What is Discovery Accountants & Advisers' background?
Our Director, Alex, has provided business and tax consulting services since 2001 and became a Registered Tax Agent in 2007. She founded her sole practice Electra Frost Accounting in Sydney in 2008, and co-founded Newtown Tax and Business Services in 2010 which is still in operation.
Since moving to Agnes Water in 2016, Alex has continued to run Electra Frost Accounting online for many long-term clients around Australia and overseas who widely recommend her specialist advisory services. Our well established national business employs 4-5 staff in Agnes Water and provides the infrastructure for Discovery Accountants. This makes it economically viable for us to offer well-resourced professional accounting services to a small client base on the Discovery Coast.
Alex is a Chartered Tax Adviser and a Member (soon to be Fellow) of the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA), and is a Qualified Accountant operating our Public Practice under the rules and regulations of the IPA. The IPA designation provides our clients with a guarantee that they are dealing with a trained professional who has met the academic, ethical and practical requirements of professional practice with an ongoing commitment to Continuous Professional Education (CPE). The IPA, formally known as the NIA, has a longstanding history of involvement in the accounting industry as one of Australia's oldest professional bodies.
Our local staff have varied experience in chartered and public practices and have been trained to very high standards by Alex since 2016. Kristie and Jason are completing the CPA program with tax and audit focus, and Lisa is an Associate member of the IPA with a business services focus.
We hope that business goes well for us here so we can continue to grow and employ more local accountants.
Why do you have a paperless office?
We require electronic delivery of all client tax and business information and we provide the necessary tools and resources for our clients to work with us this way. We even sign documents digitally. Please don't bring paper files and receipts to our office. If you need help getting them onto a computer before your appointment, please call or email us and we can explain how.
There are many advantages to going paperless, and it is a goal that more and more companies are aiming for. Beyond the obvious cost savings and reduction of environmental impact, the efficiencies of digital document management and cloud accounting are invaluable and greatly enhance the quality of our services.
Our history of becoming paperless:
When starting out in accounting, Alex was surprised that senior partners were meeting with clients for tax info gathering meetings, which seemed quite unproductive and not the best use of an adviser's time. There were rooms full of huge files and it took so long to find anything. There had to be a better way.
In 2002, she designed Excel templates for her clients and asked them to stop bringing business and expenses paperwork to their tax appointments. She asked for tax return information to be emailed before meetings. This meant she could prepare the information beforehand and spend more time speaking with clients to improve on their deductions and formulate valuable tax advice. As most clients learned to work this way her reputation as a consultant grew.
In 2008, when Alex started her own business she could be the boss!... and she insisted on all information being delivered in electronic form. Within a year she had more than 300 clients who wanted a tech savvy accountant who was interested in their business. Commercial rents in Sydney aren't cheap, and we wanted to invest our money into better technology not paying for storage of clients' paperwork.
From 2011-2012 with the introduction of cloud accounting, Alex was able to take her practice to the next level. She wrote online tax return and business consulting checklists using a secure client portal which made it so much easier for our clients to gather the right records and send them to us in an organised and secure way.
Since then, with all this wonderful digital disruption in the accounting industry and the support of excellent IT managers, we've developed secure hybrid systems that are scalable to our growth. We reduce our overheads, streamline our administrative processes and expand our market reach by eliminating the use of paper in all its business processes.
The greatest thing about going paperless and automating the basic functions, is that we've been able to grow a small company through employing qualified accounting staff rather than administrative staff to handle more work. Our clients have appreciated our organised approach which saves them time, and we have been able to minimise our fees and be more responsive to their needs. It also makes it easier to attract and retain millennials who want to work for agile companies that invest in technology.
However, unlike many other accountants, we capitalised on the decentralised digital office by employing good accounting staff in regional Australia where the costs of living is cheaper, instead of outsourcing client work to cheap offshore preparers. We are constantly emailed by outsourcing companies ("do your clients tax returns for $7/hr in India") and can proudly afford to ignore them!
