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Outgoing accountant putting me down to new client

Outgoing accountant putting me down to new client

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I have recently taken on a new client.

In accordance with protocol they have written to the previous accountant giving permission to talk with me. I have not yet written the clearance/ info request letter.

Client has received a letter from previous accountant asking why they are going with me, stating that I am a small practice with low net assets and including a set of my 2013 abbreviated accounts! (As is happens i had extracted most of my money in 2013 so they don't look great but still positive net assets).

Client was already well aware that I now run a small practice for personal reasons but also knows of my 20 yrs experience and great service reports. She is outraged and thinks it is a cheap shot. And has emailed them saying they knew I was a small firm, complementing me on money I have already saved them and also asking why they thought it was relevant to include my accounts.

This all happened yesterday. I am going to see the client today for a separate matter and she said she'd show me the letter.

The firm involved is a 2 office local firm with I'd guess 15-20ish staff. Both firms are ACCA/ICAEW, not relevant which is which but both are members of respectable bodies.

My feeling is to go about the handover as usual, but then when all is complete to write directly to the main owner (who wrote the letter). My initial thoughts are that I will complain about the letter, ask why they think with xxz experience that my choice to run a small practice would impede my ability to service clients, point out I believe it is against their body's code of ethics to "discredit.... circumstances of a competitor", ask for an apology and assurance it will not happen again.

I will of course not mention to anyone that they have recently been stripped of their audit registration by their body and that there is a public press release from last year stating so. Very tempting although it is, I will not stoop to their level.

Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance.

Replies (37)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
20th Feb 2015 08:57

Ignore them.

Your client clearly thinks they are being idiots, which they are. That is all that matters.

I just had a run in with an ICAEW member who refused to do a handover over an unpaid bill. After a lot of bluster, eventually he gave in and passed over the information.

Complete waste of time and effort. 

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By Craigy1874
20th Feb 2015 09:05

Do what makes you feel better

You have two choices:

 

Ignore it as ireallyshouldknowthis suggestsDo as you suggest

I think point 2 will make you feel better about what happened, so go for it!

However, after this has blown over, in a week or two, you may feel differently about it and decide to go with option 1.

It really is a low blow and quite pathetic from a fellow professional...

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By Jakarmi
20th Feb 2015 09:16

Let it go over your head

Hi

I've had this sort of thing a couple of times happen to me.

The first time, I had a client come to me from an accountant who I worked for five years previously. I didn't want bad relations with the former employer so emailed him to tell him that the client had approached me and that if it would cause bad feeling then I wouldn't accept the appointment. The partner there was fine and said no problem in taking it on etc.

The client called a couple of weeks later to say the other partner in the firm had not been so gracious shall we say. He'd called the client telling him I wasn't up to the job and that I wouldn't be insured so if I messed up the accounts they wouldn't be able to sue me (which of course they would if I hadn't been insured as I just wouldn't be insured for the loss). The client told me that as the former accountant had messed up their accounts the previous year that he asked the former accountant was he able to sue him then to which the partner just hung up the phone.

The second time it happened I took a large client from an unrelated firm. They were quite insulting to the client saying we were a small firm and that "I suppose you get what you pay for" type comments. The client ignored their bitterness and as the former accountant had kept their accounts on Sage he then called me in respect of this. Instead of providing a full back up he insisted he wanted to send on a back up of the parameters or something where it wouldn't use as much memory but would load up if I did this and that. I commented I'd not seen that back up done before to which his comment on the phone was "Oh call yourself an accountant and you can't even work Sage". I quite calmly replied "I guess I don't really lose clients myself so I've not needed to do these back ups for clients" which quietened him a little.

Overall, like I said let it go over your head. The bitterness of the former accountant should be enough to make you smile through it all and the law and the professional bodies probably won't care as I'd guess everything he has said about you is true even though it shouldn't put you in a bad light (a small practice is more client focused arguably).

 

 

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By ShirleyM
20th Feb 2015 09:16

I think I would write to the practice owner

I would try not to get involved in a protracted dispute and would disregard the 'putting down', but would just mention the code of ethics of their professional body, and inform them that if they persist in breaching those guidelines, then a report will be made.

Hopefully, it will discourage them from sending further slur messages to exiting clients.

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Universe
By SteveOH
20th Feb 2015 09:23

Just leave it

I agree with those who suggest ignoring it. It's not really worth the time and effort and it's not as though you are going to change their future behaviour.

The important thing here is that your new client fully supports you and, to their credit, contacted their previous accountants and gave them "what for".

