A: Be ready to fire the apparent client.
If your real client is the stockholders or an NPO itself and not the CFO or CEO, then you may have to take a stand against the CFO or CEO. How can you make it possible to do that since they can fire you?
A few weeks ago, I described a great post by Francine McKenna that reminded us CPAs in public practice that our responsibility as a CPA is to the real client, not the person that hired you. Her post is at Madoff, MLK, Buddha And Elusive Nature of Self-Interest My discussion is here.
Our obligation as CPAs is to the public, and the stockholders of the business or the ministry of the NPO.
If you have a CPA certificate on the wall of your office, that’s what you signed up for. If you find that idea unacceptable, you need to have a serious heart-to-heart talk with yourself about your career path.
So how can you make sure you are able to stand up for your real client when your apparent client makes an unacceptable demand?
You have to be ready to fire the client.
You have to be ready to let go of every client of your firm. Be ready to tell them to find another auditor or tax expert.
If your client pushes too hard, calmly insists that illegal is legal, whispers sweetly that the cooked books taste just fine, or yells that what you know is wrong is really okay, then fire them. Just fire ’em.
You need to draw a line in the sand and stand firm.
If you are not ready to fire any client that crosses that line, then you won’t be able to serve the public interest or your real client when your apparent client demands you do something completely wrong.
If you aren’t willing to fire a client, then you can never draw a line in the sand.
On the other hand, if you are ready to fire a client, you are free to stand up to them when you know they are wrong.
By the way, the idea carries into other areas. You need to be ready to fire your employer if they cross the line.
In my career, I have fired clients and I have fired employers.
Easy? Nope. Liberating? You have no idea how much so.
Comfortable? No way. Provides you freedom to do what’s right? Absolutely.