The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) would apply to all pathways following the end of the accountants’ exemption, including where accountants choose to operate under referral arrangements.
“The application of FOS is really important because whether you decide to get a limited licence, become an authorised representative or go down the referral path, the FOS is relevant to each of you in each of those situations,” Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) executive general manager Vicki Stylianou told the IPA 2015 National Congress on the Gold Coast last Friday.
“It’s not just about external and internal dispute resolution, but about some of the knowledge, insights and guidance that you can gain from the FOS that you can apply to your own practice and clients.
“I urge you to become familiar with the FOS – what it does, what it offers, what its function is – as it’s not just for those who get into the Corporations Act regime and become an authorised representative or get a limited licence, it’s also very relevant to you if you go down the referral path.”
FOS executive general manager Jenny Peachey said implementing dispute resolution processes made good business sense.
“Our team at FOS has been talking to hundreds of accountants over the last 18 months,” Peachy said.
“We’re working pretty closely with the three accounting bodies in terms of the requirements and information that we want to impart on accountants around obligations for both internal and external dispute resolution, particularly if you want to move down a licensing path.
“I’m sure some of you practise it now, whether formally or informally, but we know that businesses that undertake good dispute resolution actually retain their clients.
“We know that it gives you control over the risks associated with your ongoing client relationships and that you can nip things in the bud early if there are issues or complaints.”
She said accountants needed to start recording outcomes of client discussions.
“Understand what your professional competence is: where it starts, where it stops and where you clearly need to refer,” she said, adding due care needed to be taken when documenting client meetings.
“In fact, good practice would be sending them file notes of the meeting you just had with them so if there are any issues, they’ve got a record as well.
“Our case managers always say that if there is a steady audit trail of the conversations and decisions you have with your clients, their job is easier and getting to a quick resolution [is easier].”
She said accountants should take advantage of the resources FOS provided, such as its top 10 tips for getting financial advice right.
“We also have a great resource here, which is for accountants to assist your clients who have a financial services dispute, potentially with their life insurer, their bank or their financial planner if you’re in referral mode,” she said.
“We’ll get to know, more and more, the business of operating on limited licences and we’ll work with the sector to keep providing better resources to help you in this new world of the licensed regime.”