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Giraffe
By Luke
20th Feb 2015 09:28

Thanks all
Former accountant has just replied that they just wanted to point out that I am small and therefore new. (In fact I have 20yrs experience and set up the practice in 2006)

They also said they note I am already giving advice which is concerning as it is contrary to professional ethics! The only advice I have given so far is to suggest a move from quickbooks to quickbooks online? Therefore saving them £150pm on what they were paying. I don't think that constitutes official 'advice' or does it? Have I done anything wrong?

They want an immediate handover so will write to them today, hopefully get it handover over asap.

My gut feeling, much as I would like to ignore it, is that I will write to the practice owner after all handover is complete. As again he is wrong and even a look at the front page of my website would tell you I'm not 'new'.

I didn't get this from them when a took a smaller client from last year, but I wouldn't want it to happen again.

I have never had anyone question my credibility before and having worked so hard to be genuinely very credible it hurts.

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Replying to paul.benny:
Euan's picture
By Euan MacLennan
20th Feb 2015 09:49

In a word

Luke wrote:
Former accountant ... also said they note I am already giving advice which is concerning as it is contrary to professional ethics! The only advice I have given so far is to suggest a move from quickbooks to quickbooks online? Therefore saving them £150pm on what they were paying. I don't think that constitutes official 'advice' or does it? Have I done anything wrong?

Yes - you have acted as the client's accountant before even making professional enquiries, let alone receiving a response from the outgoing accountant.  But if you are not a member of one of the professional bodies, your breach of the ethical rules does not matter.

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Replying to dgilmour51:
Giraffe
By Luke
20th Feb 2015 10:18

Other views please - was I acting as their accountant?

Euan MacLennan wrote:

Luke wrote:
Former accountant ... also said they note I am already giving advice which is concerning as it is contrary to professional ethics! The only advice I have given so far is to suggest a move from quickbooks to quickbooks online? Therefore saving them £150pm on what they were paying. I don't think that constitutes official 'advice' or does it? Have I done anything wrong?

Yes - you have acted as the client's accountant before even making professional enquiries, let alone receiving a response from the outgoing accountant.  But if you are not a member of one of the professional bodies, your breach of the ethical rules does not matter.

 

Thanks Euan.  I would have thought that saying 'wow, you are paying £175pm for QB desktop, QB online is much cheaper' in an initial meeting would be common sense and not me acting as their accountant.  If I am wrong, then I stand corrected.  It would be interesting to hear if others also think I have been 'acting as their accountant'.  

If consensus is that I have, then I will certainly let it ride over me as I don't want to open a can of worms.

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Replying to paulwakefield1:
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By Jakarmi
20th Feb 2015 10:28

To me you've done nothing wrong. I offer potential new clients a free no obligation consultation and tell them it gives them the chance to question and get to know me so they can be sure I am the right person they should be working with.

Naturally, the client is going to question things like my fee, their book-keeping, what they can claim etc and you answer honestly as professional advice. You are not actually completing any work for them so to me it is fine what you have done.

That's my view of course. Others will differ in their opinion no doubt. As stated above the former accountant is trying to get under your skin so any response is just going to let him know he has succeeded.

 

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RLI
By lionofludesch
20th Feb 2015 09:35

Disgraceful

Shocking behaviour and you've probably already got the satisfaction you wanted from your client's reaction.

Don't think you can complain about the accounts too much though.  That's just the downside of being a company, I'm afraid.  Your financial affairs are available for public scrutiny.

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By ShirleyM
20th Feb 2015 09:36

haha ... do as I say ... not as I do?

They also said they note I am already giving advice which is concerning as it is contrary to professional ethics! 

That's a good start. They have heard of ethics then.

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Giraffe
By Luke
20th Feb 2015 09:44

Shirley
Do you think suggesting a move from quickbooks to quickbooks online constitutes 'advice'?

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Replying to SXGuy:
By ShirleyM
20th Feb 2015 10:40

You've done nothing wrong

Luke wrote:
Do you think suggesting a move from quickbooks to quickbooks online constitutes 'advice'?

I often mention potential cost saving opportunities that I spot, in the first free meeting. I may not go into detail, but the 'hook' is there. :)

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Time for change
By Time for change
20th Feb 2015 10:00

Over time, this

will all blend into insignificance.

Much like the outgoing accountant's, in this case, I guess!

My advice, from experience - leave well alone and, move on.

