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When Do Clients Consider Changing Accountants?

Nov 1st 2018
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Most accounting professionals are not be in the business of poaching clients, but that doesn’t mean others out there won’t. As such, you need to know the signs.

Let’s start with the assumption that everyone who is a potential client is already with another accountant. It would be wrong to steal them away, yet acceptable if perhaps they came to you personally and said that they were ready to do business.

The strategy you would utilize is to establish yourself as the alternative. Say you meet someone at a networking or other social event and then, after going through the “what do you do’s” they explain they already have an accountant. You could then say: “I’m sure you are very happy with them. He’s my card. if anything ever changes, please give me a call.” You have just established yourself as the alternative, leaving the next move up to them.

Seven Scenarios When a Change in Accountants Can Happen

Working with an accountant is often a long-term relationship. Sometimes warning signs emerge where a change makes good sense, but other times an event takes place that sends you back to square one. Here’s several cases where a client may consider switching to another accountant:

1. Missed deadlines. Taxes aren’t filed on time, they are assessed penalties and their accountant doesn’t take responsibility or brushes it off.

2. Divorce. A married couple used the same accountant for years, but now they are no married and it’s an acrimonious divorce situation. They understand their accountant acts as a fiduciary, but would prefer an arm’s length situation when it comes to money.

3. Confidentiality breach. Generally speaking, relationship with an accountants are similar to that of a doctor, lawyer, banker or even a priest. There’s a trust and no one typically talks about their high-profile clients in the hopes of attracting more of them. If a client finds that their accountant has talked them with other members of the public, that’s a violation of trust.

4. Growth. Say a business owner founded a tech startup and worked with a neighborhood accountant. The company took off and has increased their compliance and financial need. They now need a specialist or someone that can offer more than basic compliance services. 

5. There’s been a dispute. Perhaps an accountant and their client don’t see eye to eye for some reason. They refuse to accept any blame or even compromise. They are now in an adversarial situation and likely looking to make a move.

6. The practice has been sold. When a client’s accounting firm goes through a merger or sale, things can change and not necessarily for the better. They have no relationship with the new owner or the firm has new policies and fee structures.

7. Position changes. Similar to the changes when an M&A happens, but a client had a 1:1 relationship with their accountant for years and over time their practice grows. Suddenly you are informed someone else on the team member will be handling the relationship and they don’t talk to their original accountant anymore.

Final Thoughts

In all these situations, the dynamic has changed. Some involve fault, others don’t. In all of these cases, the other person would (or could) approach you.

Be assured that in the above scenarios you aren’t soliciting their business by encouraging their departure. In all cases, the client should benefit from making a change to another accountant, which could be you!

Related Articles

How Does Client Poaching Work?

10 Scenarios When You Can Rationalize Client Poaching

Replies (4)

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By Patricka4g
Nov 2nd 2018 09:22 EDT

Great article Bryce; really good list of trigger events that spark the search for a new accountant.

But I hope you don't mind me challenging a couple of your assumptions?

It's quite rare in the UK nowadays to hear terms like, 'poaching clients'. Or opinions like: 'It would be wrong to steal them (clients) away.'

I think by and large, in the UK accountants and other professions no longer see themselves as above sales and marketing.

Many high growth firms in the UK actively target organisations that meet their perfect client profile - those they believe gain maximum benefit from working with them.

I suppose a distinction is the questions they might ask at a networking event. Rather than saying:

“I’m sure you are very happy with them. He’s my card. if anything ever changes, please give me a call.”

They might instead ask questions to find out if they're receiving the level of service they provide and of course, if they value that service.

I wonder if this is a cultural difference? Is the UK approach seen as 'unprofessional?'

Thanks (1)
Replying to Patricka4g:
Bryce Sanders
By Bryce Sanders
Nov 2nd 2018 09:39 EDT

Patricka4g, thanks for commenting on my article. You have no idea how glad I am to learn accounting professionals in the UK no longer see themselves above sales and marketing. That is a sea change. From writing articles in the UK, I gradually came to the assumption UK accountants consider themselves alongside doctors and lawyers. Clients come to them, they don't go looking for clients.

You bring up an interesting scenario: Conversations at a networking event. I agree with your wording and approach. When I think of encounters, I think of them in the social/party environment where people are making small talk, which is why I suggested the low key, less probing approach. Your scenario is a more professional setting. If they are open to drilling down and giving more information, you should seize the opportunity. - Bryce

Thanks (2)
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By Michael Abrams
Nov 3rd 2018 10:47 EDT

Personally, I agree with both of you: That is, the low key alternative position as well as the level of service position.

It's been my experience that a lot of people don't know why they use/stay with an accountant other than it's the one they've always used. By asking how the level of service is, it gets them to thinking and maybe asking questions.

At that point, I would start telling them what a competent accountant/advisor should be doing and they should ask their current professional about those things. I then hand them my card and let them know I'm not looking to take their business away from their current professional, but I'm available if anything changes.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Michael Abrams:
Bryce Sanders
By Bryce Sanders
Nov 3rd 2018 10:51 EDT

Well done, Michael. I'm available if anything changes. You are being respectful of the current relationship which also offering yourself as an alternative.

Thanks (1)