UK small businesses could be inadvertently damaging their growth prospects by paying accountants who aren’t even qualified, warns the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

The warning comes after research from cloud accounting software provider ClearBooks showed just 8% of small businesses considered an accountant’s qualifications when choosing one. ACCA points out that there is no law preventing anyone from calling themselves an accountant, and that as a result small businesses could be unknowingly paying someone without the necessary skills to handle their finances and help their business grow, who isn’t regulated or insured against risk.

Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK, said: “Unlike solicitors and some other professional roles, the term accountant is not protected by law, so absolutely anyone can call themselves one, even without any training. Even those with minimal training in book-keeping or just one aspect of accountancy, will not always have the same rigorous qualifications and insurance as a chartered certified accountant. They will also be limited in helping the business grow.

“The ClearBooksPro survey showed that 32% of small businesses, when asked what they wanted help with from their accountant, identified business strategy – the largest response to that question. A successful small business accountant, whether it is an external practitioner or an in-house person, has to perform multiple roles and be able to provide strategic and operational input – it is impossible to get this from an unqualified person who has trained for book-keeping or tax only, because their skill-set is too narrow.

“Equally, any business with serious growth potential needs a person who can adapt quickly to their changing management accounting needs, and ideally be able to build and manage a professional finance function. Business growth is never even and rarely goes according to plan, so it’s vital to have the right skills in place early.

“If you were employing someone for a job, you would check their qualifications. You should be even more thorough when you are hiring the services of someone who will be at the helm of your business strategy,” said Hathaway. “To be sure you have the right kind of finance professional for your small business, who has a wide skill-set – the enterprise needs to grow – check they are fully qualified.”

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