t have to, but just as often, we’ll hear someone upset about something that’s pretty typical to have to manage when working with a CPA. To de-mystify some of this and to help you trust that gut feeling that it’s time to look for someone new, we’ve put together 8 Signs It’s Time for a new CPA.
8 Signs It’s Time for a New CPA
1. Your CPA is DISORGANIZED
We’re not talking about that one time they asked you to resend a document five years ago. We’re talking misses deadlines, neglects you, makes your working circumstances more challenging for you and your team, or takes on more than they can handle without proper procedures in place.
Some signs of a disorganized CPA can be:
- Constantly asking you to resend documents
- Missed filing deadlines
- Payroll is late or missed entirely
- People aren’t getting paid the proper amount
- Messy books and Quickbooks errors
- Errors in your monthly and/or quarterly reports (or reports never coming)
- Your CPA sounds distracted on the phone
- You receive emails intended for other clients
- There aren’t clear processes for how you provide documents, information, and payment
Juggling clients, meeting deadlines, and following proper reporting guidelines are some of the few duties every CPA is expected to complete, just like in any business. And, while mistakes can happen once in a while, chronic disorganization and error isn’t good for YOUR business, not just theirs.
Put plainly—your business cannot afford an accountant who is disorganized, as disorganization leads to more work on your end, lack of trust, errors, and mistakes, all of which make you liable to encounter fees, penalties, and fines.
It’s time to start looking for a new CPA if your current one is disorganized, before it negatively affects your company.
2. They MISS Deadlines
It doesn’t matter if it’s filing your business documents or your tax returns, sending out payroll, or providing reports—missing deadlines is a major sign it’s time to move on. One of the key things you are paying your accountant to do is manage and meet deadlines. If you are having to remind your CPA to file on time, or send out that “Hey, isn’t it time to pay our estimated taxes” email, this is usually not a good sign.
Now, with this one, there are a few caveats.
- Holidays, late filing, and extensions are handled differently. There will be circumstances when a deadline is no longer a deadline (i.e. you can’t issue payroll on a bank holiday, so those payments are commonly issued the business day prior or after). Filing extensions, like the ones offered for 2020 taxes, change the actual due date, so for example, your individual taxes weren’t late if you filed after April 15th and before May 17th.
- Your CPA cannot file your taxes until they have the information they need in order to do so (otherwise, it’s tax fraud). If you encounter a late filing because they were waiting on you for information or documents, that missed deadline is to be expected. This is totally normal.
- Late filing is different from late payment. You can file on time and still receive a late payment penalty if you do not pay online or postmark your payment by the IRS deadline. If your CPA is managing your taxes but doesn’t handle payment, you will have to make sure you make the payment by the deadline. It’s important not to confuse the two.
- Understand that sometimes circumstances happen. There are always extenuating circumstances for everybody, and having some flexibility when it is called for is important. If you want your monthly report on the 1st every month, know that when the 1st falls on a Sunday it’s unrealistic to expect your CPA to put together the report that day.
- Pay attention to what happens after a deadline is missed. If your accountant shrugs it off like it’s no big deal, this isn’t a great sign. But, if there is a reasonable explanation, make sure you understand what’s being communicated to you about the scenario. If it’s your CPA’s first error like this, pay attention to how they handle it. This will indicate how seriously they take errors.
If you have a concern about a deadline or have encountered a fine, it’s important to bring it up with your accountant and understand the situation. However, if your CPA is repeatedly missing deadlines, particularly ones that result in a cost to you, they aren’t qualified to help you in the way you need them to.
3. They DON’T Stay up to Date on Changes to Regulations and Tax Code
This one is kind of a given, but has grown particularly more relevant and complicated with COVID, crypto, and loan forgiveness in recent years.
It’s not at all uncommon for the IRS to issue updates and changes to regulations, for tax brackets to shift, and for conditions for tax write-offs to change, and if your CPA isn’t up-to-date on these changes not only are they likely costing you money, they might even be putting you at risk for an audit and for tax fraud. Even beyond that, if your CPA isn’t telling you about potential loan forgiveness programs relevant to you, it’s important to ask yourself whether your CPA is really taking a close look at your business.
