Sunday, May 05, 2019

Must I tell service provider I'm leaving?

When a reader we're calling Jesse was working at a small business in Boston, he met an accountant we're calling Barry who was working for a large accounting firm that was auditing Jesse's company's financials. Two years later, Jesse had moved on to a new company and Barry had opened his own accounting firm.

For the next three years, Jesse hired Barry to do his taxes for him. They had a good working relationship and Jesse was thrilled to see that Barry was continuing to grow his firm and hire new people.

In the fourth year of their tax relationship, Jesse called as he typically did during tax season to set up an appointment with Barry. When Jesse arrived for his appointment, he was guided to the office of one of Barry's new hires. Jesse was being passed on to a junior member of Barry's growing accounting firm.

"He never gave me a heads up that I'd be working with someone else," writes Jesse. "The new guy was OK, but I found it odd that no one thought it necessary to let me know about the change."

Jesse was disappointed enough in Barry's decision to pass him on to someone else at his firm and particularly about not being told about it that he decided to look for a new accountant to do his taxes the following year. When the next year rolled around, he met with the new accountant, liked working with her quite a bit, and figured that was the end of the matter.

But about five months after tax season, Jesse received a call from Barry, letting him know that he was disappointed to have lost him as a customer without any word from Jesse about why he had left.

Jesse told Barry that he was disappointed that he hadn't been given a heads up that he'd be working with a new accountant. According to Jesse, Barry seemed surprised and explained that as his firm grew he needed to delegate some of his work to others. Jesse told Barry he understood, yet would have appreciated knowing ahead of time.

"Did I owe Barry a call letting him know why I was changing accountants?" Jesse asks. "Even if Barry didn't have the courtesy to let me know I was being shuffled off to someone else at his firm, should I have told him I was shuffling off to another firm?"

Barry should have let Jesse know ahead of time that he planned to pass his account onto one of his employees. After learning this, Jesse had every right to decide whether he wanted to stay with the firm.

While it might have been nice to let Barry's firm know he was taking his business elsewhere, Jesse had no obligation to do so. The right thing was for Jesse to decide if he no longer was receiving the type of service he desired at Barry's firm and if he wasn't to find a new accountant. He's done that. For now, the accountant works in a one-person shop. If that changes, Jesse might have some more taxing decisions to make. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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