Why Tax Pros aren't Always the Best Bookkeepers

Aug 14th 2019
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As bookkeepers, we generally get along well with our clients’ CPAs and EAs. We form great working relationships with them, and, as a team, we help our clients prosper. It’s a win for everyone involved: the bookkeeper, the tax professional and the client.

Sometimes, though, we can find ourselves “in competition” with a client’s tax professional. Maybe you’ve even lost bookkeeping clients to CPAs, EAs and tax preparers. From the client’s perspective, it makes sense to have the same person handling all their financial matters, and a lot of bookkeepers aren’t inclined to disagree. After all, the tax preparer - whether a CPA, EA or other tax professional - has a unique perspective we bookkeepers don’t, because they see the client’s entire financial picture. All we see is the client’s business activity.

In other words, we often convince ourselves we are underqualified to help the client. And that just isn’t true.

You are Just as Qualified

Many bookkeepers have no formal degree in accounting, or they have an associate's degree or a certificate from a training program. Compared with CPAs, who have a master’s degree or the equivalent number of college hours, or EAs, who must pass a comprehensive 3-part exam, many bookkeepers feel undereducated and unqualified.

But, professional bookkeepers have a number of advantages our tax pro counterparts often don’t. Some of these advantages are:

  • On-the-job experience working for and with small businesses
  • Extensive training - both formal and noy - on popular small business accounting software
  • An intimate knowledge of the day-to-day operations of our clients’ businesses
  • A focus on the managerial side of small business accounting and what each client needs from their bookkeeping in order to run their company

CPAs, EAs and other tax professionals often look at bookkeeping as something that must be done in order to prepare the tax return, and their focus is on making the numbers look right from a tax perspective. There is nothing wrong with this. Just because the tax pro makes an adjusting journal entry to the books at year's end doesn’t mean they “don’t know bookkeeping.” But this can wreak havoc on the reporting we have in place for our clients.

Also, keep in mind it’s not the tax professional’s job to know how to do bookkeeping. A CPA might know how to do bookkeeping and be well versed in small business accounting software, but their education has prepared them for analysis and consulting - not bookkeeping.

Similarly, EAs know the tax code and how to use it to ensure their clients are paying as little tax as legally possible. And, in those cases where the client gets into trouble with the IRS, an EA can step in and represent the client. Bookkeeping isn’t their primary focus, nor should it be.

Getting Out of the Competition

All of us - bookkeepers, CPAs, EAs and other tax professionals - want what is best for our clients. Our perspectives on how to do this differ, though.

There are two things you can do to make sure you don’t find yourself in competition with your client’s tax professional:

  1. Build a Relationship with the CPA, EA or Tax Preparer: When the client’s tax pro knows and respects you, they will be less likely to offer your client bookkeeping services. In some cases, they might even convince a client who is looking to hire another bookkeeper to stay with you instead. A good relationship between you and the tax pro benefits everyone involved.
  2. Educate Your Client: As I mentioned in an earlier article, your client probably isn’t aware of the two different purposes of bookkeeping for their business. It’s up to you to educate them on the value of what you do. When you do so, it’s important not to disparage their tax pro’s bookkeeping skills (or the skills of another bookkeeper, for that matter). Keep it positive.

As a bookkeeper, you are uniquely qualified to provide your clients with the tools and guidance they need to run their businesses on a daily basis.  Tax professionals often have a different perspective on the purpose of small business bookkeeping, which might mean they are not the best fit to do the routine bookkeeping for a small business. This doesn’t have to put you at odds with them, though. When you understand your value as a bookkeeper, you can work closely with your client’s tax professional to make sure the client benefits from both a managerial and a tax perspective.

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