We see that there are many opportunities available to regional businesses that adopt digital practices: by reducing their costs, increasing their market reach and being more in control financially. Our Discovery Coast business clients can benefit from our experience.
There are three phases to going paperless, apart from changing your accounting software, which involve the following considerations:
1. Culture change. Planning and setting up the new filing system along with suitable access permissions and procedures. Digital archiving of all paperwork and eliminating filing cabinets to create extra space.
2. Rethinking your workflows and deciding on how tasks will now be completed by the people in your business. Ensure consistent processes for document coding and storage, and create digital assets out of your records.
3. Strategise content management. Automation and redundancy of data input across multiple software platforms, to reduce errors and speed up workflow. Setting up your document management architecture in the correct way to reduce risks. Identify potential data breach risks and reduce exposure to risk in compliance, audit, inside and outside threats. .
We'd love to hear how you're taking steps towards a paperless business and would be happy to share some of our experience and helpful tips.
How much for a tax return?
By far, this is the most frequently asked question when we pick up the phone or greet a walk-in. We believe a better question to ask an accountant is "How much value can you provide?". The cost associated with having a specialist deal with your tax is usually negligible in perspective of what you can save.
In our honest opinion, if you think a professional tax preparation should cost less than $300 then you could probably lodge it yourself on MyGov.
Our approach is highly knowledgeable, thorough and personalised. Whether you're a salary/wage earner, investor or business operator we take great care to optimise your outcomes and protect you from Tax Office scrutiny. Tax laws are always changing and we're used to complex tax returns. So we invest substantially in ongoing professional training and the best available technologies to offer premium tax services at a reasonable price.
Established businesses looking to change accountants can meet with our Principal to determine requirements and discuss likely fees.
How can I keep my accounting fees down?
We would much rather be finding ways to help you save tax and be profitable, than charging you for our time to check all the numbers are in the right place. Here are the best suggestions to minimise our fees:
- Ask us what we need from you and the best way to provide it. Our online checklists and paperless systems improve efficiency and reduce accounting fees.
- Keep your records up to date. It costs much less to pay a clerical assistant or bookkeeper than to pay an accountant to fix your record keeping.
- If you do your own bookkeeping, make sure you receive training. Engage us for set-up and ongoing support. For a company's accounting system, a minimum of a Cert IV bookkeeping qualification is recommended.
- Speak with your accountant before organising business finance, a lease, hire purchase or loan. These can present difficult GST and accounting entries. An accountant can handle this at BAS time more quickly and easily than amending your accounting records and BAS after year end.
- Engage a professional bookkeeper who can save you time by doing the work more quickly than you can do it yourself. We may recommend a bookkeeper who works to the high standards we expect.
Should I change accountants? (business owner)
We don't expect you to move your business to us just because we're local. However, you might ask us whether we can offer better value than your current accountant.
A number of reasons may have prompted you to decide it was time for a change. We often hear the following comments from new clients:
- "My accountants' fees seem too high"
- “My accountant doesn’t understand my business”
- “My accountant doesn’t get back to me for weeks”
- “My accountant is stuck in their ways and wont use online accounting“
- “My accountant takes too long to do my accounts”
- “I only hear from my accountant once a year”
Unfortunately, it’s fairly standard to have this sort of experience with the accounting industry. So we’re always trying to do better and are highly responsive. As residents of Agnes Water who've been in business ourselves for more than 10 years, we’re supportive of the local economy and genuinely enjoy finding ways to help other businesses succeed.
It’s no easy decision to change accountants, whatever the reason. You may have invested years into the relationship, and your existing accountant is very familiar with your financial affairs. But if you delay your decision, it may just drag out and your results may never improve.
What should you expect from your accountant?
Your accountant should take the time to understand your business and be focused on finding ways to improve your financial outcomes. For example, by:
- Setting up the most appropriate structure for commercial, tax and asset protection purposes.
