In the years I've been working as an accountant, I've only actually been asked a couple of times about my credentials, which isn't a problem, it's good that people are doing their due diligence.
But it does raise the question of who actually does regulate accountants?
The real answer is, it depends. It might surprise quite a few people that accountancy isn't a regulated industry.
What that means is that anyone can call themselves an accountant and set up in business as an one. Well, I say anyone, but that's not quite true… You see, there's a bit of an irony here because if you're a qualified accountant - even part of an accountancy body - you're not allowed to unleash your skills on the public without a practicing certificate.
This means that many people out there who may be fully qualified with lots of experience but, strictly speaking, cannot help people out with their accounts in a public setting.
Having said that, someone could leave school and decide they want to set up their own accounting business and just go for it.
So, it shows that there’s quite a broad range of skills out there which is definitely something to bear in mind when seeking financial support.
The role of accountancy bodies
There are quite a few accountancy bodies which all offer different support for their members, and getting a passing certificate varies between each one.
Some do a review of the accountant’s policies, the services they offer and why they believe they can offer them, others are more about box ticking, and some are very bureaucratic.
In some cases, it can be a matter that if your supervisor from three years ago is dead and therefore can't sign the correct form, they won't give you a practicing certificate!
So how do you choose an accountant?
Should you only go for someone who's got a practicing certificate from an accountancy body? Well, maybe, but then I wouldn't discount those people who are, say, qualified by experience alone. Some of them might have been working in a practice for someone else for decades.
They may have loads of experience but for some of the bureaucratic reasons I mentioned, might have decided that they can't be bothered to get their practicing certificate. They may decide to leave the accountancy body, so as not to have to fulfil all these rules, and they can just get on with it.
So, although there’s no simple answer, the main thing is to speak to any accountant you’re considering working with. Ask them the question because even if they're qualified by experience, they should be quite comfortable to say, "Well, yeah, I've not got a practicing certificate, but this is why I think I can handle your accounts."
Don't shy away from asking these questions. Like I say, I'm quite surprised that this only actually happened to me twice!