Accountants review their clients’ bad behaviour

aat comment

Overstretched since Covid, here’s how accountants are reacting to post-pandemic rudeness.

Accountants, like many professionals, experienced a significant workload increase during the Covid-19 pandemic. With huge numbers of businesses experiencing financial pressures following lockdown, clients turned to their accountants and bookkeepers to help guide them through an uncertain and highly volatile economic climate.

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And when the government announced a series of financial support packages for businesses such as Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Coronvirus Business Interuption Loan (CBIL), accountants were called upon to help apply for and implement these schemes, too.

In many cases, accountants were overservicing, often working longer hours and taking on additional work without necessarily charging for their time.

Now, there appears to be a certain level of expectation from some clients which is no longer financially sustainable, particularly for small practices. On top of this, accountants have also noticed a deterioration in client behaviour such as:

  • Expectation of availability 24/7.
  • Contacting accountants through personal social media profiles.
  • Ignoring Out Of Office emails.
  • Rude and abusive emails.

‘Post-pandemic rudeness’ appears to be an issue predominantly affecting the healthcare sector along with hospitality and retail, including flight attendants, with staff experiencing impatience, irritability and sometimes abuse from customers. Remote working has also appeared to make people ruder. And accountants too often are bearing the brunt of frustrated and impatient clients.

We asked accountants what they’ve experienced and how they’ve managed to install firmer and clearer boundaries, even if it’s just sometimes just saying ‘no’. For reasons of confidentiality, some AAT members have requested anonymity.

I’m creating a Code of Conduct from the start

Sharon Wray FMAAT, Director, Sharon Wray Accountancy Services

I’ve found a lot of clients have become more demanding and impatient since the pandemic. The clients I find particularly draining are those who expect more from us but don’t want to pay. They want more for less.

There’s now a few clients I’m looking to get rid of because they take up a lot of energy and brain space. One in particular doesn’t want to pay tax, he’s never paid. I emailed him recently and informed him of his tax bill – his business now has a turnover of over £30,000 and told him he has to pay tax. He responded very rudely with personal insults which really got me down. I’ve since informed him he needs to find another accountant.

It was an unpleasant experience but actually, it’s made me realise the importance of setting boundaries. I’m now putting together a Code of Conduct for clients which details what clients can expect from us and what we expect from clients.

Verdict: After an unpleasant experience with a client, I’m now putting together a Code of Conduct to ensure firm boundaries are in place from the very beginning.

Some clients contact me through personal social media channels

Director of accountancy practice based in the South-West and AAT member

Clients have become ruder since the pandemic. Many expect us to be available 24/7. They have my mobile number, but it means they can text, WhatsApp or phone at any time.

I was recently on annual leave and one client – who pays £150 a year – was constantly messaging, demanding an immediate response about his tax returns. When I told him I’d respond when I was back, he became quite rude.

Even with email, some clients have ignored my out-of-office and have used social media to reach me. I’ve even had a few clients contact me on Facebook which feels really intrusive.

Larger accountancy practices don’t have this issue – there are specialist helplines clients can ring instead.
As a small practice, there’s always the pressure to respond to clients immediately, even outside of office hours, because you don’t want to lose clients.

My hours should be 9-5 Monday to Thursday and 9-12 on Friday but if clients contact me at 5:30 on a Friday, I’ll usually respond. However, I do think mental well-being comes into this. If I know a client is under a lot of stress, I’ll respond immediately but otherwise, I’m more able to hold off until it’s convenient.

Verdict: Clients often contact me on personal social media channels and ignore my out-of-office emails. I need to set firmer boundaries.

Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to clients

Vipul Sheth, chartered accountant and MD, AdvanceTrack

For the accountancy profession, the aftermath of Covid has brought on a significant surge in workloads, and client expectations have evolved accordingly. The demand for more comprehensive services is not a new challenge because accountants have always made meeting clients’ needs and delivering value their top priority. However, it’s safe to say that post-pandemic dynamics have exacerbated these expectations.

But clients need to understand the limitations and capacities of their accountants and this is where setting clear boundaries comes into play.

In my view, there are situations where accountants can politely but firmly say ‘no’ – by explaining the potential risks or additional costs associated with extra requests and exceeding the agreed-upon scope. This isn’t about refusing service, but ensuring the client comprehends the implications of expanding the scope. They wouldn’t expect to get free extras in any other area of services, so why should they from their accountant?

Verdict: Accountants sometimes have to say ‘no’ to clients – when extra requests exceed agreed upon scope.

Would you like to contribute to future articles like this one? If so, please get in touch with Annie Makoff-Clark at [email protected]. Upcoming topics include difficulties with AML, the Autumn budget and whether digital-only the answer to HMRC’s VAT problems.

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Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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