There’s a big difference between choosing not to work with companies who take crypto investments as a personal choice vs. working with those sorts of companies and not paying attention to crypto regulations and tax codes.
You’re hiring an accountant to be an expert in their field. If that’s not your experience and they don’t appear up to speed on laws, credits, deductions, and, most importantly, best practices, it’s probably time to move on.
4. You’re NOT Getting Monthly or Quarterly Reports
Financial reporting on a monthly and quarterly basis is crucial for your company to understand your cash flow statements, budget for the future, and identify the specifics of your business activities. Reports are an essential component of every company because they indicate the health of your business (and, must be readily available in some heavily-regulated industries, or for companies with investors and boards).
It is the responsibility of a CPA to produce monthly and quarterly reports and to understand the importance and sensitive nature of reporting on the financial health of a business.
If your CPA isn’t doing it, how can you possibly know how much money is coming in and going out, whether your company is sustaining itself, or make any decisions that impact the ability of your company to continue to do business?
5. They DON’T Have the Expertise that is Critical to your Situation
It is important that your CPA has a clear insight into all the formalities and other requirements related to your business niche. Your CPA should be knowledgeable about more than just financial statements and spreadsheets; they should have an adept knowledge of how your business runs and best accounting practices for your company’s niche, whether that’s real estate, e-commerce, healthcare, or any other industry. Your CPA should know how your business works.
If your CPA doesn’t have this expertise, their budgets and forecasts are likely to be less accurate, and when you get down to the basics, your business entity choice and employee structure could be out of balance and costing you money.
6. They DON’T Seem Invested in your Business
This ties into point #5, but from a different angle—does your CPA want you to succeed? Do they know who you are? Do they make choices and prioritize your business in a way that makes it clear they are working hard to manage the accounting side of your business so that you can achieve success?
Your CPA is always expected to be invested and interested in your business and its success, not just in its day-to-day finances.
Their particular interest can help you get better with business in terms of financial organization and management. Your CPA’s personal and professional approach must match what you need.
7. They Aren’t Communicating with You
Communication is a vital part of doing business and frankly, the core of customer service. Though it’s not atypical to have a CPA who understands your needs and can do their work with little involvement from you, if they’re not communicating with you when it’s necessary, that’s a problem.
This doesn’t mean something is wrong if your CPA isn’t always immediately available when you call, or that something is off if you’re being transferred to speak with another accountant at the firm. It’s super common for CPAs to work in teams, and many times your usual contact will ask another person who works on your account to take your call or respond to your email just to make sure you get a response faster. Just the same, in a world where texts, chats, and off-hours emails are normalized, sometimes it’s easy to forget that some things take a day or two to investigate and get the necessary information about.
Lack of communication that is worrisome looks more like…
- Not receiving a request for a new document or piece of information that they need from you
- Making major changes to your payroll or entity structure without first discussing it with you
- Unexpectedly showing up for an inventory or audit
- Not pointing out anomalies in your ledger
In the case that your CPA fails to fulfill basic communication requirements, this can cause major problems. Strong and clear communication is pretty critical in these types of business relationships.
8. They DON’T Know Who You Are and When you Call
Look, if you call the person who’s managing your books, your payroll, your budget, your company’s fiscal future, and say “This is so-and-so from [insert company name here]” and they don’t know who you are, you’ve got problems.
If this is your experience, find an accountant who takes the time to get to know you. A good CPA should feel like a partner in business success, not a stranger you bother when you need something.
If these 8 signs feel true to your experience and you’re feeling stressed, don’t worry. You deserve to work with an accountant who values your business and takes both you and your business seriously.
The best tip we can offer to people in search of a new accountant is to shop around and take your time! Read reviews, schedule a few consultations, and go with the CPA firm that best matches not just your service and industry needs, but how you want to be treated as a client. Just like with any other service, you have the right to look at your options and weigh them based on everything from your budget to your service needs. This will help make sure you find the accounting firm that is truly the best for you.