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By JamesAnd
20th Feb 2015 10:15

I agree with others when they say, given the client is still coming to you, that you should just leave it.

Hopefully your new client will know other clients from their old accountant and given their experience will encourage them to refer to you.

I always think it is better to gain/keep a client by being positive about oneself rather than negative about the other agent. Perhaps take heart that even though a bigger firm, by being negative about you, they are actually showing a bit of an inferiority complex

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By Moonbeam
20th Feb 2015 10:18

Nastiness in the accountancy profession is rife

As someone who for many years didn't do tax for clients, but concentrated on the Financial Controller role, I've lost count of the unpleasantness and put downs I endured from firms of accountants both small and large. I still have to put up with this attitude from one or two of them, but it's jealousy basically. 

If the client is convinced you are the right person for them, the attitude of the outgoing accountant is going to doubly convince them. It sounds to me as if your customer care is much better than that of the previous lot. It's something you should be shouting from the rooftops as so many of our competitors are hopeless at this.

You will only get more wound up about it if you dignify the other firm's slander with any sort of acknowledgement. They want to get under your skin and that's their only purpose. Telling them that they are wrong is helping them know they've got to you. Ignoring them is telling them you are far too important a person to waste time on **** like them.

As a professional you just need to concentrate on the new client, who will be so impressed with your recommendations on saving money. I suggest your next job is to ask new client can they think of anyone else you can help! If you concentrate on the nice bits the horrible bits will recede into the distance.

 

 

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Giraffe
By Luke
20th Feb 2015 10:21

Having seen further replies

I think I really should be the bigger person and ignore it.

It will blow over in a few weeks, but galling in the meantime!

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Giraffe
By Luke
20th Feb 2015 10:45

Thank you

I didn't think I had done wrong but understand it is potentially a grey area.

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By Alexdon
20th Feb 2015 10:57

New clients

You need to be careful. You have stated you run a small practice for personal reasons and here  you are offering good advice. You might not have a small practice very long if you continue like this, whereas the other firm may end up as one when their clients start migrating to you by recommendation!

Let it all go over your head, that will clearly demonstrate who is the better man

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By Penfold
20th Feb 2015 10:58

I'm going to disagree with everyone here.

 

This sort of behaviour is not acceptable and should be brought to the attention of both the ICAEW and ACCA professional conduct departments.

Two simple and identical letters, which should take no longer than your original post.

Then move on and forget about it, job done.

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By dropoutguy
20th Feb 2015 11:11

ICAEW and ACCA

will probably take an age to do very little.

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By FCExtraordinaire
20th Feb 2015 11:53

Disagree

I also disagree that nothing should be done.

I wouldn't bother contacting them ,  I would go straight to their accountancy body.

 

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By Flash Gordon
20th Feb 2015 11:54

Agree with Penfold

While from the OP's point of view I'd suggest forgetting it, if the unprofessional firm doesn't get a slap they'll carry on doing it to other similar firms who might not have such sensible clients. I'd do the firm a short, polite letter informing them that their conduct was unprofessional and unethical and that you're reporting them. I'd then do what Penfold suggests in writing to the prof conduct depts. They may (probably) do nothing but at least you've tried and the firm knows that they've been called on it. But do the handover first!

If people get away with something once, they'll continue. And they'll get better at it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to take a stand. 

 

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ghm
By TaxTeddy
20th Feb 2015 12:35

Don't start what you can't finish

In principle I agree with Penfold - you should report the behaviour.

But before you do you need to ask yourself where such action could lead. People can be very vindictive and you could just be buying into a whole heap of grief.

Personally, I would draw a line under it.

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By Roland195
20th Feb 2015 13:07

What would be the basis of the complaint?

The firm in question stated that you were a small practice which you concede you are and the company you operate from has low net assets which you admit it does. They sent a copy of a publically available document in support of this.

Based on these facts, I doubt ICAEW/ACCA will be remotely interested in trying to make a case here. They said nothing explicitly disparaging regarding you, your experience, qualifications or professional reputation.

I am not saying that this is right and hate to see this sort of behaviour in the industry but given that no harm was done as the client supported you then I doubt a complaint is worth the postage.  

 

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By Roland195
20th Feb 2015 15:42

Based on what?

juliepz wrote:

ICAS Code of ethics s150.2

In marketing and promoting themselves and their work, professional accountants shall not bring the profession into disrepute.  Professional accountants shall be honest and truthful and not:

(a) Make exaggerated claims for the services they are able to offer....

