As tax and accounting professionals gear up for the busy tax season, it's worth nothing that this yearly face-to-face meeting with clients is a great time to cement your relationship...and answer any questions they might have about the changes roiling the profession.

It may seem that Andersen’s demise and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has nothing to do with a small or medium-sized practice, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The very fact that a major piece of legislation to crack down on accountants was signed into law last year put the entire profession in the spotlight. As a member of that profession, even your closest clients may be wondering if you at least knew about the kinds of accounting tricks and independence problems that were believed to have been crucial in the downfall of Andersen, Enron and WorldCom. And it’s still too early to tell how strictly the act will be interpreted and whether states will pass their own laws that might very well filter down to the smallest of firms.

It’s no secret that tax preparers seek ways to help clients legally avoid paying more than their fair share of taxes. It may not be too much of a stretch for clients to believe that many or all accountants feel accounting manipulation can be justified, that perceived conflicts of interest aren’t real, and that they arrogantly believe they should be above suspicion.

That may have been true 10 years ago, but an increasingly queasy general public is starting to view accountants much in the same way they do lawyers – they know they need to use one, but they’re not sure who they can trust.

Make sure this year that your clients know they can trust you and why, and tell them frankly and honestly how you feel about the past year’s scandals.

While most clients may not even bring up the topic, it may benefit your future dealings with them if you take the initiative.

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