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7 Stupid Things Never to Say to Any of Your Accounting Clients

Mar 16th 2015
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Accountants are generally risk adverse. Indiana Jones was an archeologist, not a CPA. You think before speaking and realize anything committed to e-mail will likely outlast the pyramids. Nevertheless, we sometimes accidentally say things to clients and we wish we could whistle back the words. Here are a few examples:

1. Just sign your life away. Your business is based on helping clients navigate the tax code and work within the government’s guidelines. They hire you because of your expertise. When the clients sign, they are attesting everything above their signature is true. They trust you. Don’t give them a reason to think otherwise, even in jest.  Better Expression: “Do you understand everything I’ve explained so far? Then we just need to complete this paperwork and you are on your way.”

2. Nobody works for free. “Get your billions back America” is the often-heard tagline for the H&R Block television ads. You compete against low cost providers. Clients might question the size check they are writing to you, especially when they are writing a bigger check to the government. Better Expression: “Nobody wants to write checks to the government if they don’t have to. They feel they are losing money they worked hard to earn. Consider your own job. You are paid a salary and sometimes a bonus. If the company had a bad year and lost money, you still deserve to get paid your salary since you did the same excellent job as last year. It’s the same in my business."

3. You wouldn’t understand. You work in a complex field. In 2013 the IRC filled 73,954 pages. Sometimes clients question your judgment, especially if they hear about tax strategies on cable TV. It’s tempting to brush them off, say “Don’t be stupid” or “You’re an idiot.” You work for them, even if they get difficult. Better Expression: I’ve heard about the strategy you mentioned. The IRS has, too. They are expected to be issuing a ruling although we don’t know when. I think it’s a safer strategy to work within the guidelines of what they consider acceptable. Here’s why…”

4. Are they still in business? Your client is thinking of changing firms. They mention a competitor. You have been doing a great job for your client but your patience is wearing thin. You make a disparaging remark about the other firm. That’s beneath you. Better Expression: ‘They are a fine firm. Please bear in mind you and I have been working together for a long time. I understand your business and we understand each other. That’s a valuable benefit and it’s difficult to attach a dollar value."

5. Can this wait? You are heading out the door and a client calls. You say this, or even "make it quick.” You have forgotten who works for whom. Your client might feel they are paying for your time and you aren’t giving them your full attention. Better Expression: “I’m heading off to meet with a client before they appear for an audit. You can understand I need to focus on their needs right now. If it’s urgent I can call you from the car once I leave the building or we can schedule a time for tomorrow morning.”

6. Who’s going to know? It’s your client’s version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” You feel they aren’t telling you everything. They assume they won’t be found out. However, your name is signed close to theirs on the paperwork. You are at risk too. Better Expression: “Are you one of the 9.5 million people who watch Person of Interest on CBS. You know how the show starts with: ‘You are being watched. The government has a machine…’ If anyone had a machine like that, don’t you think it would be the IRS? No one wants to get audited. Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

7. They haven’t caught me yet. You are in a good mood on a sunny Friday afternoon. Your client questions a strategy you have suggested. You feel it’s appropriate for them but feel like having fun. It just slips out. The statement implies you have done many things that put you on the wrong side of the law. Your client rationalizes: “If she goes down, I go down.” Better Expression: “It’s a good, accepted strategy for business owners in your position. It has solid grounding in tax law. I can go into detail if you want.”

It’s likely you are smart enough not to use any of these expressions, however things slip out in the heat of the moment. Once said, you can’t take your words back.

About the author:
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" can be found on


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By Reuben Richard
Jun 25th 2015 20:12 EDT

Very useful and helpful information. All financial accounting firms or accountants should consider these points while handling clients.

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