(b) Make disparaging references or unsubstantiated comparisons to the work of others

 

I would say they are making unsubstantiated comparisons in this case!

The firm in question made no claim regarding the services that they offer and did not make disparaging references or comparisons to the work of others at all. They simply said that other form was smaller and produced a publically available document to prove it.

I am absolutely not defending the actions of this firm, but in my opinion there is no complaint case to answer (or at least not one the ICAEW/ACCA will be bothered about).

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By auckland miles
20th Feb 2015 13:07

Rise Above

Breath, relax, smile. Get the handover, then report them to ICAEW / ACCA.

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By taxation4
20th Feb 2015 15:34

Be successful

I had a similar experience when I left my last firm and some of their clients approached me to come over. Senior partner got in touch with them and tried to put me down - several of them told me about it.

It changed no-one's mind - actually encouraged some of them.

If the partner/firm provided excellent service and were confident about this then they would not lose clients or feel the need to act in this way.

Your best revenge is to become very successful in your own business.

 

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By andy.partridge
20th Feb 2015 16:35

Was it advice?
Of course.
But how else do you instil confidence in a prospect that it is worth moving to you?

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Replying to penelope pitstop:
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By Roland195
20th Feb 2015 16:38

Not following this either

andy.partridge wrote:
Of course. But how else do you instil confidence in a prospect that it is worth moving to you?

So if we are not allowed to offer any advice to the client and we are also not allowed to win them over by comparing the service we will offer compared to their existing advisor then how are we supposed to convince potential clients to move?

 

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By Moonbeam
20th Feb 2015 16:59

Accountants need to be commercial animals

There is a great deal of Dickensian practice still in the profession. Profit and customer care both seem to be little thought about in the offices of the great and powerful ACCA/ICAEW.

I feel their attitude does the rest of us a bad turn and am sorry these regulators are so stuck in the past with very little interest in their members.

How on earth can we claim to be business advisors if we don't have a commercial bone in our own bodies?

 

 

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By PDM Assocs
20th Feb 2015 17:48

Disagreeable Accountant

 

   The Problem lies in the word Accountant.    A few years ago a members bill was thought of  

    being raised to protect the term Accountant.   Only a Qualified Individual from CCAB members  should  called it thus.

    A big problem out in the  small practice arena is that non Qualified people are trading as accountants .  It is the only Profession that operates this way and underminds Qualified Accountants.

     If an Accountant  operated under the above principles then the  Accountancy bodies would have more teeth in clearing out un ethical behaviour between Qualified Accountants,

  Non Qualified Accountants are not covered currently not covered by such behaviour.

  The Profession needs to clearly distinguish between  Qualified and Non Qualified personnel in Practice which is not the case at present.

 

 

   

 

 

 

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By Mouse007
22nd Feb 2015 00:43

Let’s take a closer look at this

 

Why are you moving to them? Challenges the wisdom of the client and casts an aspersion on you.

Why? when they are so small? Implies we are bigger and that must be better. They are insinuating that you are not in a position to provide the services they can, both the type and the quality thereof, because you are so lacking in resources.

Here is the proof, copy accounts. This plays on the client’s potential lack of knowledge and seeks to further undermine your status.

It is a blatant and reckless breach of the code of ethics which boarders on being libellous.

If you, yourself, are a member of the ICAEW you have a duty to report this; it is a disciplinary matter if you fail to do so.

 

Offering advice (which at this stage amounts to no more than making some observations) is not the same as acting for, it's a red herring here.

 

edited: because ... it now reads better

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Time for change
By Time for change
21st Feb 2015 10:39

Here's my bet.............

after the week-end this genuine enquiry will have degenerated into a "my qualities are better than your qualities".

And, what purpose will that serve again?

I'm really sorry to say that some individuals just can't help it.

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By Mouse007
22nd Feb 2015 00:15

bet accepted

 

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By Penfold
22nd Feb 2015 21:48

@Time for change

Guess you lost

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
22nd Feb 2015 22:19

Red rag to a bull.
Forget writing to governing body or to the guy who sent the letter. He is clearly out of touch with this attitude and has probably been charging top dollar to the small end of his client base for a limited service. You will probably do a better more hands on job for less money. As for sending copies of your accounts to people, what do his own look like. Some of the worst sets of accounts I have seen belong to professional people like solicitors barristers and accountants. Many have overdrawn capital accounts as they spend more money than they make and never provide for tax liabilities. I would be asking your new client if she as any associates who she knows that accountant and I would be stepping up my marketing locally to try and sign up some more of his customers up.

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