The label “Accounting Firm” applies to three different service companies: 1) CPA Firm, 2) Tax Preparation Firm, and 3) Bookkeeping Firm. Each is important in the right conditions, and in some cases legally required. For instance, publicly traded companies must seek the services of a CPA accounting firm for financial audits.
Let’s look at each type of accounting firm separately and understand when they are most critical.
As noted above, publicly traded companies are required to have annual audits by a CPA accounting firm. For the largest CPA firms, audits are their bread-and-butter income. In some companies and organizations, licensed auditors might spend thousands of billable hours sampling and testing the company’s accounting system to ensure proper controls are in place and that their financial records represent the company fairly. The CPA firm turns out an audit report at the end of the process that is
then included in the company’s annual report.
There are relatively few large CPA firms. Most CPA Accounting firms are smaller one-office firms led by one to three CPA’s that provide services to smaller companies. These services might include audits of small publicly traded companies, management consulting, and business tax preparation services.
Typically, they will not do bookkeeping and tax preparation, except for their business clients. In those cases where they do offer tax preparation for individuals they charge a premium in my experience.
Tax Preparation Firm
Although tax preparation is often thought of as a CPA skill, most Certified Public Accountants do not prepare taxes, other than their own, perhaps. Likewise, very few tax preparers are CPA’s. Instead, most tax preparers start by doing their own taxes, enjoying it, then doing taxes for friends and family. Eventually, they decided to start offering it for a fee and either join up with a tax preparation firm or hang out their own shingle.
There are several large tax preparation firms, the largest being H&R Block. These firms hire seasonal workers and will provide some training at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, most tax prep firms are small single practitioner accounting firms that specialize in income tax preparation for individuals. Most tax professionals work during tax season. If they are successful and watch their spending, they may earn enough during those few short months (January to April) to enjoy vacationing the rest of the year. Some tax preparers will offer bookkeeping during their slow seasons.
These are typically small, privately owned accounting firms that provide bookkeeping and payroll services to small businesses (less than 50 employees). Often, they operate from the accountant’s home, and they may service up to a dozen clients. They will pick up transaction detail from the client monthly or quarterly and provide financial statements on the same schedule. Nearly every bookkeeping firm will also provide full payroll servicing.
A full-service bookkeeping firm will also provide management consulting including helping the owner interpret the financial statements and provide suggestions for improving financial wealth and profitability. If trained in business tax forms, these professionals will offer tax preparation services in addition to their writeup services.
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