18 Jul 2019 11:54am

Practice Q&A: client responses and excel

This month we tackle questions on the limits of warning clients about questionable conduct, and the best way of responding to clients who say nice things. Plus, the start of a monthly Excel tip from ICAEW’s David Lyford-Smith

QA excel july 2019 630
Caption: Illustration by Yukai Du

What is the legal definition of tipping off and how do I avoid it, while still doing the right thing?

Tipping off is an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It is committed when a suspicious activity report (SAR) has been made and is then disclosed in a manner likely to prejudice any subsequent investigation, or where an investigation of money laundering is underway or contemplated and a disclosure is likely to prejudice that investigation. Internal discussions within the firm do not constitute tipping off.

Normal enquiries during the ordinary course of business would not generally lead to tipping off. It is perfectly normal for a professional accountant to point out omissions or errors. For example, if you discover an invoice that has not been included on a client’s tax return. You should not attempt to investigate matters unless to do so is within the scope of the work commissioned. It is important to avoid accusations or suggestions of guilt. You do not commit a disclosure offence if you attempt to dissuade your client from criminal conduct.

This would include giving advice on the consequences of, for example, under declared income. When responding to a professional enquiry letter you should refuse to answer queries that relate specifically to suspicions of money laundering. However you should include relevant statements of fact (not opinions) that allow the incoming practitioner to form their own conclusion, or that may prompt them to make their own enquiries. For example, “we disagreed over the tax liability”.

If you have made a SAR, you must not make reference to it. Further guidance for members is available in the anti-money laundering tipping off helpsheet and from the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Service on +44 (0)1908 248 250

David Stevens, professional consultant, ICAEW Advisory Services

How do I respond to online reviews about my practice?

It’s really important to respond to all online reviews received. In all cases, you need to adhere to the fundamental ethical principle of confidentiality and be careful to avoid disclosing more information than the reviewer provided in their original review – it’s often best to take complex or difficult issues offline. When responding to positive reviews, thank the reviewer for their feedback, identify and reinforce the positives and ask what you can do to make things even better. When responding to negative reviews, you should thank the reviewer.

Say what you have done since to improve the service (if you have) and offer an opportunity for the reviewer to discuss the matter further. Where you think a review is fake or misposted, try to establish the legitimacy of the review – it may have been posted using a nickname. If you can’t identify the reviewer as a client, it’s OK to say that, but you should also provide a route for them to contact you so you can investigate further. Further guidance for members on starting your engagement with online reviews and responding in line with best practice is available in the online reviews helpsheet and from the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Service on +44 (0)1908 248 250

Chris Turner, professional consultant, ICAEW Advisory Services

Excel top tip: keyboard shortcuts

In this new feature, we’re sharing Excel tips from our Excel Community blogger David Lyford-Smith. This month: some lesser-known keyboard shortcuts to help speed up your spreadsheeting. Manoeuvring around a workbook can be tricky, especially once it grows past the edge of your screen. You might already be using Ctrl and arrow keys to move quickly around large blocks of data – but what about the PageUp and PageDown keys?

These let you move through your data one screen’s worth at a time. But you can also move horizontally with Alt and PageUp/PageDown, or even move between neighbouring worksheets with Ctrl and PageUp/PageDown. Copying and pasting with Ctrl C and Ctrl V is as old as the hills – but try speeding up filling in data by using Ctrl D and Ctrl R to copy downwards or rightwards, respectively, with a single stroke. Or try selecting the cells you want to put your data or formula in beforehand, then pressing Ctrl Enter after typing to enter the same thing into every cell at once.

If you want to get deep into cell formatting, Ctrl 1 brings up the Format Cells menu, with all that entails. Or use Ctrl and 2, 3, 4 or 5 for the bold, italic, underline and strikethrough formats respectively. There’re plenty more Excel tips, tricks and training available through the Excel Community – find out more here.

David Lyford-Smith, technical manager, tech & the profession, Tech Faculty

Five in brief

1) Smaller listed and AIM companies

Are you applying the latest guidance? ICAEW has published a practical guide for audit committees and boards of smaller quoted companies on evaluating the adequacy of a company’s financial reporting function and process

2) DBS accounting changes

The FRC has made narrow-scope accounting changes to s28, FRS 102 for multi-employer defined benefit schemes. These are effective for accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2020, but early application is permitted.

3) Accounting for GMP equalisation

Accounting for guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) equalisation by pension schemes following the judgement in the Lloyds Banking Group Pensions Trustees Ltd v Lloyds Bank Plc GMP equalisation case. Guidance published by PRAG in April.

4) Brexit for the profession

The government has produced updated guidance on Brexit, including Accounting if there’s no Brexit deal and Auditing if there’s no Brexit deal

5) MTD update

HMRC added functionality in June 2019 to enable agents to change their client’s VAT registration, business name, principal place of business and VAT stagger online.