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  • Jacquie Kiefer

Financial Professionals - What you Need to Know!

Updated: Feb 21


As a business owner, I’m sure you’ve heard the titles of different financial professionals from the first day you opened your doors, but you may not be clear on the differences between them and what would be the best solution for your practice.  Keep in mind that some of these can coexist together, but just like in any profession, there are varying degrees of philosophy and rules that guide each professional.  Finding a good match or combination of professionals to help you in your business is instrumental because even though you think you can, you will never have time and knowledge to do it all!


Bookkeepers vs Accountants - Aren’t They the Same Thing?


While the titles may often be used interchangeably, bookkeeper and accountant are not titles that should be used for the same type of professional.  Bookkeepers manage basic financial tasks, keep up on the financial records and transactions, and in general keep your records clean and accurate.  They may have payroll knowledge, but this can greatly vary.  There is no degree, education, or license required to be a bookkeeper, and most typically don’t prepare taxes and only have a very basic understanding of tax law if any at all.  Their focus is primarily on record keeping and making sure you have a complete set of books at the end of each time period.  Think of the function required in record keeping that you would have if you choose to DIY your practice books - you would essentially be your practice’s bookkeeper. 


Accountants often do all the above tasks:  categorizing your transactions, helping you keep your books up to date and clean at each time period, but they also have additional education and experience that helps make them a valuable partner in your business.  They often have extensive payroll knowledge, which doesn’t consist of only how to enter payroll, but knowledge that can help keep your practice compliant with payroll tax laws and know what to look out for, and how to fix issues that arise around payroll.  They also have a broader knowledge of tax law and the implications of decisions that you may want or need to make.  While they don’t always prepare taxes, they have more extensive knowledge of tax and financial accounting matters that can help you with analysis and strategy.  They are great at helping you interpret what exactly your financial reports are saying about the health of your business.  Finally, they will usually hold an accounting degree, professional designation like a CPA or EA, and often have years of experience in either public or private accounting. 


Many people aren’t clear about the differences between tax and financial accountants.  Tax accountants often see you once a year to prepare your taxes.  They typically don’t know what’s going on with your books until you provide them at the end of the year so they can prepare your tax returns.  They assume largely that your books are accurate and they’re not going in and verifying each line item like a financial accountant does throughout the year.  They are largely focused on advising on tax issues only as needed, and aren’t monitoring the health of your company continuously. 


Financial accountants are managing your books throughout the year, providing you with financial reports at an agreed upon time frame.  They are reviewing your books for accuracy, can discuss trends, and advise on tax issues or give recommendations as questions come up.  They have an ongoing relationship with you and the business and know much more about the business operations than a tax accountant would.  Financial accountants may also do your taxes, but some may not, and if not, a tax accountant and financial accountant can often coexist together.  If you choose to have both it is helpful if they converse with each other to align themselves to your goals so they can provide harmonious advice on both sides.


Financial accountants can also offer fractional CFO services, that help provide strategy and forward-thinking advice to the business owner.  You may have the vision, but lack the strategy or know-how to get there.  A fractional CFO or financial accountant may not always have all the answers, but can work with you to help you focus on the right questions to ask yourself in order to help the journey take shape.  They are often very collaborative with the business owner as they can help identify and measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help the owner achieve their big picture vision.  They also help provide accountability so that the business owner can ‘stay the course’ and not get derailed by spending more on the wants vs the needs.


Other Financial Professionals


An accountant can help you run your payroll, but if you decide to do it yourself, you may find yourself with a subscription to a payroll service provider.  This is typically a software that allows you run payroll and largely automates payroll tax reporting and employee payments.  However, keep in mind that if you choose to do this part without the support of an accountant, you may be vulnerable to making mistakes. The payroll service provider is a platform for you to DIY your payroll, and rarely identifies if something is out of compliance or if there’s a larger error that has been made.  It’s up to the person running payroll or the accountant to pick out any issues and correct them either before or after payroll has been run.


Financial coaches can help a business owner by empowering them to make decisions and to develop solid financial habits so you can take on some of these tasks on your own.  The financial coach may or may not be an accountant, but their main goal is to help teach you the skills you need to be your company’s financial manager.  They’ll help guide you, but they won’t take over and tackle these tasks for you.


Lastly, a financial planner offers guidance on retirement, manages investments, and helps you select insurance products.  There isn’t usually a crossover in accounting and financial planning, as these two professionals do very different things.  For example, a financial planner can help you see what you need in retirement and what you need to do currently to meet those goals, whereas an accountant may provide tax advantageous advice as to what retirement plan to select for your specific tax situation.  Often, these advisors do work together in order to help craft a solid tax and financial plan for their clients.


Ultimately, you know your practice best. Take your time in creating a team of competent, professional individuals whose goal is to help you reach your goals, and you can take a myriad of tasks off your plate.  Just make sure you are bringing people together that can give you tough advice when you need it and are invested in your success!


 

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This article is designed to provide information only and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Because of the complexity of the law and the variables in your own personal tax situation, you can’t rely on our advice specifically related to your unique circumstances. In order to get the best tax savings and legal advice available to you, you should consult with your own accountant, attorney or advisor regarding your particular facts and circumstances. GreenOak Accounting is an accounting firm that specializes in working with counselors and therapists in private practice. We provide monthly accounting & bookkeeping services, 1-time services and online courses. For more information on our specialized services for therapists please visit www.greenoakaccounting.com



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