What to do if a client threatens you
After hearing from an accountant who was threatened by a new client, Mark Lee has been thinking about how to handle such situations.
The story that follows was relayed to me recently. I have simplified the facts and changed names to preserve the anonymity of the accountant concerned. I have also abbreviated the story so we can focus on the lessons to be learned and how to avoid similar situations happening to anyone else.
There will also be a follow up piece to address some of the related issues.
Accountant Annie is a single lady in her mid-30s who works both from her home by the coast and from an office address in Biggin Hill. Annie tends to only come up to the office once a month. She rents it from a lady in her mid-80s who lives in the bungalow alongside. This lady also collects and sorts the post for Annie and calls her if anything appears to need urgent action.
The new client
Annie was approached in mid-June to act for a new client, Neville and his business partner Nick. They came to see her at the office and admitted they didn’t have a partnership agreement. It transpired they were about to dissolve the partnership so didn’t take Annie’s advice on this point.
Two weeks after the meeting Nasty Nick called Annie and started shouting that he wanted the figures by the end of the week. The aggressive client insisted that he would call round at the office to collect his papers. Annie tried to explain that the papers weren’t there and that she couldn’t easily get them there from her home on the coast. This was not good enough for Nick, who turned up at 8pm on the Saturday evening and frightened the old lady next door.
When you want out
Annie is not alone. Numerous other members have previously reported occasions on which they have been similarly threatened:
- Client claiming accountant had not forwarded tax refund
- Verbally abusive client threatening physical violence
- Fears if ‘cash working’ tax evaders are reported
- A client who gets abusive when fees are discussed (the comments on this item reference other abusive clients too).
Annie’s story highlights several issues surrounding unreasonable clients, but responses to the earlier discussions show that some accountants put up with otherwise unacceptable behaviour so as to avoid losing the related fees.
It’s sad to think that any accountant should ever feel trapped into allowing clients to abuse them verbally - or worse. At some point, though, even the most submissive and non-assertive accountants reach the end of their tether. They want out.
Disengaging from difficult clients was addressed most recently in Five ways to get rid of a client. After considering how to handle Annie’s case, we will return to that theme in a follow up article.
Register for free and log into AccountingWEB to read the full article which covers:
- Initial responses
- Staying calm and assertive
- Taking notes to record the facts
- Balance - understanding their situation and getting them to recognise the underlying problems
What else might you do in such situations?
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants, entertains as a conference speaker and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists providing help and support to smaller practices.