Selecting the right accountant is crucial

The relationship between you and the person you choose to do your accounting and taxes is far more important than you may think. The right accountant in a medical practice functions almost like a partner. Chances are that you look to your accountant for advice and help with business and practice management decisions, so it's crucial that the relationship be comfortable and trusting.

The relationship between you and the person you choose to do your accounting and taxes is far more important than you may think. The right accountant in a medical practice functions almost like a partner. Chances are that you look to your accountant for advice and help with business and practice management decisions, so it's crucial that the relationship be comfortable and trusting.

Business consultant and author Maria Marsala, Poulsbo, WA, regards a certified public accountant (CPA) as more than just someone who does your yearly taxes.

"The right accountant can advise you on a long list of other services, which may include advice on your accounting system, financial performance, estate/tax planning, and retirement. CPAs are a crucial part of a practicing professional's team along with a banker and a lawyer," said Marsala.

Do a careful search for prospects

"The best way to locate a compatible accountant is to ask around the community," said CPA and tax advisor Genevia Gee Fulbright, Durham, NC. "Ask bankers, insurance agents, and other doctors."

If there is no direct conflict, consider using the same CPA recommended by another medical professional. The information you share with your accountant is strictly confidential. Licensed accountants are bound to strict non-disclosure requirements.

"One of the most important factors in selecting an accountant is the quality of the customer service he or she provides," said Vincent G. DiAntonio, CPA, JD, Hass & Co., Media, PA. "This is reflected in everything the accountant does, from how quickly the client gets a return telephone call to the accuracy and reliability of the advice provided. Sometimes a recommendation from a friend is the best way to find a good accountant since some do not advertise. Many, in fact, acquire new clients solely through word of mouth. That gives them a strong incentive to provide quality customer service."

Verify your prospect's credentials

Navin Sethi, CPA and tax manager with Rothstein Kass, Walnut Creek, CA, cautioned, "Some individuals working as bookkeepers or accountants have no formal license or education in accounting. That's why you should do a thorough investigation before you hire an accountant. The best way to protect yourself is to hire a CPA.

"In order to earn the CPA credential, applicants must meet the requirements of the state or jurisdiction in which they practice. The CPA applicant must also pass the national CPA exam and, depending upon the state, have some actual practical work experience before receiving a license. Finally, a CPA must adhere to requirements to take specified amounts of continuing professional education courses annually to retain a license to practice. Your benefit is that you will be working with a professional who is required to keep up-to-date on the latest and best accounting methods," explained Sethi.

Be sure to check references

Checking an applicant's references is one of the most important steps in the hiring process. While it may be rare, even professionals can misrepresent their backgrounds and credentials or simply leave out important information.

Checking references takes a little time, but human resource professionals know that it's a simple step that could save you from hiring someone who is woefully unqualified.

Are you comfortable with the person?

Fulbright emphasizes the importance of the chemistry between you and your accountant. "Make sure that you have clear goals for the business management of your practice and that your prospective accountant understands them," she said. "Go to lunch, have a conversation. That will help you to decide if you're both on the same page."