From March each year onwards, we onboard loads of new customers and are always surprised by the perception of how difficult they anticipate the change to be. The following will hopefully enable you to make the change in accountants if you were one of those clients that have been putting it off for too long.
Nobody likes change and too many clients hold off on the inevitable due to the fact that they are uncertain about three things:
- What the actual process entails,
- Will it cost me any money?
- Will it cause a disruption in my operations?
Holding off on this important step just might turn out to be to the detriment of your business. So, although you might not be 100% certain about the change in accountants you’re about to make, it just might be one of those leaps of faith that you’ll have to consider and trust your judgment.
When we look at our own internal processes of on-boarding new clients, it is difficult to give absolute guarantees for questions 2 and 3 due to the fact that we never know in what condition we receive the client’s information, whether everything is up to date and if we would need to catch up some work…best advice would be to disclose everything you are aware of right at the start of your engagement with the new accountants so that they can issue you with an estimate of any cash – and operational implications.
To bust the myths about how difficult the process is, we have highlighted the 7 steps to changing accountants below:
Select a changeover date that is going to cause the least disruption in your business. The most obvious change date is the end of the business financial year. If you change mid-year, you may end up having additional catch-up fees as your new accountant needs to re-create what your old accountant has already done. This is especially true if your old accountant is also doing the bookkeeping for you.
2. Outstanding account/s
Ensure all financial responsibilities to your accountant are discharged i.e. all outstanding bills paid.
3. The break-up notice
Inform your current accountant that you are planning to change and they have permission to converse with your new accountant for the purpose of handover of paperwork and information. Of course, if you want to avoid the possible awkward call or email to say you are leaving them, we can draft a letter for you to sign and send it on your behalf, although we always advise that you try and end the relationship as professionally as possible. If you were our client, we would have appreciated a quick heads-up to notify us that you’ll be moving on.
4. Disengagement letter
Your old accountant should produce a disengagement letter stating what work they have done; key dates and information, and they will want a sign-off from you.
5. Professional objection letter
Your new accountant will write to the outgoing accountant asking for professional clearance along with any relevant paperwork. In this letter, we will ask your old accountant if there is any reason why we cannot take you on as a client. This is a professional formality and does not normally present any problems. The information collected will include previous year’s accounts & tax returns, reconciliations, and any bookkeeping work they may have done on your behalf. Your old accountant should provide the information within a “reasonable time” for which there may or may not be a fee. It should not be more than an hour charged.
6. Power of Attorney
The final stage is to assign authority to your new accountant for your tax affairs. This means that your accountant can file all relevant tax returns on your behalf. Your new accountant serves as the first point of contact from SARS. This Power of Attorney does not absolve your responsibility for the tax returns; your accountant is just doing it on your behalf. The final responsibility for the correct submission of tax returns and so forth lies with you, not your accountant.
After a few weeks, assuming there are no hold-ups, all your accounting information should have been transferred and you will be safely on board with your new accountant. Please, never assume that your new accountant has you fully onboarded till they actually start working on your accounts! Till then, follow up regularly just to be sure…But then again, if you have to ensure your new accountant does their jobs, you’ve probably not appointed the right accountant.
Now that you know HOW effortless it is to change accountants, you might find it useful to consider WHY you may want to consider changing accountants... and whether the new accountant will be the right move for your business