For Professional Accountants, the way you engage with clients is an ethical issue too.
By Shahied Daniels, CEO, South African Institute of Professional Accountants
When one thinks about ethics, one’s mind immediately conjures up some big moral dilemma and how you, as a professional, should act. That’s obviously part of it, but true ethics should be embedded in the way a Professional Accountant (SA) conducts his or her business in the ordinary course of events—in that sense, everything a Professional Accountant (SA) or any other professional does in his or her business life should be done ethically.
This is particularly evident in the way a Professional Accountant (SA) engages with clients.
Clearly, any business relationship needs to be conducted with the utmost professionalism, but it must also be admitted that there is considerable scope for dispute. This is particularly true when the professional is providing vital services or dealing with sensitive information, as an accountant does. In areas like this, the boundary between professional and ethical conduct is necessarily blurred: the one cannot exist without the other.
To ensure that they engage with clients both professionally and ethically, Professional Accountant (SA) need to follow these three guiding principles:
It is important to watch out for scope creep or amendments. It is quite common for clients to expand the work they want done, or to request additional services (such as doing personal tax). Make sure that these amendments or additions are noted either in an addendum to the original letter of engagement or, if appropriate, a new one.
A good letter of engagement will make it clear what a Professional Accountant (SA) has undertaken to provide and thus will make it easier for him or her to deliver what was promised, and thus be both professional and ethical.
It is advisable that clients understand this issue and spelling it out in the letter of engagement would be wise.
As always, ethics and true professionalism turn out to be two sides of the same coin.
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