Who Are the Best Accountants in the World?

Top Accounting Firms

If you are trying to find your first accountant, are losing your current accountant because of a pending retirement or relocation or are just unhappy with your current accountant and looking for a new firm finding the best accounting firm for you can be a daunting task.

No matter where you are located there are likely many large and medium sized accounting firms and even more accountants who operate as sole practitioners or in small partnerships to choose from. If you know an accountant socially or are aware of a firm from prior business dealings you have a good place to start your search.  Even if the accountants you are familiar with do not have the expertise you are looking for in an accounting firm you can seek their advice as to colleagues they would recommend.

Almost any list of the “best accounting firms” starts with the big 4: Deloitte and Touche, Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG. That does not mean however that one of the big four is necessarily the best accounting firm for you. You may not even need to hire a top regional firm to find the best accounting firm to meet your needs. Many smaller businesses are more comfortable with smaller firms who will provide a smaller business with personal attention where a larger firm might shift a smaller more routine client’s work off to junior partners.

Start your search by defining your accounting needs. Do you need an accountant with a specialty? Do you want a small firm or sole practitioner who you can develop a personal relationship with and who you will be able to deal with directly on a regular basis or are your needs complex enough that you would be more comfortable with a firm that can provide a team of accounting experts to work on your various accounting needs? Are you looking for an accountant just to prepare your tax returns or are you looking for an accountant to advise you on tax and financial planning matters, prepare financial statements, and/or conduct an external audit? Do you want an accountant who can help you evaluate loans or mergers, business re engineering opportunities, acquisitions, employee benefit plans, computer systems installation and support, and/or internal audit needs? Think carefully about not just your current accounting needs but what you might need in the future. Once you have defined your preferences as to the size of firm you are comfortable working with and your accounting needs you are ready to begin your search.

Many state CPA associations and state accountancy licensing boards provide a list of accountants and accounting firms. The association’s lists often include relevant information such as firm size, location and specialties and years in business. You can sort these according to your needs and preferences. While on your state’s licensing board’s website check to see if they publish information on the website concerning disciplinary actions the board has taken with regard to their licensees.

Once you have defined your accounting needs and identified some accountants or accounting firms that appear, on paper, to meet your needs check around with your bank, your lawyer, and your colleagues. See if they are familiar with the firms or accountants you are considering. The best recommendations come from those who know you and your business needs personally.

Check with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and your local state society of CPA’s to see if the accountants you are considering are members. These organizations require members to stay current in accounting practices by completing continuing education requirements. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also has key practice sections which require member firms to undergo a periodic peer review to verify their adherence to the section’s quality standards and practices. You would want a firm with a history of unqualified peer reviews.

Once you have a couple of firms in mind set up interviews with the accountants or firms. If the accountants you are interviewing are more interested in telling you about their services than they are learning about your business and accounting needs they probably are not going to be too interested in your business after you hire them either. Ask about the firm’s knowledge of your business niche or industry. It is probably not important that the firm be an expert in your industry but on the other hand you do not want to pay for your new accountant’s learning curve. It would be helpful if the accountant or firm had worked for at least one or two other clients who were in the same industry or similar businesses. In today’s high tech world of accounting software and online accounting systems you need to determine if the accountant or firm you are interviewing is comfortable using the same software or online accounting system you are currently operating.

It is important to consider not just the accountant’s professional expertise but also their personality and style. Ask about the firm’s culture and philosophy. These should be complementary to your personality, style and philosophy. This will be very helpful in developing a good working relationship.

It is important to clearly state your expectations at the interview so the firm can advise you as to the reasonableness of the expectations and the cost of providing the services you expect. It is also important for the firm to understand the nature of the services you expect so they can tell you if they have the expertise and staff to deliver those services in a professional and timely manner. If the firm does not offer the right mix of services, costs too much or if you are not comfortable with the firm’s approach to your business then you are better off to keep looking.

The most important criteria in selecting the best accountant for you are identifying an accountant with whom you are comfortable, with whom you can build a long term relationship and who you can trust.

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