How to handle the client handover process
An increasing number of accountants have been encountering challenges with the client handover process. Coach and practice owner Della Hudson gives advice on communicating with the ex-accountant.
The handover process can sometimes be difficult, but events over the course of the pandemic have particularly exacerbated the issue.
“A lot of business owners are changing accountant because their accountant went AWOL and wasn't communicative and wasn't helpful during lockdown,” said author, accountant coach and founder of two practices, Della Hudson.
Pandemic in practice
Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of people switching accountants in search of someone more tech savvy or communicative, she explained. Lockdown has highlighted certain areas where some are lacking, as the need for more committed client support and care has increased.
“There’s a huge chasm between the two types of accountants at the moment,” said Hudson, comparing those who are unwilling to embrace technology within their practices to those who are actively seeking new ways to adapt.
The latter have thrived during the pandemic as remote working has steadily become the norm with entire firms relying on technology, she explained.
However, this inevitably leads to the new accountant being left to deal with the uncommunicative person their incoming client left behind.
“At the moment, the reason that clients are leaving are the same reasons as to why accountants are finding the handover hard,” Hudson continued.
Since last May, Hudson has reportedly found the handover process a nightmare; it has been increasingly difficult to obtain information about the new clients she has taken on.
The AccountingWEB community have been encountering similar challenges within their practices:
“It has been a bit like pulling teeth,” said member slackaliceinspace. “The previous accountant has been promising me this data for weeks.”
“We have had massive problems obtaining info from a new client’s old accountant,” agreed member Jigs. “It took nearly six months to get the information needed for the accounts.”
Communicating with the ex-accountant
After sending the standard letter, Hudson recommends allowing two weeks and then chasing the ex-accountant weekly for the incoming client’s information.
Hudson has had experiences where she simply hasn’t heard anything back from the previous accountant whatsoever; in this case, she advises getting records straight from the client and HMRC.
“You have a chasing system, you then have a point where you use alternative means of communication, and then you have a point at which you carry on. Everybody should set their own systems,” Hudson recommended.
Communicating with the new accountant
Hudson did also admit that for most practices, handing over information for an outgoing client just isn’t at the top of the list: “It just isn’t high priority when you have 101 things to do… But it has to be done, it’s part of our professional standards.”
In Hudson’s practice, as soon as a client informs them of their leaving they will prepare copies of the client’s digital records in a separate folder. This allows them to be ready and prompt once the new accountant requires the client’s information.
“Of course, that’s the height of efficiency – it can’t always happen!” Hudson assured. However, when possible this is a good habit to get into to ensure the handover process is as slick as it can be.
There is also always the chance that the outgoing client might return to your practice at some point in the future; ensuring their information is dealt with correctly could be beneficial in this circumstance.
This professionalism also enhances your opportunity for credibility: “If they wanted an accountant who specialised in something that we didn't deal with, they might still refer us,” Hudson commented.
Communicating in a professional manner can be tricky to navigate in those situations where the client was less than ideal – Hudson’s go-to phrase for talking to new accountants of such clients is: “I was delighted to receive your letter asking for professional clearance”.
As a member of the ICAEW, courtesy letters are essential for Hudson – regardless, she advises adhering to this process for best practice:
“Ethically I have to, but I would do it anyway. It’s the professional courtesy – you’re asking for professional clearance, and in addition you're often asking for information.”
If you’ve experienced any similar challenges with the handover process, let us know in the comments or feel free to ask a question in our Any Answers forum.