December 9, 2016. By John Wolfsberg:

Choosing a financial professional is an important process that requires careful thought and due diligence. One of the most important financial professionals in our clients’ lives is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA). As the tax and regulatory environment continues to change and become more complex, choosing the right CPA becomes essential. The task may even become daunting when you consider that in Massachusetts alone there are over 13,000 licensed CPA s.

While having a Financial Advisor/Planner is truly important for long-term investment management and overall planning, they typically do not provide tax advice or prepare returns.  Many financial advisors will have the expertise to manage investments in a tax efficient manner, however the role of the Financial Advisor/Planner and CPA are very different. Having a CPA who takes an active approach in understanding a client’s business and personal situation is essential for assisting clients in growing their businesses and addressing life event changes. Here are some questions you may want to ask when evaluating a CPA:

  • What type of services do you provide? Does your firm have any industry specific expertise?
    • Is the firm a full service firm providing audit, consulting and tax services? Or is it primarily focused on tax advice? Engaging a firm that offers many services you don’t need may not make sense. However, choosing one too narrowly focused may limit the breadth of advice you receive. Additionally, does the firm/partner have any specific industry expertise that would be helpful?
  • Do you collaborate with your client’s other professionals, including financial advisors and estate attorneys?
    • To reap the true benefits of any financial professional, take advantage of collaboration efforts with your other advisors. For example, when moving funds and retitling accounts, imagine the efficiency of your CPA, estate attorney, and financial advisor working together on your behalf with limited coordination on your part.  A phone call to anyone in the group should trigger collaboration with the others.
  • How long have you been providing these services? How deep is your “bench”?
    • Has the CPA been in practice for 3 years or 3 decades? Are they a sole proprietor or are they a large firm with multiple staff at each level? If they have a team, how much involvement will your contact (likely a partner) have in delivering the services you require? (Both sole proprietors and large firms have advantages and disadvantages, and assumptions should not be based on size alone. We are fortunate to have wonderful relationships with CPA firms of all sizes.)
  • Do you have the names of clients or colleagues that I may contact?
    • Ask for referrals of clients with similar needs as yours. Naturally, clients are inclined to give positive reviews; a good question to ask is, “if you could change or improve one thing, what would it be?” Ask about collaboration with their other professional service providers.
  • How do you use technology to improve efficiency in your practice?
    • The answer to this question will give insight into scalability, accessibility, and efficiency of the firm. In addition, a tech savvy firm may be more responsive to your needs as delivery of information becomes more efficient.
  • What and how do you charge for your services?
    • Do not be afraid to ask this question. It is a business after all, and the question is expected. Fee structures vary among accountants based on expertise, the services being performed and at what level, and the complexity of your situation.  It is reasonable to ask for an estimate of the overall fees associated with providing the services you require.

Having the right CPA as part of your financial team creates synergies with the other professionals, therefore increasing the value of the financial advice you receive. By performing a little research up-front, you will be able to identify a CPA that will have the expertise to deliver services in a coordinated and efficient manner.