Firing a Client?


I run a financial consulting group where we work with many small businesses. Generally we work on a retainer, and provide both specific financial services as well as counsel for the businesses. One particular client has been on a “death spiral” for a couple of years. We have laid out some specific things they need to do as a business to survive, and the client has been unwilling to follow the advice we have provided. With no change, they will be out of business within five years. It is difficult to take their money and know they don’t accept our recommendations. Since they do not follow our advice, would it be appropriate for us to “fire” this client?

Looking for the Bottom Line


Dear Looking,
It’s very honorable of you to feel as though you are not earning your fees since your client will not act upon your recommendations. I’m not sure you need to feel this way. You are putting in the work and, ultimately, it’s the client’s choice whether or not to accept your advice. That said, I think its fine to “fire the client,” especially since the demise of the company will bother you and may come back to haunt you in other ways too. Perhaps, your act will be a statement that serves to command the client’s attention to the point of initiating some real changes.
Kenman Wong
Professor of Ethics, School of Business and Economics
Seattle Pacific University

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2 thoughts on “Firing a Client?”

  1. Life is full of decisions. I was fired from a BIG pay package job because I would not sell inferior credit intrument to investors. That was over 30 years ago. My son was fired because he pointed out that his company was double billing clients, but the President didn’t want to hear it. It is true that the client has a choice as to whether to act on your advice. However, are you comfortable selling refrigerators to penguins. “Our actions follow our beliefs.” What I see business owners doing tells me a lot more about them than what they say in church. I’ve liquidated companies, managed turnarounds and let go when I couldn’t help any more.

    Friends tell people the truth. Enabling is not helping.

  2. I’m not convinced that this answers the mail. I have recently had the same discussion with one of my staff and though it relates to a large public company, I think the ethical issues are deeper than a simple ‘not sure if you should feel this way’. What is the ethical obligation of the consultant that has a responsibility to both clients and markets? Though I don’t audit, my advisory services are consumed by an entity in which the public has invested private and public capital. Is there a different ethical obligation here or simply a larger version of the same?

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