Stuff reports that an as yet unnamed New Zealand accountant is now in trouble with the country’s accountancy body for allegedly harassing clients with debt collectors after the clients tried to sever their relationship, manufacturing invoices for services that were never received, altering tax documents, and spreading rumors about rival accountants getting it on with clients. It appears all of this (alleged) behavior stems from the accountant not wanting to lose her clients and lashing out at them when they tried to call things quits.
At a September disciplinary hearing, the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) heard from clients on the receiving end of this creative, if desperate, client retention strategy:
At the hearing one of the defendant’s former clients explained why they eventually decided to pay the defendant’s invoice even though they disputed whether they were liable for it.
“We decide to just pay it … I’ve been trying to tell her to let us go, but she just keeps coming.”
The client was a bakery that ran into problems when they tried to switch to a different accountant.
There were problems with getting the accountant to hand over their files to the new accountants and the prosecution also alleged the accountant had logged in and changed some tax records without permission when she had long ceased to be employed as her former client’s accountant.
The business owners alleged the communications with the accused accountant also started to get “volatile and vindictive”.
The defendant said their new accountant was not a chartered accountant, was in need of psychiatric treatment and also falsely accused him of having inappropriate sexual relations with clients.
One of the former clients wrote a letter to the Chartered Accountants Association of Australia and New Zealand saying the accountant harassed them “at midnight and early morning to express her unhappiness.” The accountant went on to tell the client that she could end the former clients’ new appointed accountant’s career “if she wanted to.” No further details are given on what that was supposed to mean.
The accountant says that the tribunal really didn’t need to get involved because the amounts she was sending to debt collectors was so small.
The accountant at the centre of the allegations defended herself at the hearing.
She said the amounts of money involved were not large enough to require the tribunal’s involvement, that it was not clear her clients had properly let her go, that her former clients did owe her money for discounted services and that debt collectors were used as a dispute resolution mechanism rather than a tactic of intimidation.
The defendant also complained about being harassed, including on racial grounds, by staff at Caanz.
“The amounts of money are not always huge, but that’s irrelevant,” said prosecution lawyer Richard Moon. “[I]t doesn’t matter if you’re going to shakedown your clients for $200, as a chartered accountant there isn’t an acceptable number.”
“Once the person decided they don’t want [her] to be their accountant any more out pops a couple of bogus invoices,” he said. “Those are then progressed through various other forms of intimidation whether it be debt collection or disputes tribunal. [The defendant] is absolutely right, they’re not for large sums of money in the grand scheme of things, which begs the question why they were being pursued in this manner.”
Said the accountant to clients at the hearing: “I apologise for making you worried with debt collectors … it won’t have an impact on your [credit rating] you just have to say you dispute the bill.”
“I have told, but they just keep coming because you keep sending invoices to them,” replied a client.
Tribunal members asked the accountant if debt collection notices could constitute a threat and the accountant replied: “I don’t really think that’s a threat, that’s information.”
“As a professional we need to educate clients.”
The funniest part of this hearing is that the accused then decided to pull the ole “thanks for your feedback” on the tribunal. Her nonchalance was quickly shot down.
The defendant said that she had learned some things from the experience and considered some elements of the tribunal’s questioning to be good feedback on her performance that they would take away and learn from.
[Panel member Matthew] Casey said the hearing was a serious disciplinary proceeding and not intended as a forum to provide feedback.
The accountant also disputed whether certain actions she took could actually be considered threats against her client, including one where she allegedly threatened to report a client to “New Zealand central government agencies”.
Casey said: “By any reading this is a threat, can you not see it that way?”
“You are making up your answers, and they do not wash with this tribunal.”
The tribunal will make a decision about what happens to the accountant next in a few weeks.