I was concerned to read in reports of the General Practitioner Board conference that delegates were told their success depended on cherry-picking clients, or ‘keep the good uns, drop the whingers’.
This ethos could disenfranchise many people, including those who can not afford to pay high fees, from obtaining impartial advice. I am sure this was not the GPB’s intention, but practitioners should try to maintain their public service spirit, even in the face of increased competition.
It is possible to provide a professional service to a wide range of taxpayers without increasing your indemnity risk, by using different skills and a more strategic approach.
Acting efficiently for clients requires an appreciation of psychology.
You need to assess your clients’ personalities and expectations and whether they are right for the firm. You should then consider whether the work, industry or the possibility of investigation makes the work high or low risk.
Understanding the method of communication a client prefers and whether he or she is primarily a positive or negative person can reduce ineffective correspondence and may help you provide advice in the right way. If clients are awkward, consider whether they may have trouble reading, or whether they suffer from addiction, depression or great stress. It is likely that only 10% of their ‘whinge’ is to do with you and 90% is caused by other factors in their lives.
It may make commercial sense to act even for clients who cannot afford to pay high fees. You may recover good fees from other clients and so be able to afford some lower-paying ones; clients may introduce valuable new work; they may be successful in the future; or you may have acted for them for a long time and find they make few demands and the work is low risk.
Consider a business investment approach. Take on a few clients who cannot afford high fees on the basis of a ‘partnership’. You invest time and effort in your clients in the hope that they will grow and produce large fees in the future.
With increased computerisation, completing most tax returns has become a basic service. No client expects to pay much for compliance services and practitioners need to offer alternatives. These may represent better value for both clients and advisors.
Some clients can be trained to deal with all or part of their own tax returns and accounts. These skills will last them a lifetime and the client will have more resources in the future to pay for creative tax or financial advice.
Sarah Deeks LLB FCA is a sole practitioner and a freelance writer
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