Devil Clients

This afternoon, after careful reflection, I wrote to a client who engaged me last year, to confirm my resignation from acting on her financial affairs.  The exercise was hugely satisfying and therapeutic for me.  She had engaged me to formulate some financial plans to provide her mother with cash flow to meet her care home fees, and consider how we might mitigate inheritance tax on her estate.

My first meeting was light-hearted, enjoyable and friendly.  Their accountant, who referred this client to me and happens to be the uncle of the nieces for whom I was acting suggested we could keep costs down by either the clients themselves or him doing the leg work on the information gathering I needed to start my work.

After much chasing, and six months later, I was still lacking the information I needed to progress their affairs.  My client’s attitude began to change, and I sensed she blamed me for the lack of progress, even though I made it clear I could not begin my work until in full possession of the facts I needed about their mother’s assets.

To cut a long story short, we are now almost a year from our first meeting, and after receiving a further call asking me about progress, and having repeated myself that progress could happen only when I received the information I needed, I reached the end of my tether, and wrote to this client using professional language, which, translated into English, would have read: “you’re fired!”

With hindsight, I ask myself why I wasted my time in taking on this client in the first place.  Firstly, my accountant contact had warned me that his nieces could be “princesses” at times.  This should have set alarm bells ringing in my head.  Did I need to take on another client for financial reasons?  No.  Could I have foreseen that this client would have caused me more stress and trouble for the fees charged?  Yes!

Which brings me to the conclusion of my story.  All of us from time to time (very rarely in my experience thankfully) happen upon a client where we sense that the future may contain heart ache.  A dilemma may then occur; do you take on this client because your sense of commerciality wins over logic, or do you simply say: “On this occasion, I regret that we will not act for you Mr/Mrs client”, and send them on their way to a private bank!

I was discussing this issue with my business partner recently, and we both agreed that when looking back on the rare client one regrets having engaged, it was often possible to foresee that trouble lay ahead.

Our “devil client” radar is now permanently switched on, and we will avoid such clients at all cost!

Finally, I would recommend that firing a client who causes you unhappiness is worth its weight in gold!


8 thoughts on “Devil Clients

  • A story that I’m sure rings true with many of us, Paul. I know a solicitor who, after a first meeting with a prospective client who has different ethics to his own will say “I have a feeling we’re not going to really hit it off together, so thank you very much for coming to see us” as he ushers them out the door. I wish I’d had that courage at times!

  • Hi Paul
    An interesting article. What are the key signs for you that you have picked a “wrong un”?
    For me, experience has taught me to avoid:
    1. Those who have complained about more than one adviser in the past.
    2. Those who try to stretch the boundaries of the services we have agreed to. That “little extra bit of advice”, for free, often turns into a mammoth project.

    • Thanks Phil. I remember on one occasion a new client saying “I’ll sue you if you get it wrong!” That was a good indicator. Generally though, I think life is too short to work with anyone who you don’t like! A client/adviser relationship should in my view be two way with mutual respect.

  • I like that line Chris!

  • Many years ago a chap asked me were there ways I could lower his income for the purposes of reducing his child maintenance.

    I didn’t stay long.

    In my experience difficult client relationships signs start with:

    – Not making me a cup of tea if I’m visiting their home. I might be Aussie, but I do like a brew to relax. I do put alot of faith on the ‘tea test’ if I’m honest.
    -Keeping your TV on whilst I talk with you. I give them at least for 10min while to realise it’s a distraction. Seinfield can wait til after I’m gone!
    -Phil adds some good points, though I put in place a time limit years ago on annual service. I then have the flexibility to say no, pointing to the time they’ve accumulated.

    Good post Paul, and would strongly recommend once in place, don’t make an exemption.

    • Thank you, Dan.

  • Brings back memories of a recent event with a client of mine, Paul, an existing client, not new one.

    I’m minded to write “Devil Clients 2” if you don’t mind me pinching your article title ?

    • Be my guest Paul!


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