Social media can be bad for business

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I was saddened to read last week’s report about the troubles faced by an accountant who made some unwise statements on Facebook over a period of six or more years, that were apparently homophobic, racist and sexist.

While the Derby accountant’s life must have been hellish over recent months, as he fought tooth and nail to defend what seemed like an indefensible position against the powers that be at ACCA, scratching the surface and digging a little deeper suggests that he has been lucky to retain both professional status and a practising certificate.

At the end of the day, my suspicion is that few clients will depart despite the reputational damage caused by this minor storm in a teacup. The gentleman involved is £9,000 poorer having been obliged to pay the association’s legal costs but otherwise can probably live with a severe reprimand.

Indeed, based on the limited information available many might have concluded that anyone behaving in the fashion described would instantly have lost their right to a practising certificate and, quite possibly, the letters that continue to grace this gentleman’s name following the disciplinary investigation.

One might also question whether the authorities at ACCA have been overly lenient, although without knowing all of the facts in the case I would hesitate to make any definitive judgements.

If there really have been multiple blogs making racist, sexist and homophobic statements or jokes over a period of six years, then I’m struggling to understand why an association that values its reputation for ethical and professional probity would not have taken more stringent steps to end its connection with the individual involved.

Even if the reports are a little overblown, there is another mystery in that the accountant in question appears to have willfully and knowingly engaged in practice for nine months without applying for a practising certificate. Once again, on this count, he appears to have got off lightly.

This might be a personal observation but I have concerns about this member of our noble profession’s priorities, given that the sole stated reason why he decided to set up a practice was to obtain a tax advantage in connection with his car.

While there is nothing legally wrong in doing this, most of us probably set up in practice with the primary ambitions of creating a valuable business with limited liability and maybe even helping clients to prosper along the way. Some might wonder whether it is better or worse if the unlikely reason given was true or merely an attempted justification for his other actions?

Presumably, he was only caught on this latter count as a result of the investigation into the offensive behaviour and, otherwise, would have gone on plying his trade without the authority to do so or the regulatory oversight that is so important for those using professionals practising under the auspices of a recognised body.

We will probably never find out the full facts unless some enterprising investigative journalist decides to take on the story. However, on the face of it, I fear that nobody is going to be a winner as a result of these rather tawdry events.

If nothing else, this story presents a timely reminder that unless you happen to hold the title of President of the United States of America, it is a good idea to take care over your behaviour not only in the direct sight of clients, colleagues and regulators but nowadays also the world at large as represented by social media

About The Imprudent Accountant

About The Imprudent Accountant

Someone who should know better, but can't resist the occasional rant about the more exasperating aspects of the accountancy profession.

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