When starting a business that runs online, takes recurring payments and doesn't ship physical products, how important is it to have an accountant that has experience with ecommerce and online businesses?
My business partner has an accountant for his other (offline) business and has said we can use him for our online startup, but I'm not confident that he's the right guy for the job as he has never used a PayPal account (which is where most of our money is right now) and is kind of an old fashioned accountant, having mostly done work for shops and traditional small businesses. What's important? Should we give him a go or look around?
It depends, in part, on how likely you are to find an accountant near you who has experience in online businesses. To me, it's more important that I be able to meet with my tax preparer in-person, and I don't think I'd be able to find an accountant with much web experience in my area. You might prefer to work with someone from afar, but there are a number of complexities that that adds to the equation.
A much better resource than me, though, is this article by Matt Haughey: How to pick an accountant for your online business. He goes over a lot of aspects of looking for an accountant, comparing them with Turbo Tax, etc. I'm guessing that the rules would be similar for you in the UK.
If your company's incorporated in the US, and you're in the UK, a more important question than the "familiarity with online businesses" would be: does the accountant have experience with international businesses. If you're entirely within one country of the UK, that's obviously not an issue.
An accountant is useful to help you to be in compliance with the requirement the government and tax office puts on you in regards of financial statements and tax statements. There are probably not too many differences between an online and offline business in regards to this.
Therefore, the accountant might be of the same use as he is for your partners offline business. In the end, even if you can do the finances yourself, you need to ask yourself, if the time would be better spend growing your business (i.e. do what you strength is, instead of trying to do something that you are not really focused on). Assuming you make the time worse and the increase in revenues are higher than what you pay for the accountant (including the time you battle with audits etc), it was worth it.
Short answer : No
Long answer : It is important to find a good accountant, who is experienced and approachable. It would be preferable for the account to have ecommerce and online business experience.
At the end of the day, for accounting purposes, eCommerce & online business are businesses after all and follow the same accounting principles.