Breaking up with your CPA

Finance to Table Education for Operating Your Restaurant

Business partnerships are a lot like relationships. You get into one thinking it’s for the long haul but along the way your needs stop getting met. It’s easy to settle for substandard service, and it’s hard to know when it’s time to cut your losses and move on. But there are red flags you can look for that tell you it’s time to break up with your CPA.

At Henry+Horne, we are experts in restaurant accounting and advisory, helping restaurant owners like you succeed in any market. Reach out anytime to learn more.

Your CPA won’t return your call

One of the biggest complaints people have with their CPA is they can’t get a return phone call. Accounting is time sensitive with annual and quarterly deadlines. An unresponsive CPA can be extremely problematic. If you’re waiting days for a response to phone calls and emails, chalk that up as a red flag. Timely responses are not too much to expect and ask for.

Your CPA is always late

The second biggest complaint are delays and late deliverables. We recently picked up a client who was giving their CPA materials for a review in February but not receiving the final product until August. Now granted, we all get overloaded and push deadlines but a CPA who routinely delivers late is not providing good service and seven months for a review is not acceptable.

Your CPA is talking over your head

Every industry has their own vocabulary, and accounting and tax services are rife with it. You wouldn’t settle for a doctor who only speaks in confusing clinical terms. Don’t settle for a CPA who can’t plainly explain your tax and accounting situation. If you’re working with someone who only speaks to you in terms of tax code, it’s time to look for a new CPA.

Your CPA doesn’t understand your industry

Certain industries have specific tax and accounting needs. We saw this firsthand in the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because Henry+Horne has a dedicated restaurant group, clients were quickly informed of federal assistance and grants, and when filing were able to take advantage of all pandemic related credits and deductions. And that’s just in an emergency. In regular years you need a CPA who knows all the ins and outs of franchising issues, tip reporting and leases. A CPA not well versed in restaurant accounting may miss something.

Your CPA is doing the bare minimum

If your CPA is just providing your financial statements and doing your taxes, you’re not getting the full range of services CPAs provide. New clients are often astounded to learn all the services a CPA firm offers. Business planning, tax planning, assistance with setting up efficient accounting processes are just a few of the services a CPA should be providing. If your CPA just provides returns and financial statements, it’s time to think about moving on.

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You’ve been told your accounting is substandard

It may take an outside party telling you it’s time to move on for you to see all the waving flags. If your insurance company or bank tells you your accounting practices and financial statements aren’t up to par, it’s time to move on.

What to look for in a new CPA

So now you know what you don’t want but what should you be looking for in your next CPA? When CPA shopping, set up a meet and greet. Take a half hour to clearly state your needs and expectations and get feedback as to what they’ll provide. See if you mesh well.

Get the money discussion out of the way up front. You could have a great rapport and feel comfortable with their service but when you’re used to paying $400 for a tax return and their bill is $1,000 that sticker shock can sour relationships fast.

Trust has got to be at the top of your list. You have to feel like someone has your best interest at hand.

Reputable and honest should rank high. You want someone who thinks creatively and outside the box, but a reputable CPA is governed by the internal Revenue Code and won’t promise more than they can legally deliver. If a prospective CPA is promising a larger than normal tax return or claiming you can write the bulk of your expenses off you should proceed with caution.

Look for a CPA who has the technical expertise to deal with your questions or issues. You’ll also want to find one who you can communicate clearly with. If you’re coming in with a complex situation make sure the CPA has the advanced knowledge to help you navigate it. A reputable CPA will refer you to an expert in that specialty if they’re not. The bonus of working with a CPA firm is you probably won’t have to look outside the building to find the expert you need.

How to find a new CPA

You can always Google CPAs but most individuals and organizations rely on referrals, especially If they’re in a specialized industry. Talk to other restaurant owners, ask them if they’re happy with their CPA. 

Other professionals in your area are another source of referrals. Ask your contractors who their accounting professional is? Your bankers and insurance carriers are another solid source of referrals. 

If you’re a member of a professional association, member services may be able to direct you to a CPA who knows the ins and outs of your industry.

Don’t stay in a bad relationship. While changing can seem like a lot of work, finding a CPA who checks all your boxes, provides stellar service, knows your industry and provides consulting services to help you accomplish your goals is worth the trouble. 

Ready to have a conversation about switching CPAs? The team at Henry+Horne is standing by to help. Get in touch today.

Brian Campbell, CPA

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