A good accountant will free up your time on important back-office tasks like book-keeping and filing tax returns.
For larger businesses, accountants can produce management accountants, deal with payroll and keep tabs on tax and corporate compliance.
A good accountant is more than a bean counter - they can provide insights and information to aid business managers making key decisions.
Finding an accountant
Word-of-mouth referrals from a colleague or friend is often a good place to start looking for an accountant in the UAE.
The best recommendations come from someone who has been with their accountant for two or three years, which is long enough for the annual advice and tax filing cycle to have passed a couple of times.
Accountants have different qualifications and skills, so you want to choose one that matches the needs of your business.
Accountancy qualifications are like those of solicitors except ‘solicitor’ is a reserved word that only a qualified lawyer can use. Anyone can say they are an accountant providing they do not claim they are chartered when they are not.
Here’s a list of the most popular accountancy qualifications:
ACA - An Associate Chartered Accountant is the leading industry qualification handed to members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW).
In Scotland, the equivalent is a CA - chartered accountant - and membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
ACCA - An Associate Chartered Certified Accountant is awarded by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
CIMA - Chartered Institute of Management Accountant is a professional body for accountants in business
AAT - A member of the Association of Accounting Technicians. An accounting technician is not a fully qualified accountant but someone who has more of a grounding in the industry than a book-keeper.
What’s the difference between accounting qualifications?
Generally, a chartered accountant - ACA or ACCA - advises and prepares on financial accounts. These are the annual accounts, VAT returns, payroll and other day-to-day compliance needs of a business.
A CIMA is a management accountant, who is more likely to draft cash flow forecasts, budgets and cost processes, which are internal business documents.
An AAT is of a similar standard to a legal executive rather than a qualified accountant.
All accountants will have a grounding in management accounting, but a CIMA is the expert.
Likewise, a CIMA will have a broad understanding of financial accounting and tax returns, but an ACA or ACCA would be the expert.
When should you look for an accountant?
The best time to look for an accountant in the UAE is when you are about to start trading.
The accountant will discuss your business plan and advise on your trading status, if you need to register for VAT and other important issues. If you wait too long to consult with an accountant, you could find yourself having to unravel some expensive errors.
How much does an accountant cost?
Accountants do not have standard fees and contrary to belief, do not charge by the hour.
They are more likely to quote a fixed fee for a specific job.
Prices can range from as low as AED 250 to thousands of dirhams, depending on the complexity of the work and the time the accountant will have to spend on completing the task.
Always give your accountant a clear brief of what you want done and the timescale for completion.
The accountant should offer a clear quote and a draft terms of business that acts as a contract laying down who is responsible for completing each task.
Questions to ask an accountant
You should speak to two or three accountants in the UAE to get a feel for the job they will do for you and the likely costs.
Here’s a checklist of questions you should ask each:
What is your professional qualification?
If you have any doubts, you can check your accountant or accounting technician out online at their professional body’s web site.
How much will your advice cost?
Try and negotiate a fixed fee. If you complete the book-keeping to the standard required by the accountant, this should make a huge saving.
Do you offer online software?
If you can enter your transactions to a secure online accounting service that the accountant can access as well, then you should save money and have real-time online reports to monitor how your business is performing.
What sort of businesses do you act for?
Some accountants specialise in specific types of business, such as property or agriculture. Make sure any accountants are up-to-date with the latest developments in your business sector, so you are not teaching them what to do.
How to choose an accountant in the UAE
The best way to choose an accountant in the UAE is to forget the cost and look at service, qualification and how they will save you time and money to concentrate on sales rather than administration.
Once you have this information that benchmarks their standards, you can look at the cost.
Take an average and think about why one may charge a lot more than the rest - it could be that they have expensive offices and staff for you to pay for while another works from home.