Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Do you tell clients to: “Arrange a review of your taxation affairs”?

I recently read a tax briefing published by one of the larger firms of accountants.

I tend to think that such publications are a good way to evidence to clients that you are upto speed with current tax developments and that you want to help them avoid paying more tax than is absolutely necessary. Having said that I would never encourage a smaller firm to draft such a newsletter or tax briefing from scratch. Better to outsource this and simply to top and tail the briefing – after ensuring that you understand everything that it contains!

The one I was looking at was very impressive, helpful and well written, however I was amused to see the following at the end of the ‘welcome’ paragraph:

“Because of the significant changes made in the 2008 Budget we would suggest that you speak to either your usual contact at [XYZ – the firm] or a member of our tax staff to arrange a review of your taxation affairs.”

Why did that sentence in the briefing amuse me? It’s not the fact that the size of the firm means that they can’t be specific about who clients should talk to (“your usual contact”). Let’s also ignore the fact that the message implies that the ‘usual contact’ may not be capable of arranging a review of the client’s tax affairs – why else is the option given to going to a member of the tax staff?

No. My amusement is in part due to the absence of clarity in the suggestion that the reader should ask for ‘a review’ of their taxation affairs and the open-ended nature of such a request. But also the fact that the firm could be implying that it is simply reactive as distinct from pro-active. That sentence is all but saying ‘We’re here if you want to talk to us, but don’t expect us to raise any of these subjects with you’.

How much better if the sentence had included the following sentiments:

‘We’d like to talk with you about the impact of these changes on your tax position as there may significant tax savings to make and tax traps to avoid. Please speak with your usual contact here to arrange a convenient time and place’.

We have to remember that what we consider to be obvious is not always viewed in the same way by clients. We need to be careful to say what we mean and to avoid the opportunity for clients to draw their own (incorrect) conclusions.

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