Should accountants do bookkeeping for clients?

May 3, 2023 | Client service, Sole practitioners

I hate being asked questions like that. Well, not ‘hate’ exactly. It’s one of those questions when I know my reply will start with ‘It depends’.

The question implicitly assumes that all accountants are the same. And, as I frequently point out – that’s just not true.

In the context of the question, some accountants enjoy bookkeeping and some have a bookkeeping rather than an accounting qualification. Others have structured their practice and services such that they choose to only act for clients if the work to be done includes all the bookkeeping.

Accountants who prefer this approach tell me that it helps them get to know the client better, gives them more confidence the bookkeeping has been done properly and this enables them to help clients to plan better – especially remuneration, so that nothing gets missed (planning opportunities) and the inevitable more frequent conversations often lead to more work advisory related opportunities.

Equally there are other accountants who will do everything EXCEPT the bookkeeping for clients.

There is no single right or best way to arrange things. Just as there are no identikit accountants.

The correct answer for YOU will depend on YOUR experience, YOUR preferences and YOUR clients. And things may change over time too.

Let me now move on to address a related question that I was asked recently.

A qualified chartered accountant outlined a scenario related to a prospective client who already had a bookkeeper.

The prospective client just wanted a new accountant to do the accounting side of things and maybe give some advice on how to deal with taxes and help file returns etc. The previous accountant had retired.

The question the accountant asked me was whether he should he try to persuade the client to let the accountant do the bookkeeping as well or to leave this with the current bookkeeper?

I had only recently started mentoring this accountant so was less familiar with his style and practice than I am with clients I have worked with for some time.

To me, the answer to the question was simple and obvious. I find this happens quite often, but it’s important to allow my clients to reach the right conclusion for themselves.

Within a few minutes the answer was clear to the accountant too. We had discussed his practice and his ambitions. He doesn’t enjoy doing bookkeeping work and told me that he feels that he didn’t train and qualify as a chartered accountant in order to do bookkeeping for clients.

His other clients have in-house employed bookkeepers. He doesn’t want to employ a bookkeeper himself and he is, in hindsight, delighted the he doesn’t need to take responsibility for engaging and managing a bookkeeper for this new client.

We discussed processes he should put in place (and arguably should already have had in place) to ensure a streamlined service for clients with their own internal or external bookkeeper. And that he needs to explain to the client that he (the accountant) will notify them if he considers the bookkeeping work is not up to scratch. The objective is to ensure that his life is made easier by this arrangement than might otherwise be the case.

I suggested that he asks the client to authorise the bookkeeper to speak with him before he finalises his fee quote. And that he looks to check the quality of what the bookkeeper produces. Do not rely on the client’s assertions!

Returning to the question in the title of this blog post: Should accountants do bookkeeping for clients?
My reply is ‘Only if they want to!’

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