Stuff reports that a still-unnamed New Zealand accountant is now in trouble with the country’s accountancy body for allegedly harassing clients with debt collectors after clients tried to break off their relationship, fabricated bills for services that were never received, altered tax documents and spread rumors that rival accountants colluded with clients. It seems that all of this (alleged) behavior stemmed from the accountant not wanting to lose her clients and picking on them when they tried to shut things down.
At a disciplinary hearing in September, the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) heard from clients on the beneficiary side of this creative, albeit desperate, client retention strategy:
During the hearing, one of the defendant’s former clients explained why he finally decided to pay the defendant’s bill even though he disputed liability.
“We decide to pay him…I tried to tell her to let us go, but she keeps coming.”
The client was a bakery that ran into trouble when it tried to change accountants.
There were problems getting the accountant to hand over their records to the new accountants and the prosecution also alleged that the accountant went online and changed some tax records without permission when she had long since ceased to be employed. as an accountant for his former client.
The company’s owners alleged that communications with the accused accountant also began to become “volatile and vindictive”.
The defendant said their new accountant was not a chartered accountant, needed psychiatric treatment, and also falsely accused him of having inappropriate sex with clients.
One of the former clients wrote a letter to the Association of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand saying the accountant harassed them “at midnight and early in the morning to express his displeasure”. The accountant went on to tell the client that she could end the career of the new accountant named from former clients “if she wanted to”. No further details are given as to what this was supposed to mean.
The accountant says the court really didn’t need to intervene because the amounts she was sending to debt collectors were so small.
The accountant at the center of the allegations defended herself at the hearing.
She said that the sums of money involved were not large enough to require court intervention, that it wasn’t clear that her clients had properly let her gothat his former clients owed him money for discounted services and that debt collectors were used as a dispute resolution mechanism rather than an intimidation tactic.
The defendant also complained of being harassed, including on racial grounds, by Caanz staff.
“The sums of money are not always huge, but that’s irrelevant,” said prosecution attorney Richard Moon. “[I]It doesn’t matter if you’re going to shake your clients off for $200, as a chartered accountant, there’s no acceptable number.
“Once the person has decided that they do not want [her] no longer being their accountant pulls out a few fake invoices,” he said. “These are then subjected to various other forms of intimidation, whether in debt collection or litigation courts. [The defendant] is absolutely right, they’re not out for big bucks in the grand scheme of things, which begs the question of why they were being chased in this way.
The accountant told clients at the hearing: ‘I’m sorry for worrying you with the debt collectors…it won’t impact your [credit rating] you just have to say that you are disputing the bill.
“I said it, but they keep coming because you keep sending them bills,” one customer replied.
The court members asked the accountant if the debt collection notices could be a threat and the accountant replied, “I don’t really think it’s a threat, it’s information.”
“As a professional, we need to educate customers.”
The funniest part of this hearing is that the defendant then decided to pull the old “thank you for your comments” on the court. His nonchalance was quickly put down.
The defendant said she learned some things from the experience and considered some of the court 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 was not intended as a forum for providing comment.
The accountant also disputed whether certain actions she had taken 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 it’s a threat, can’t you see it that way?”
“You make up your answers, and they don’t wash up with this tribunal.”
The court will make a decision on what will happen to the accountant in a few weeks.
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