How NOT to Fire Your CPA

While we are addressing a CPA here, please feel free to substitute Attorney, Financial Advisor, Etc.

We had a former client terminate us recently. They had been a client for over 25 years. Second generation business, a small, local business.  Nice people. They recently ended our relationship.


By sending a letter.


25 years of (apparently) (at least) decent service and you send a letter?


‘Just the Facts Ma’am’

The good news is that there was nothing disparaging in the letter.  Like Joe Friday would request, they just stuck to the facts. “John Jones, CPA is taking over our account. Please give him copies, etc.”

Oh, and the other good news is that it wasn’t an e-mail…it was a letter.

Over the Phone and In Person

However, I learned a LONG time ago that some things need to be said over the phone.  The REALLY important things need to be done in person.  This clearly did not need to be done in person. Yes, we would have needed a letter at some point authorizing us to release records to a third party.

The question is….where was the phone call?

It would have taken them about 60 seconds over the phone to terminate us. And yes, as challenging as it is, we can deal with less than good news. In the past, when a client has called and terminated the relationship I’ve sent them a handwritten letter thanking them for the opportunity to serve them. I appreciate that they took the time and picked up the phone to tell me.


The Other End

Listen, we’ve been on the other end and have had to terminate clients for various reasons. We’ll address this in our next post. We’ve picked up the phone, as difficult as it is, and told clients we were resigning. Then we send a follow up letter.


Lessons Learned

Would I have preferred not to lose this client?  No question. Should I have worked harder to retain this relationship? Absolutely.  What I (re)learned however is to treat clients the way I would want to be treated when the relationship is ending…with a phone call.

Have you fired your CPA?  If so, how did you do it?

Please leave your comments below.

Photo From Creative Commons

Tom Scanlon has over thirty years experience in public accounting with an extensive background in the areas of financial, tax, and estate planning. He prides himself on providing in-depth and customized solutions to privately held businesses and their owners. He is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner®. Tom is a frequent speaker for area organizations and has  recently been quoted on CNBC, Fox 61 News and AARP's blog. Tom also has been a guest columnist for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Money Magazine, The Hartford Courant, The Hartford Business Journal, and The New Haven Register. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Financial Planning Association. Active in the community, Tom supports a variety of not-for-profit organizations.

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6 comments on “How NOT to Fire Your CPA
  1. Rene Comtois says:

    Hi Tom,

    Long time no see.

    I don’t recall ever commenting on these sort of blogs but this one intrigued me enough to do so now.

    Being in a completely different line of business than you I have found myself “fired” in the past without ever having heard a word in any form from my customer. The only evidence they were gone was their lack of business. I found that going to them to find out why was more my responsibility than theirs if I wanted to patch up the relationship.

    However, in trying to view professional service types with “clients” instead of “customers” as having a higher place among businesses overall, here is my take from the “client” end concerning appropriate methods of terminating a professional service provider (referred to as “vendors” in my world). And let me preface this by saying this is not aimed at anyone in your organization in particular but hss solely been a general observation over my 57 years of living.

    First off, emails have become a social norm in many cases not previously thought appropriate. Much like boiling a frog to death it happened to us quickly yet crept into our way of doing business just slowly enough as to be unpercievable…until you are on the receiving end of the bad news being delivered.

    Secondly, the onslaught of technology has indeed not only provided us with more ways to tackle work, it has in fact increased the amount we all have to do. Thus any way to dispense with a given situation in an efficient manner, particularly an unappealing one such as you describe, is usually the one most likely taken these days. And the notion that the time required from “hello” to “goodbye” for such a phone call wouldn’t exceed 60 seconds is somewhat unrealistic, unless of course the inclination to terminate the relationship was mutual.

    Even though the client stuck to “the facts”, this shouldn’t necessarily be construed as “good news” on the service providers part. Many have simply made up their minds quietly that they are unhappy when they arrive at the decision to part ways and would rather not place themselves in confrontational circumstances.

    In a marketing course I took about 20 years ago I learned that there are three types of customer personalities that play into the decision to no longer patronize a business: Customer A will be intolerant of any imperfection in any aspect of the establishment. They will usually complain loudly so all others within earshot will be aware of their dissatisfaction and will expclaim their intention to never come back again all delivered along with an unreasonable attitude. As a business owner you would be lucky if they actually kept this promise (this is likely ths kind of client you speak of “resigning” from in your remarks). Customer B will be more discrete in letting their clerk, waiter or the manager know of their concern. They’ll be more reasonable in their complaint with a hope for resolution and will make their decision to return or not based on the reaction and concern of the establishment (for a long term relationship such as ours I would fall into this category). Customer C (the category I find myself fitting into most often, especially when faced with little or no interpersonal relationship with the provider involved) will quietly observe and sense if there is a feeling of indifference or uncaring on the providers part and quietly just disappear, never to return.

    So there you have it, my thoughts on your thoughts. Oh yeah, I do have just one final thought in conclusion: Instead of addressing clients with advice on the proper etiquette to use when firing their professional service providers might I suggest that you stick to “the facts” on subjects of financial advice that are far more pertenent to your clients fiscal welfare and leave the social advice stuff to Dr. Phil. I can assure you that anyone you have lost to date is likely no longer reading your advice and those of us who are would prefer not to be pre-repremanded for an improper dismissal that may or may not come at some future point.

    • Rene,

      Good to hear from you. I hope all is well.

      These are all excellent points.

      I wasn’t trying to be Dr. Phil, although on rereading the post perhaps it came out that way. We generally do stick to “the facts.” I was just trying to convey our recent experience and work within the Golden Rule.

      Thanks for writing.



  2. Eliot says:

    Former client did not measure the value correctly you provided. Caring counts.

  3. Bruce Raymond says:

    Tom it takes guts to talk about getting fired. I am familiar with your practice and this 20 year client will be staying put based on your great service and expertise!

    Happy client from Glastonbury