Introduction (6): Advice on Choosing an Accountant

Based on experience, the following guidelines should help you find the right accountant (or at least avoid the problem ones).

This advice may initially appear onerous and obvious, but it will save you time over the course of your professional life in Brussels.

1. Starting point: recommendations 
Identify 3 recommended accountants, preferably ones already with self-employed lawyers as clients. If another self-employed lawyer recommends his/her accountant to you, make sure that s/he has been a client of that accountant for at least 12-18 months. There is sometimes a time-lag between the consequences of poor service and a letter from the tax authority.

2. Professional organisation membership
Check the accountant is a member of either of the Belgian accountants' professional organisations: the IAB/IEC and the BIBP/IPCF. Membership of either organisation does not guarantee the level of service you will receive but it gives some comfort in the event a problem or dispute arising (as the accountant is bound by the professional obligations of that organisation). When making your search go to "Ledenlijst/Membres" for the IAB/IEC and "Tableau" for the BIBP/IPCF and check to see when the accountant became a member (useful for 4A below).
Remember: anyone supplying accounting services outside one of these professional organisations is not covered by such organisations' professional obligations and may not be insured.

3.Type of initial contact
It is better to choose your accountant after directly meeting him or her rather than deciding on the basis of an email or telephone converation.

4. Accountant's relevant experience
4A. Background
Ask the accountant how long s/he has been practising and compare it to the length of time they have been a member of their professional organisation. If there is a clear discrepancy between their period of practice and their professional membership make sure you get a clear explanation for the time difference.
4B.Other self-employed clients
Ask if this accountant provides services for any other self-employed lawyers in Brussels. If so, ask for their contact details so that you can speak to these particular clients.  Find out from these clients, if they were looking for an accountant today, would they use again their current accountant. 

5. Accountant's liability: terms & conditions
Ask for the accountant's business terms and conditions. Find out what liability is being excluded.
Remember: by being a member of one of the acccountants' professional organisations, the accountant is under professional obligations, as well as general legal obligations, to you.

6. Accountant's costs
6A. Cost estimate
Find out what his/her costs are usually for each service provided (such as preparing and filing your tax return). This is important because as your income is likely to rise each year you are practising in Brussels, there is little justification for the accountant to charge you more for doing the same work. Between one year and the next the same types of tax filings are being made, only the inserted numbers should be rising!
6B. Cost breakdown
The accountant provide a clear breakdown of the time and costs spent on each service in each invoice? This is an important issue if ever later there is a dispute over what work was done, when it was done and at what cost.

7. Your convenience: meeting
Will the accountant come to meet you at your place of choosing? If so, will you be charged for the accountant's travel time? If so, how much does that cost?

8. Language used: clear communication
Does the accountant speak (to a sufficiently high level) a language you are comfortable communicating in? In Belgium, all tax documents are submitted in Flemish or French or German. It is important to understand the documents being filed concerning your professional activities. Some accountants provide translations (notably in English) of important documents.

9. Accessibility and responsiveness
How accessible is this accountant likely to be? Although difficult to assess after the initial meeting, make a preliminary judgment. It may seem unimportant now, but it will be important later when time is short as you are meeting the needs of your own workload. Ask:
- Does the accountant have support staff?
- If so, how many?
- Who will really be working on your file? Find out if you will be billed for the accountant's time, even if the work is being done by someone more junior.

It is perfectly proper to ask these questions before instructing an accountant.  The nature of the lawyer-accountant relationship is there are a lot of new matters to learn initially, but after a while matters are a straightforward routine.  If for whatever reason, an accountant is annoyed or not interested in answering your enquiries, then thank him/her for their time and move on. Find someone who is going take the time at the start to explain to you what you need to know.

There are accountants providing quality basic administrative services that are price-competitive. There does not have to be a trade-off between service quality (availability, responsiveness) and the cost involved.

Back to Series Introduction

First published: 21 Ocotber 2005
Last updated: 19 August 2006