Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Know your limits

A senior official at a big publisher told me recently how he once prevented what could have been a major PR disaster. His marketing team had been working on the copy they wanted to use to promote a new easy to use online tax service.

Their favoured headline?
"For when you want to advise on something you know nothing about"
Fortunately the official immediately recognised the potential downside of such a headline. If an accountant used the service and then gave advice which turned out to be wrong he might try to sue the publisher. Indeed the promotion also ran counter to the Guide to Professional Conduct for those working in tax. I have referred to this before on the TaxBuzz blog. (I sit on the pan professional body working party that is updating the 2004 version for the ICAEW, CIOT and 5 other professional bodies). One key paragraph often comes to mind:
“Members will from time to time find themselves having to advise on matters which require specialist knowledge. In such circumstances they should be careful not to go beyond their own level of competence and, if necessary, should seek help from a specialist in the field”.
Thus it won't surprise regular readers if I offer an alternative solution 'for when you want to advise on something you know nothing about'. Don't. Don't risk getting it wrong. Our tax system is now so complex there is no shame in admitting to a client that the matter in hand requires specialist input. Doctors adopt this approach all the time. So do dentists. So do all wise professionals.

Indeed one has to question whether any 'professional' would ever advise a client on something the professional doesn't really know about.

And if you do want to speak with a VISTA (Vetted Independent Specialist Tax Adviser) I hope you know where to start!

1 comment:

  1. My attention has been drawn to a piece of promotional material from another publisher. It states that their product "helps you get the answers you need to queries in areas of tax that you no longer specialise in or with which you have never previously dealt." The latter part of that statement doesn't seem a million miles from the example quoted in the blog post above. A tad risky I would have thought.