‘Lazy’ clients continue to put pressure on practitionersby
The self assessment penalty extension until the end of February offers cold comfort to firms dragging clients through one of the busiest times of the accounting year.
The countdown to the tax return deadline has entered its final days, and while the recent penalty extension has offered some reprieve to firms dredging through their client’s tax returns, the pressure is on to finish this busy part of the accounting cycle on time.
Yet, try as they might to finish by 31 January, members of the Any Answers forum are, once again, chasing clients for information.
AccountingWEB user Newacct06 seemed to have reached the end of their tether, lamenting that clients who “provide mortgage statements for only half the year, bank statements with many of the months missing etc.” are stretching out tasks that should take a fraction of the time currently spent on them.
And, with HMRC still waiting on 4m tax returns that still need to be processed before the month is up, the tax authority is not alone in their conundrum, as other contributors similarly expressed their irritation at their client’s lack of urgency.
“It seems to have become worse this year than in earlier years,” said Tax Teddy, “returning time and again to the working papers just seems so much more difficult.”
In order to nudge clients towards providing information, practitioners are beginning to dispense with pleasantries when getting their point across.
Any Answers veteran Wanderer has applied this no-frills approach, simply saying “Just keep batting it back until they supply what you require.”
User Gainsborough agreed with this approach saying that “for the worst offenders, I email a bullet point list of missing info and then just strike through on the email what they have sent and bounce it back to them.”
Yet, even Gainsborough admitted this tactic has its flaws if the client doesn’t respond, admitting that they continue to plead to clients for “the same info that's been requested and sent for the last 10 years”.
This constant back and forth between client and practitioner ad nauseam seems to be an uphill battle for many contributors on Any Answers struggling to make the upcoming deadline.
Cut them loose
This exasperation is even pushing some to consider their futures with time consuming clients, either by upping their prices to make the constant chasing worth it, or simply asking them to move on once the work has been done.
Tax Teddy believes that a grading system may be their best option, admitting that “some hard questions are going to be asked come February and March” for clients that have languished at the bottom of their ‘1-2-3’ grading system during busy season.
Others on the thread were in agreement with this approach to tricky clients, as Glenn Martin succinctly puts it: “Your firm, your rules; either tolerate them, charge them loads, or get rid.”
An open conversation
With many in the thread having undoubtedly reached their limit, Speaking Ambition’s people skills and performance coach Alexandra Bond Burnett understands many of the frustrations practitioners face during the busy self assessment season.
Taking aim at the clients themselves, Burnett pointed out that “the issue is, the client isn't taking ownership of the problem and they're leaving it.”
“I've done it, too," admitted Burnett. "I've been up at three in the morning because clients haven't delivered the paperwork.”
Yet, while she empathises with the struggles practitioners go through when chasing work, Burnett believes an open and frank conversation with clients is the best first step towards a more harmonious professional relationship.
With the pressures of Covid and Brexit bearing down on businesses of all shapes and sizes, firms could benefit from taking a more understanding, yet, firm approach with clients.
“In the short term, it's about having a very non-judgmental conversation and saying to your client ‘you, as a business owner, have a responsibility to do this. Do you agree?’ And making sure they understand.”
By taking this approach, Burnett noted that, rather than sending impersonal reminders, firms should instead state the facts and then present clients with questions on how to rectify issues, thus bringing them into the discourse.
Burnett, therefore, highlighted the importance of laying the groundwork and ensuring everyone is in agreement about the facts.
Knowing your worth
Although it is beneficial to create an open and frank conversation with your client, Burnett also understands the sheer importance of valuing your time, energy and mental wellbeing.
“At the end of the day, the relationship between an accountant and the client is a partnership and should be viewed as such.”
Talking about her own experiences of re-evaluating her professional life, Burnett was candid about her realisation that the constant chasing was impacting her, noting that her hard work was not being appreciated by clients.
Having this moment of clarity can help firms not only to be rid of stressful work commitments, but also allows for introspection on how things could have been done differently in order to swerve the nuclear option in the future
“There are consequences of inaction from clients,” admitted Burnett. “However, it's important to look back and consider for the future, ‘what is my role as your accountant and what is your role as a business owner?’”
Overall, Burnett believes that firms know, deep down, what needs to be done with clients not willing to meet them in the middle.
“I always think it comes down to values. If you're not feeling appreciated, if your services aren't feeling valued, then it's because that matters to you. And that's why people are sacking off their clients.”
You can share your client grumbles and frustrations on this Monday's special Deadline Day edition of Any Answers Live. AccountingWEB's editor Richard Hattersley will be joined by practitioners Sharon Pocock and Gary Jacobs on the final day of self assessment season to reflect on tax returns, uncooperative clients and what they plan to do differently next year - register to join this interactive AccountingWEB Live session.