How to end a client relationship in a professional manner

You may want to end a client relationship for various reasons, during or at the end of a mandate. However, keep in mind that you cannot cease to act on behalf of your client unless you have good and sufficient reason,1 such as: 

  • The bond of trust with your client has been broken.
  • The context of your client relationship has changed and you find yourself in a conflict of interest or your independence is compromised.
  • Your client refuses to comply with a law or pressures you to present information that you know is false or misleading.
  • After you have made several attempts to obtain the information you need to carry out your mandate, your client still refuses to cooperate.
  • You do not have or no longer have the resources needed to carry out your mandate in compliance with your ethical obligations or within the required timeframe.
  • The client refuses to pay your fees despite reasonable notice.2

Ending a client relationship can be a difficult decision, but by proceeding in a professional manner, you reduce the risk of damaging your reputation and making the situation worse.

5 best practices for ending a client relationship

1. Avoid causing harm to your client

If you choose to stop acting on your client’s behalf, this is your prerogative; however, doing so must not be detrimental to your client. For example, if your decision results in your client not being able to meet certain obligations (i.e., you ended the client relationship a few days before an important deadline), this is not acceptable.

2. Provide reasonable notice

Before ending the relationship, you must provide reasonable notice.3 When determining what constitutes reasonable notice, take into consideration elements such as upcoming deadlines in your mandate and the amount of time it will take to find another CPA who can take over the file.

At this stage, you should also notify your client of any outstanding fees and remind them of upcoming deadlines based on the mandate.

Keep a written record of all your dealings and communications with the client.

3. Be prepared to explain your decision

Your client may be surprised by your decision, and may even react emotionally. Take the time to explain why you no longer wish to continue the relationship. Do so in a courteous, objective and professional manner, without getting lost in the details. For example, avoid listing all the disagreements that arose during the mandate and instead focus on the overall situation that led to your decision. 

4. Work with your successor

Both you and your client will benefit if the transition is smooth and your successor receives all the necessary information. 

For example, for an assurance or compilation engagement, it is important to respond promptly to your successor’s requests. However, keep in mind that you are bound by professional secrecy.4 So you need to obtain your client’s consent before disclosing any personal information. 

5. Return all documents to the client 

You must return all documents to your client and your successor as soon as possible, even if your client has not paid all your fees. For more on this topic, read the article Providing Access to Client Files: Obligation or Professional Courtesy? The syndic of the Order has received numerous reports about excessive delays in returning documents to clients.

To sum up, you can stop acting on behalf of a client if it does not cause harm to the client and if you have good and sufficient reason. In some circumstances, however, consulting with a lawyer may be the most prudent course of action. 

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1 See section 52 of the Code of ethics of chartered professional accountants for more information.
2 There are several factors to consider in determining what is a reasonable amount of time to give your client to pay your fees before which ending the relationship with advance notice, including the amount owed, the date on which the unpaid invoice was issued and the number of reminders sent.
3 See section 53 of the Code of ethics of chartered professional accountants for more information.
4 For more information, see section 48 of the Code of ethics of chartered professional accountants.

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