What would you do if one of your clients owed a huge amount of money in back taxes and they subsequently asked you to delete their QuickBooks® file, create a new one under a false name with no liabilities on the books and tell their creditors that they had moved out of the country?
That may seem pretty far-fetched, but the shocking truth is that this actually happened to a bookkeeper at our firm. While situations as outlandish as this one probably don’t come across our paths every day, the reality is we are all faced with having to choose, on some level, between ethically sound practices and retaining revenue that pays our bills!
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So, where do we draw the line? As a business in a highly competitive marketplace where the lowest price always seems to win, how do we make the hard decision to turn down revenue because we simply can’t comply with an unethical request of a client? In this case, I think it is helpful to keep your end goal in mind. As bookkeepers and accountants, we are not just working to deliver a P&L, but we are also working to see small businesses and entrepreneurs equipped to thrive in their markets. By doing this, we get to participate, firsthand, in the building of stronger communities. We want to create an amazing experience for our customers and command fair rates for our service.
If these are our goals, then it’s important to build a brand that operates with integrity in every aspect. By doing this, you communicate to your clients that they can trust you with their business – which often represents their blood, sweat, tears and dreams, not to mention the largest asset on their personal net worth statement. They can be confident that you have their best interest in mind, that you, yourself, refuse to tarnish your own brand and that you won’t allow them to make decisions that will hurt their own integrity. Many times, clients don’t know what’s legal or illegal to do; it’s our job, as accountants, to protect them!
While there may be potential loss of revenue when you refuse to write something off – just like the shady guy next door used to – you are really doing your business and sales efforts a huge favor! A bad reputation spreads faster than a good one, so it’s better to be known by a few good people in town as trustworthy than known by everyone as the shady accountant who will do anything for a buck.
As accountants and bookkeepers, we need to be known for our strong moral compass, if we are to remain valuable in the workplace. The reality is that technology will continue to improve in a way will make data entry irrelevant. IBM’s Watson is already doing the heavy lifting for understanding the tax code, and QuickBooks Online has resources for business owners to participate in the bookkeeping.
Ethics is more than just keeping yourself and your clients out of jail; it’s also about being a trusted and valuable asset for the business that chooses to employ you. Your value is not that you can process a shoebox of receipts in one sitting, or that you can complete a tax return in a day; your value is what you can add to the organization as a trusted and ethical member of their team. An ethical accounting that makes the organization safer and stronger is a valuable accountant, and a valuable accountant that cares about the success or failure of the business is priceless.