- With a stellar career spanning five decades, Frank Owen FCA has a wealth of valuable advice to offer members.
- Managing conflict of interest for some clients can be complicated, know how to foresee the outcome and remain in control.
- Ensure you are well versed in accounting standards before commencing an audit.
After starting out in the 1960s in banking at Westpac, Frank Owen FCA had stints at Ernst & Young and KPMG, was a partner at his own firm and held a management role at a non-profit organisation. He also helped establish New Zealand’s first distance education programmes at Massey University, in Palmerston North.
In the 1990s, Owen founded TEO Limited, which provided training and professional development to accountants and lawyers, including a phone advice service. He now mans a helpline for chartered accountants.
Managing conflict of interest
Owen cites changes to management of conflict of interest as a major shift for CAs in the past 25 years.
“You might be the accountant for a family company owned by a husband and wife. There’s a relationship breakdown that forces a split. Nowadays you can’t continue to work for the husband, the wife and the company. It’s impossible to give impartial advice to both,” says Owen.
“Some people see conflicts of interest as black and white. It’s not that simple, and accountants need to be able to see what might happen if an arrangement turns pear shaped, and try and foresee where a conflict might arise.”
It is crucial that accountants undertaking audits are on top of the standards, according to Owen.
“I get plenty of calls from members asking whether they should do an audit. Ninety times out of a hundred calls, I spend my time reiterating that the Code of Ethics for CAs requires that members must be highly skilled and competent in the work they undertake. Therefore, I ask: ‘Do you have sufficient and up-to-date knowledge to do an audit? If you don’t, don’t do it’.”
Ethical clearance letters
In accordance with the Code of Ethics, when a client wants to change from one accountant to another, the new accountant sends the existing accountant an ethical clearance letter. It requests information about the business to help the new CA decide whether to accept the client.
Responding to the clearance letter can be a thorny issue, says Owen. Under the Code of Ethics, the outgoing accountant is unable to tell the new accountant why the client is changing – or being forced to change – firms.
“We are bound by confidentiality of client information,” says Owen. “The client might have been a bit naughty with his or her tax, and you’ve decided you don’t wish to act for them anymore and have suggested they find another accountant.”
He suggests the outgoing CA tells the client about the clearance letter asking for information about their business.
“In nine out of ten times, the client will refuse,” says Owen. “You then go back to the new accountant and say, ‘There are issues that I would have liked to have discussed with you, but the client has forbidden me’.”
Your resource for advice
One of Owen’s roles is to provide confidential support to members who appear before the Professional Conduct Committee or the Disciplinary Tribunal. At 72, he works three days a week and has no intention of winding down.
“I have a huge love for the accounting profession and really enjoy working with members,” Owen says.
“I’m like a mentor, so if you have an issue that you’re not sure about, give me a call."
CAs can discuss issues they are not sure about with Frank Owen or one of his colleagues by calling the Customer Service Centre: on 1300 137 322 in Australia or on 0800 4 69422 in New Zealand.