Stern Cohen Director of Marketing Julie James, BA, BEd provides guidance on how to find the right accounting firm for your unique needs.

As a Marketing Director with over 10 years of experience in the accounting industry, I felt compelled to write this article because of the high volume of inquiries I receive from individuals, business owners and nonprofit executives looking for a new accountant, tax specialist or bookkeeper.

Believe me when I say there’s a wide range of accounting providers to choose from. Switching accountants can be a daunting task but it’s crucial to find the right one for your needs.

I hope my perspective helps you narrow down your search.

Let’s get started!

One Size Does NOT Fit All

The accounting industry is a complex one. In general, CPA’s (Chartered Professional Accountants in Canada) either work within “industry” (as an internal accountant, CFO or Controller for example) OR work in what we call “public” accounting.

In public accounting, accountants have many clients. A CPA in public accounting might be a sole practitioner working independently running their own practice OR they may join a more sizable firm with a greater range of services from income tax preparation to financial statements to audits and other advisory services.

A public accounting firm can be small, mid-sized, or large like the “Big Four” firms we’re familiar with (Deloitte, EY, PWC, and KPMG) The large firms have a significant focus on serving public companies and very large businesses, whereas small and mid-sized firms are an ideal solution for small to medium-sized owner-managed businesses and nonprofits.

Stern Cohen is a mid-sized accounting firm in Toronto Canada and we focus on the small to medium-sized business market, specializing in owner-managed and family businesses. We also have a strong not-for-profit niche practice.

What this means for you

If your needs are not complex and you only require a personal tax return, a sole practitioner CPA or a high volume, low cost provider like H&R Block or TurboTax is ideal for you.

If you’re a contractor or a small start-up business without employees, a generalist accountant focussing on small business might be the best option for you.

If your needs are more complex or numerous, you will be better served by a mid-sized firm with in-house tax and accounting specialists. A mid-sized firm can offer you both deeper support and a faster response time due to their ability to leverage staff. In many cases, mid-sized accounting firms like Stern Cohen also have in-house industry specialists as well as audit and assurance teams for more complex accounting services.

Timing is Key

Do you want to switch accountants or accounting firms? Here’s an important tip. Don’t search for a new accountant during tax season. In fact, the months of February through the end of June are now considered “busy season” for accountants in Canada. During this period you’ll probably have a rough time finding a new firm because many accountants have reduced capacity to take on new clients due to the many tax and reporting deadlines occurring at this time of year. The seasonality of the accounting and tax industry is a challenge.

How much are accounting services?

Quite often we receive calls from prospective clients asking for a fee estimate for accounting services. It’s not easy to estimate annual fees unless we have some background or supporting information. After all, would it surprise you to hear that accountants are detail-oriented? 🙂 As a result, a good accountant needs to carefully gauge the scope of services (deliverables, time and resources) before providing an estimate. An experienced accountant will want to see the following before committing to a fee quote.

Information Required for a Fee Quote


  • A PDF of the business’s most recent:
    • annual financial statements (Compilation, Review or Audit)
    • corporate tax return (T2)
    • personal tax return (T1) of the business owners or shareholders
  • intel on any changes since these financial statements were issued OR anticipated changes
  • an idea of longer term goals and objectives
  • an understanding of the services required and why you are leaving your previous provider


  • a copy of your most recent personal tax return (T1)
  • intel on any life changes since your last tax return (like marriage, divorce, investments, purchases, new businesses, inheritance)
  • an idea of your longer term goals and objectives
  • an understanding of the services required and why you are leaving your previous provider

TIP: Beware of unsubstantiated quotes because at the end of the year you might very well end up with a higher bill than you expected! The best accounting firms are transparent about fees.

How Fees Work

In general, the larger the firm, the higher the fees due to service and industry specialization and the experience of the firm’s partners and senior team members.

Although senior resources at mid-sized to large firms are, naturally, more expensive, rest assured that partners leverage trained staff for compliance tasks and only get involved for the heavy lifting (complex tax, advisory and oversight). So while you will pay more for a Partner’s time, it includes an efficient and dedicated support team and the reassurance of having an advisor with strong expertise and significant experience. This will save you time and money in the long run!

When do you need to look for a new accounting firm?

  • If you’re working with a sole practitioner CPA and your business is hitting annual revenues approaching $1 million, then you have probably outgrown your accountant.
  • When your business is in rapid growth mode, and you anticipate increasing revenues, you will benefit from working with a mid-sized accounting firm (like Stern Cohen) that specializes in comprehensive services for owner-managed or privately-held businesses. In many cases, we are actually referred from sole practitioner accountants who realize that their customer requires more sophisticated expertise and resources.

TIP: Have you outgrown your accountant?  If your business is growing rapidly, your sole practitioner CPA might recommend you move to a larger firm to ensure more complex services can be performed and tax planning opportunities are flagged and addressed at opportune times.

Get Proof for Client Service Claims

With so many accounting firms to choose from in Toronto and across Canada, how can you feel confident that you’re working with one of the top accounting firms? Being able to see a firm’s client ratings is greatly reassuring to those who are looking for a new accounting provider. Most businesses promise excellent service. Our annualized client survey is proof!

These stats from our 2023 annual client survey show just how well we stack up against the competition:

  • Stern Cohen received satisfaction scores of 9 or 10 out of 10 from over 78% of clients surveyed. That’s significantly higher than the industry’s current average of 45%.
  • Our Net Promoter® Score of 74%, is considered world class.

View our client’s ratings and testimonials publicly available on – an online business directory that helps buyers of professional services find service leaders and vet prospective firms. Simply click on the widget below for a live feed of our results:


I hope this article was helpful. In addition, scroll down to look at my answers to some frequently asked questions on this topic.