Get comfortable with your CPA

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Employment in the for-hire segment of the trucking industry dropped in August, bucking a trend of strong growth in recent years, according to statistics released Sept. 1 by the U.S. Department of Labor. Trucking payrolls dropped by 2,600 to 1.423 million – the largest decline since the 10,000-job loss in April 2003. American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello noted that trucking has added 19,000 more employees to the payroll this year, adding that the August decrease “was only significant in that it was the first time it has happened in a year.”

U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is accepting comments until Oct. 16 on its plan to raise fees for many hazmat carriers. For fleets that don’t qualify as a small business or as a not-for-profit organization, the agency proposes an increase from $975 to $1,975, with an additional $25 administrative fee for registration year 2007-2008. The fee would increase again, to $2,975 plus the $25 administration fee, beginning in registration year 2008-2009. For more information, go to this site and search Docket No. 25589.

J.J. Keller & Associates and the National Private Truck Council recently presented a free webcast, “Driver Pay and Productivity (Case Study Analysis),” that provided a look at how a private fleet can successfully transition from a straight compensation-based plan to a pay-and-productivity-based plan. A free audio/video recording of the presentation is available at this site.

Early in my career as a Certified Public Accountant, a client sat me down, unhappy with the service he was receiving. “Ken,” he said, “you’ve lost that loving feeling,” jokingly crooning the old song. He perceived that I wasn’t devoting enough attention to his business. Fortunately, this client and I had the kind of relationship that allowed us to communicate openly – almost painfully so, at times – to solve any problems that we might be facing. But many business owners don’t enjoy such openness with their CPAs. Business owners must be able to communicate freely with their CPAs – even if it means hiring a new firm for a fresh start. Anything less flirts with disaster.

Even when there is rapport between CPA and client, there is always room for improvement. Here are several tips for improving the relationship with your current CPA – or researching potential replacements for a firm that’s not meeting your expectations.

Get the desired level of attention. Does your CPA return your calls quickly? Is he or she readily available to you? Have you received any unexpected income tax surprises or constant last-minute delivery of reports? Does this CPA firm understand your industry and work with others in it?

Is your present firm continually sending seemingly unsupervised new representatives to meet with you instead of establishing one or two main contacts? To properly serve clients, a firm partner should closely monitor your account and direct subordinates on much of the routine technical work. If you feel underserved and a heart-to-heart talk with your CPA doesn’t improve things, it’s probably time for a change.

Determine needs of the company and shareholders. Do you need a firm merely capable of handling basic tax compliance work, or do you require something more? If your company is growing rapidly, you can’t be stuck with a firm unequipped to handle your needs or unable to grow with you. But size isn’t a sure bet. Some large private companies are finding that growing regional CPA firms can replace the large, multinational firms for some or all of the work – at an overall value to the client.

Consult references. Any firm worth keeping will be able to produce a wealth of recommendations for its services from trade organizations, financial institutions, local business organizations and – more importantly – its own clients. The best references, of course, come from friends and business colleagues who don’t compete directly with you and who you know to be bright and successful.

Once you have determined what you need and have whittled your search down to select prospective firms, decide which one provides the best fit for your company. Once you complete the initial research, allow time for all critical decision makers to explore the relationship, from the shareholders and board to the main internal management users of the firm’s services.

Don’t worry about fees at this stage. Financial terms are a much easier obstacle to overcome than poor communication or a lack of expertise, and fees often should be the last detail discussed before a final decision is made.

Plan your transition. When switching CPA firms, you want to have your decision made two to four months before the end of the fiscal year. Business owners often believe they should let their old firm finish out the year, but it’s wiser to bring the new firm in as the year ends, so that they become intimately familiar with your company and its inner financial workings.

In the business world, there are few relationships more personal than that of a business and its accountant. Nothing is more private and delicate than the issue of money. There are tens of thousands of CPA firms in America and several hundred with the size and scope to serve a growing company. All of this means that there is most definitely a CPA out there for you. Don’t be afraid to look – your business’ future may well depend on it.

“How to Choose and Use a CPA” as published by the Illinois CPA Society. website

“Why a CPA?” as published by CPAdirect Marketing. website

“Accountants Help Navigate Complex Issues” by Jennifer Elkman, as published in the Birmingham Business Journal. website

CPA Directory as published by CPAdirect Marketing. website