- Reminding you when your lodgments are due, to keep you compliant.
- Showing you how to understand the numbers so you can stay in control of your business and focus on building profits.
- Recommending and implementing an online accounting system and suggesting apps and best business practices to save you time.
- Being available to hear your concerns and provide advice when needed, so you know you’re on the right track.
- Being upfront about their fees and flexible payment options, to help you manage cash flow and awkward unpaid invoices.
Do your research:
Accountants greatly vary in their experience, areas of expertise and practice methods. Do your research when looking for an alternative accountant. It will be a worthy investment into your future time, money and emotional energy. Be prepared to ask the right questions and trust your instincts.
What are the steps to changing accountants?
- Request an initial consultation to see if your business is a good fit.
Show copies of the most recent invoices, tax returns and financial statements from your current accountant. A business plan executive summary will be helpful. Ask how to provide these records beforehand to save time (e.g. electronically).
You should ask:
- How will the accountant work with you?
- How does the accountant run their own business? Is it well established?
- What technology does the accountant work with?
- What are their qualifications and professional associations?
- Will the accountant only charge you by the hour or will they agree on a fixed fee for the service to be delivered?
- Does the accountant have experience with your industry?
- What kind of services can the accountant recommend and provide to you?
Ready to change? Tell your existing accountant:
Before moving, it’s always best to contact your existing accountant to let them know of your decision. It may be an uncomfortable communication but it’s better coming from you rather than the new accountant.
A kindly worded email will usually do. You could just let them know that your needs have changed at this stage in your business, and you’ve found another accountant who offers what you need.
Your new accountant will write to your previous accountant:
Once you’ve given the go-ahead, it is a professional courtesy in our industry to send an “ethical clearance letter” to your previous accountant. It is usually sent by email nowadays.
Your previous accountant should promptly respond to the letter, and forward any requested documentation (preferably electronically) to the new accountant. This reply and forwarding of information is ethically best practice procedure for all members of accounting professional bodies with business client engagements.
Note: You should arrange collection of any of your physical documents (e.g., your paperwork in folders) and transfers of software subscriptions from the previous accountant’s office.
Please contact us for an initial meeting with our highly experienced principal, Alex Frost.
I'm new to business. How can an accountant help me?
Behind almost every successful business is a good working relationship between the business owners and their long term accountant. The right accountant assists you to understand the accounting side of your business and develop an accounting and bookkeeping systems that works for you. That way, you'll be paying your accountant for their valuable insights rather than their time spent fixing your mistakes.
Our business consulting services are highly personalised and professional, and it is in our best interests to provide you with the best set-up advice possible.
In our initial advisory consultation, we will run through most of the tax basics with you and provide resources and information you need.
My tax returns are overdue! Can you help me now?
If your tax returns are overdue and especially if you owe tax, an experienced tax professional can save you a lot of worry. The costs associated with having a specialist deal with your tax is usually negligible in relation to what you can save.
During peak periods, typically coming up to October and May, we may be unable to assist with overdue tax returns unless a client is very well organised to get it done in a meeting with us.
Our online checklists and Excel templates help our clients to organise the relevant income and expenses. For the best chance of a quick turnaround at minimal cost to you, we recommend an initial advisory meeting so we can explain your options and show you what to do, and agree to an 'action plan' for completion.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) may apply a “failure to lodge on time penalty”. The penalty is calculated at the rate of one penalty unit for each period of 28 days or part thereof that the document is overdue, up to a maximum of five penalty units. The penalty is $210 for every 28-day period or part thereof that the returns remain outstanding up to a maximum of $1050.
The ATO is more likely to apply a penalty if:
- you have more than one tax return outstanding
- you owe tax
- you have a poor lodgement history, or
- you have not complied with a request to lodge your tax return.
We have generally experienced success in applying for penalties to be remitted, and in some cases also interest charges and tax debts. However, there is no guarantee that the ATO will remit penalties.
Contact us to discuss your best way forward as soon as possible.