Questions accountants should be asking their clients

Edmund Bale

Updated: November 12, 2021 at 6:39 am

Being a good accountant is much more than crunching the numbers and working towards your clients financial goals. When your client base is largely comprised of small businesses, you need to show that you truly understand their needs and aspirations for their enterprise.

By asking the right questions at the right time and maintaining a constant communication with your client, you afford yourself a greater ability to stay tapped into their yet-unmet needs. In doing so you will gain greater insight into what strategies you can explore with your client to service their business best.

This guide will outline what we believe to be the key discussion points you should raise with your clients on a regular basis to give your professional relationship the best chance for success.

What are my client’s growth aspirations?

Most, if not all, of your clients will harbour aspirations to grow their business and may already be working toward strategies to do so. You likely have a complete picture of their current financial position as well as a financial forecast, but it’s important to contextualise this information within their growth plans.

For example, if your client has plans in place to expand their venture it would be prudent to notify them of how these plans may affect the valuation of their business and future taxation obligations.

If your client is looking to relocate, then this may indicate a need for asset investment by way of new property and equipment as well as a new lease policy – all of which will affect their liabilities.

Expansion inevitability means recruitment which will directly affect your client’s superannuation obligations and could change the tax bracket in which your client’s business operates.

If your client is a party to a merger, be it the acquirer or target, then this will likely influence change within their entire business structure. Detailed knowledge of such a deal will allow you to best advise your client in the reassessment of their structure to ensure it remains effective.

How is my client managing their inventory?

Many small businesses encounter unforeseen costs by way of taxes and regulatory limits when they struggle to manage their inventory correctly. For businesses who operate largely by selling goods, knowledge of sales tax rules and the relevant regulations will help them avoid this. Your experience and skills can help your client if you collaboratively monitor their inventory management.

In discussing your clients inventory you should strive to learn about the processes they have in place for restocking and ordering. This is important to ensure your client is managing their cash flow effectively, especially with regard to market fluctuations and seasonal trends.

Just as important is to ensure that all your clients lost, unsold, or discarded inventory is accounted for in order to maintain an accurate and reliable picture of their financial health. Similarly, the GST requirements of your client’s business should regularly be evaluated to ensure they are calculating the correct tax for their goods.

How is my client managing risk?

The less exciting side to talking to your client about expansion and growth is the inevitable increase in risk exposure it incurs. Things are unlikely to go exactly as planned, and as such you need to make sure that your client has appropriate risk mitigation strategies in place.

In terms of risk management you should ensure that your client is aware of, and meeting, all appropriate compliance, privacy and security regulations required by their industry bodies and relevant agencies.

In working toward a more comprehensive risk mitigation strategy, you should also raise issues the potential of instances of fraud, as well as internal risk from employee misbehaviour or illegal activities. Depending on the area of operation for you client, the cyber risk is another area that has required more attention in the last decade as many businesses operate to some degree within the cloud.

Talking to your client about types and levels of business insurance they may want to have in place is one step you can take to help your clients with their risk management plan. No matter what type of business they are running, there is always a degree of risk. Some of the key types of insurances they may need to look at include: 

  • Public liability insurance
  • Professional indemnity insurance
  • Business insurance (Contents, Building, Portable Equipment, Machinery Breakdown etc.) 
  • Accident and injury insurance

How extensive is my client’s financial planning?

Go further than ticking the necessary boxes when discussing your clients financial future. Raise topics that often don’t come up in conventional accountant/client meetings in order to foster a discussion that may reveal greater insight into their financial situation and help guide their financial plans.

Ask them about their cash flow and explore strategies that could improve it. Discuss whether they have long term financial goals and plans relating to their retirement and wealth and asset management. Is their goal to engage in philanthropy and invest in non-profit seeking ventures? If so, prudent financial planning is required to increase their ability make large investments in such areas, despite it being a long-term goal.

Are tax laws and rules changing for my client?

Maintaining a constant knowledge of the constantly changing tax laws and regulations in Australia is exhausting. While your client focuses on running their business, take it upon yourself to keep them informed as to any tax and law reform that may influence their operations.

Explain the new laws that could affect them, propose running an internal review to see if there are any points of scrutiny that may trigger an audit from government agencies. Doing so will help both you and your client feel more confident that they are operating within the bounds of the labyrinth of tax laws and regulations that apply to them.

Can I help improve my clients revenue?

You may be in a privileged position to better understand the implications of your client’s financial position and thus have an opportunity to float solutions and strategies that can help increase your client’s overall revenue. Don’t be afraid to offer advice if you see a chance to do so, coming up with an effective strategy that shows you’re committed to your client’s growth will ensure your relationship remains fruitful. Some broad strategies to emphasise may include:

  • A focus on retaining existing customers, ensuring stability and longer term financial growth.  
  • Investing in increasing awareness and generating new leads for customer growth, as well as a focus on increasing conversion rates of these leads.
  • Incentives to increase sales with existing clients.
  • Conducting thorough market and industry research to ensure your clients pricing strategy remains attractive and profitable.

How can my client make my job easier?

The accountant – client relationship is often seen as a one way street, with the former doing a lot of the heavy lifting to ensure the latter’s affairs are in order. Taking the time to ensure your client’s accounting habits are sound could reduce the burden on this relationship and help both parties manage their time more effectively.

Consider advising your client to integrate systems to assist with accounting reporting including:

  • The use of customised accounting and POS software that catalogues, integrates, and reports on sales.
  • Keeping a centralised, digital database of all transactions and receipts.
  • Maintaining an open line of communication to ensure that whenever an issue or idea arises your client doesn’t have to wait ’til tax time to contact you!

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