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Practice Tips - keep a phone book

15th Jul 2005
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For ICAEW practitioners Practice Assurance will soon be a fact of life. For others it already is. And some of what it requires is just good practice.

Take for example the requirement that a practice records the advice it gives. This is implicit in the requirement that “all work undertaken is adequately recorded”. For many small firms failing to record advice given is, I think, the second biggest risk they face after overlooking tax deadlines. Of course in some cases it’s obvious that the advice is recorded. It’s in a letter or if emails are either printed or properly archived then they too are available as a record.

But meetings and phone calls are another matter. I’ve talked to a lot of practitioners over many years and reckon that this is one area where the Assurance Inspectors are going to have a field day because it seems that for many keeping these records is as about as popular as recording audit work was before the JMU swung into action.

In days gone by when I had a secretary I used to dictate a note of all significant phone calls, which meant most of them. Well, I don’t have that luxury any more so I keep a phone book instead. It’s one of those Black n’ Red books (they’re actually called that) and as the phone goes so the book is opened (even when out). As the client tells me something significant or as I say something to them, in goes the note. If at the end of the call a few lines are needed to highlight key points then I add them. And on my time sheet (yes, I keep them, even for fixed price work) I make a note that the conversation took place and has been noted.

The advantages are obvious. First I hope I’ll pass the assurance test on this point. Second, I have a note of what is said. Third, in the event of dispute I can almost always be sure the client will be relying on their memory. As I’ve got a record I’m just about guaranteed to win (unless of course what I said was wrong – when I’m always going to be in trouble anyway!).

It took while to get into the habit of keeping a phone book, but it’s worth it. And if I had staff I’d require them to keep one too, and would look at them every now and then. After all, what’s the point of having quality systems for the written output of the firm if what is said on the phone shoots it in the foot?

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone


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