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The Client is (Always? Usually? Sometimes?) Right

By Gail Perry, CPA

Numbers are numbers are numbers, right? If it were all about the numbers, accountants would have seen themselves replaced by computers by now. And, in fact, many accountants are worrying about just that scenario, as computer software becomes more savvy, more predictive, more analytic. But, at the end of the day (or month, or quarter, or year), there are still the people relationships that matter. So what happens when the client expectations don’t match up with the service that you’re offering?


I like to tell a story about an experience I had in my early days as an accountant. I was working as a tax accountant, taking care of the taxes for a particular business that was run by a man who had strong opinions about the place of women in the business world. He felt women were meant to do administrative chores. And so, he made a point of telling my co-workers that he didn’t want any women working on his accounting projects, including his tax returns.


The problem with that (well, I suppose there were many problems with that…) was that I was hired because I specialized in state and local taxes, I was the SALT expert in our office, and his tax situation required someone who understood the tax ramifications of doing business in multiple states. That would be me.


Rather than give him a hard time about his attitudes and beliefs, and rather than turn his account over to someone less qualified in this area, the firm came up with what, at the time, seemed like a creative and workable solution. When the client would come to the office, we would have a male accountant meet with him. I provide the accountant with a list of questions I needed to have answered in order to take care of the client’s tax matters. Furthermore, to make sure I got the information I needed, I was positioned behind a partition so that I could hear the conversation with the client but he couldn’t see me. Crazy, right?


This probably wouldn’t fly in today’s professional environment, but at the time, it was just something we did to make our client happy. I didn’t care that we did it that way – given his attitudes, I really didn’t want a relationship with the man. My relationship was with the firm and that was who I was working for. Today that scene seems outrageous on several levels, but at the time, it was just a funny story about a weird client.


I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you’ve had a story or two about clients with surprising expectations. Maybe it’s part of what makes this job fun, or maybe it’s just exasperating. In any case, it’s part of the path we’ve chosen.


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