How I Ended A Client RelationshipThat Wasn’t Working (For Me)

Published on:
July 31, 2019
Barbara Boustead

On August 1, I will celebrate my 8th anniversary as a daily money manager and owner of Mary’s Daughter. I am truly blessed to have created this opportunity to assist seniors and veterans with their finances, and I look forward to celebrating my 10th anniversary in 2021.

I really enjoy working with my clients and, fortunately, there have been very few issues over the past 8 years. However, a few months ago, I found myself in a challenging situation with an elderly client in his late 90s.

This client was referred to me by another financial professional who told me the client needed assistance with not only managing his checkbook and bill paying but also getting investment monies transferred into his bank account in order to pay the assisted living costs, which had gone unpaid for months.

There were many other issues, as well, including arranging for the sale of his condo and a variety of bank accounts in different places that needed to be consolidated. The Power of Attorney for Finance was a family member who lived out of town and was not available most of the time, which also added to the challenges.

This client was single and didn’t have a good relationship with his two adult children, who did not live close and rarely visited; he relied primarily on a friend to assist him. There were also some cognitive and medical issues due to multiple falls, which led to his current living situation at an assisted living facility.

We started off in the usual way, with an initial consultation and review of my services and rates. I met with the client as well as his social worker at the facility.

The social worker had been helping the client with his mail and many of his financial matters. She admitted that she had become uncomfortable doing this and was very glad to have me take this over.

I presented my engagement letter to the client which outlined the work I would do as well as the tasks I would not do (i.e. filing taxes, financial advice) and what my services would cost. He said my rate was more expensive than he expected,but since this was temporary (and his friend did not want to continue helping) he agreed to work with me.

I assured him I would only provide the services we agreed upon, and any other services and charges would be discussed with him first. I also reminded him that he could terminate the contract at any time.

And so we began. The client and I seemed to be getting along well, although I realized he could become easily irritated at other professionals and frequently questioned their competency. The assisted living facility staff reported that the client complained about the costs of almost everything, which eventually included my DMM services.

We discussed his concerns and once I reviewed everything, especially how much I was saving him (as he no longer had late fees and penalty charges) he seemed to accept this.

After a few months, the client told me that he didn’t like my billing method and wanted an accounting system that was similar to his CPA. I reviewed my invoice details with him. He then questioned why I had contacted his CPA (who I was working with to get taxes filed in a timely manner) and why I spoke with the realtor (who I was assisting to get his condo on the market).

It was then that I realized that my client did not understand the value of my time, even though he appreciated the work I had done for him. He questioned why I needed to make the calls to other professionals as he could do that for himself.

I knew my client had some cognitive issues that caused him to become forgetful and confused at times, but other days he was more alert; it was during those times that he questioned everything.

After a couple sessions like this, I began to wonder if I should continue working with this client who didn’t feel he needed my help at times and only wanted to pay me for the services he felt were billable.

I took some time to consider this situation and finally decided I needed to terminate the relationship with this client.I could no longer serve him in an ethical manner as I was continuing to do the work on his behalf, but the billing issues he complained about were taking up a lot of my time.

It got to the point where it was stressful as I was thinking about these issues, even when I wasn’t working with this client.

I scheduled a time to meet with him to discuss this situation. He said he liked working with me but didn’t like my billing practices and wanted to negotiate a new method for billing. I declined.

We agreed to part ways and I gave 30 days’ notice. I informed the other professionals who were involved of my decision to terminate with the client and provided them with a summary of what had been accomplished and what still needed to be done.

I encouraged them to contact me if they needed additional information as I would be available until the end of the month, unless there was a special circumstance.

I explained to the client that I would not charge him for the last 2 months of work. I did not want to spend any more (unpaid) time going over my billing practices, which he had agreed to and signed in our original contract.

However, I did expect payment for the overdue invoice I had given him 2 months earlier. There had been no indication at that time that he had any problem with my services. I requested full payment for that invoice which he did at that time.

My client was pleased that I would not charge him for the current and previous month of services and agreed to end the client relationship. He thanked me for my time and for what I had accomplished on his behalf.

This experience taught me a lot, including some tips I’m happy to share…

  1. Always discuss financial arrangements (especially billing details) during the initial interview, and review the engagement contract carefully with all responsible parties. Have a conversation with the client (or with their POA for Finances) after the initial invoice to make sure everything is understood.
  2. Maintain a professional attitude at all times with clients and with the other professionals involved. But, be aware of your own "gut feeling" when something feels off or you're becoming impatient and frustrated with a client. That's an important sign it is time to consult with a colleague or mentor in order to get an outside perspective about the situation.
  3. Keep other professionals who are working with your client informed and up-to-date if anything changes with your relationship with the client. Provide the necessary information and support so they can continue to do their work with the client.
  4. If the client wants a new referral to replace you, offer to make the referral and provide the appropriate information and follow up if needed.
  5. Finally, always remember to thank the client for the opportunity to work with them and move forward by utilizing the experience for your own professional growth.

Wishing you all the best as you provide services to challenging clients! I believe most of the time they provide the “spice” to our businesses!

However, we must remember to care for ourselves just as we provide support to our clients.