Art of Accounting: Impossible Clients

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IMGCAP(1)]As a CPA, I deal with many types of clients’ personalities. If I choose only one type, I would not have had much of a practice. And I doubt I would have found that one perfect type too many times. I have been very fortunate to have really nice and very smart people as clients.

I believe entrepreneurs are the most stimulating people to work with. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have peculiarities and that this sometimes makes them difficult to deal with—sometimes, but fortunately not most of the time. Here are some examples of types I had to put up with and had to learn to overlook some of the unfortunate traits.

The gambler: This is an exasperating situation. The client is brilliant, but has a weakness in that he is a gambler. He needs the action—needs the (imagined) importance—needs to be “the man!” But he loses most of what he earns and runs up so much debt that he loses his business. We can only observe; we cannot preach, cannot reason, and sometimes cannot cover up his stupidity. I’ve seen this more than a few times and it is regretful and hopeless. I do my best, like being with the client, but I know the ending. One thing I never did, with one exception, is accompany the client to this environment.

The dreamer: All my clients are dreamers. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have started their businesses and become successful. However, for some, their dreaming becomes their goal, supplanting the need to soundly grow the business. They oversee profitable businesses, but I believe they sell themselves short, never reaching the heights they could.

The micromanager: Some brilliant gifted people cannot let go and do not trust that anyone else can do the task as well as they could. That might be true, but when all the work has be funneled through one person’s hands, things back up. The staff turns over more than it should since they are not working to the extent of their ability, and they are held back in expressing opinions or presenting innovative changes. The businesses are profitable, but on a much smaller scale than could have been.

The dictator: Being a boss is powerful. You control people’s lives, tell people what to do, and get to boss them. This lack of empowerment removes judgment and initiative from staff. However, this group tends to overpay, so unhappy people do not leave, resulting in a company of drones going through the motions getting through the day, but feeding the ego of the dictator, making this a company of losers.

Mr. I deserve everything: Many clients start a business and grow, become wealthy and bring people up with them. This is as it should be. However, some do not, believing they are entitled to all the benefits and not feeling they owe anything to the staff that helped them and enabled them to grow. They create jobs, pay reasonably well, offer a good work environment, empower and encourage initiative and innovative spirit, but believe it is all owed to them and is the fruits of their “hard” work. The people stay because of all the benefits of “a job”—but the cream is not there.

The liar: Some people can charm the skin off a snake. They always say the right thing, compliment freely, promise the world and never deliver. Working for them is fun and feels great until you eventually realize that every promise made to you will not be kept—and then it is still hard to leave because you assign a large part of the blame to yourself—thinking you did something wrong or did not hear correctly, or decide to wait it out for a change toward what you believe you heard.

This shows some classes of types. There are others. Our position is to assist clients, help as much as we can, coach and mentor them, and try to steer them away from their frailties. We are our clients’ accountants, not their parents, priests or psychologists, and passing judgment on character deficiencies is not in our job description. Also, most of the time we do not find out about the client’s peculiarities until our relationship has been established and developed into a collaborative interaction. We do our best, but sometimes our best is not effective with certain types of clients.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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