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Checklist of questions to ask new clients

How to unearth the unpalatable

Didn't find your answer?

I keep being wrongfooted by nitwit clients not telling me the whole truth about transactions prior to my taking them on board.

I'm building up a list of things to ask upfront so I can say "on your bike Mr Jones" to save myself a lot of hassle.

What are the worst things you've discovered after you've taken them on?

 

Replies (23)

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By Paul Crowley
22nd Sep 2020 17:15

Usually it is Hyde waiting in the wings

Thanks (3)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
22nd Sep 2020 17:16

Well you cant cover everything, but my staples are:

I normally ask "why are you leaving?" and try it put myself in the other accountants shoes to see their side of things.
I also ask "how often do you do your record keeping?"
and "when do you normally file things?"
and sometimes "did anything out of the ordinary happen last year?"

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
By Moonbeam
22nd Sep 2020 21:28

Had I asked did anything out of the ordinary happen last year, I could have saved a tremendous amount of hassle with Mr Bloggs, whose previous accountant is a numpty. I've explained there is a tax trigger that happened before I came along and other matters besides but Mr Bloggs says I am wrong, because it wouldn't suit him.
So I've sent the usual goodbye letter and feel a deep sense of relief.

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RLI
By lionofludesch
22nd Sep 2020 17:21

A lot of clients just lie anyway.

Hard to get an honest answer from a carp client.

Thanks (2)
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
22nd Sep 2020 18:29

Just make sure that you get them to sign the return. Its their responsibility if they get caught and/or lie.
Make sure that everything is in writing(email) as back up proof in case the proverbial does hit the fan
And make sure your practice indemnity is up to date.

Thanks (2)
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By SXGuy
22nd Sep 2020 18:29

Have had a few in the past who are a bit vague when it comes to answering questions. Not on purpose but because they don't understand you need actual facts.

How much was that?
Oh not a lot
How much is not a lot?
About 100
What's about 100?
£91.72.

A few this year with the SEISS,
Oh I got about 3 grand.
No, what did you EXACTLY get?

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Replying to SXGuy:
By Moonbeam
22nd Sep 2020 21:30

Yes, I have a charming client that I'm very fond of, who goes off on a tangent because he doesn't listen to the question, so I have to keep probing as you've demonstrated.
Sometimes the answer is surprising.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
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By SXGuy
23rd Sep 2020 07:47

Oh I love those clients too. Nothing better than spending an appointment constantly back tracking to get the actual answer to the question.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By New To Accountancy
27th Sep 2020 11:22

For most clients I always pretend I have another appointment if they babble on and say 'let me just get what I need as I have another appointment in 20 minutes and at least I'm not wasting your time if I don't' but for the older, really lovely and 'story tellers' of their allotments, war, kids who've done extremely well etc - I just accept now and make time for them, but book them in on a less busy day. I've one client who I don't think has anybody else to talk to so I even buy him his favourite Eccles cake! (think that's how it's spelt)

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Replying to Moonbeam:
RLI
By lionofludesch
27th Sep 2020 07:39

Moonbeam wrote:

Yes, I have a charming client that I'm very fond of, who goes off on a tangent because he doesn't listen to the question, so I have to keep probing as you've demonstrated.
Sometimes the answer is surprising.

I had a client like that. He came in one day, apologising for his tardiness and explaining that he'd had problems with the crawler gear on his elderly wagon getting up the hill out of Whitby.

After about half an hour of this story he said "well, if there's nothing else....." I assured him that there was something else, as I hadn't actually started yet.

And for heaven's sake, don't let him start about the time he was shipwrecked in Archangel in 1933.

Thanks (1)
Replying to lionofludesch:
By Moonbeam
27th Sep 2020 09:54

That's a lovely story, and it's the reason I love my job. Practically every client is an interesting person - even if some of them can be exasperating!

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Replying to Moonbeam:
RLI
By lionofludesch
27th Sep 2020 10:11

Tommy was a lovely chap. In his 70s, yet his shirt was always open almost to the waist, whatever the weather.

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By New To Accountancy
22nd Sep 2020 21:30

I like:
* What is your normal bookkeeping routine so I can try and fit in smoothly with you?

If they don't really have a routine, it's going to be a nightmare putting things right / educating them / etc etc.

I recently asked a young lad what his income and expenses were for 19-20, he said 'how do I know, you're the accountant' and looked at his mate confused at why I didn't even know this stuff.

Thanks (2)
Replying to New To Accountancy:
By Moonbeam
22nd Sep 2020 21:34

Another good one. I've taken on 3 clients in the past year or so who are all intelligent kosher people but the downside for all of them has been their blasted spreadsheets.
The amount of time I've had to take to get everything into shape hasn't been covered by my fees, but now they're all on Xero/Pandle, I think I've got the problems sorted.
I think I need to tell them I'll charge extra for spreadsheets unless they're set up as bank plus analysis columns. They never are, of course.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Moonbeam:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
23rd Sep 2020 09:13

@moonbeam, we do a lot of spreadsheet work, but its ALWAYS just a extended analysis from the downloaded bank account statement. Anything else is a disaster. We don't deal with cash trades, so it is usually complete (ish)

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
By Moonbeam
23rd Sep 2020 09:20

So if a new client proudly presents a many tabbed sheet, none of them clearly showing what's gone through the bank, do you ask them to do the bank analysis for you?

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By sanjay100
23rd Sep 2020 12:54

Sometimes maybe from life experience you are able to work out this client maybe seems shifty and maybe not disclosing everything. We all get caught by surprises but getting little better picking up errant clients after my recent experience.

The worse thing I had discovered about a client is they have a memory like a sieve.

Perhaps at meeting or call log the main points and email them and ask them if there is any other information they wish to disclose. Then in the engagement letter have a clause on the lines if we find out information that have not been disclosed we have the right to revise the quote or terminate the engagement with immediate effect and you shall be billed time commensurate to our hourly rate.

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By JD
23rd Sep 2020 20:45

I tend to go old school and ask for a copy of last accounts and returns completed along with a copy of book keeping records.
If they start to challenge why you want it or only supply half the information you already have a clue as to what they will be like.
If they supply it all in good time, you have a chance to assess how robust their current systems are and get agreement to improve things before you take them on.

Thanks (1)
Replying to JD:
By Moonbeam
24th Sep 2020 07:33

Thank you for that. In future I will ask for copies of their spreadsheets before giving a final quote, and also ask to be able to login to their online data.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
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By JD
25th Sep 2020 09:32

and of course goes a long way to cover your AML risk assessment. All those, who are the Owners & Booms, the nature & style of trade, sources of wealth type questions.

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7om
By Tom 7000
25th Sep 2020 09:44

Just the new ones..... ?

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By Justin Bryant
25th Sep 2020 10:05

Most the time you will have a gut feeling, in which case just ask for upfront fees. 99% of those who are happy to pay upfront will be problem-free. Most of those who are not happy to pay upfront will have been a problem one way or another. It's a bit like finding out is someone is reliable by lending them £10 and seeing if/when you get it back.

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By Cheshire
25th Sep 2020 13:25

One of the first few things I find out is if they run things through a business bank account, or at the very least a separate one. Plus how often they mix up their business debit and credit cards with their personal ones.

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