Show me the client money, says SRA in move to crackdown on abuses

Firms could be obliged to disclose client money levels to the professions’ watchdog more regularly instead of just once a year under plans being developed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The SRA is demanding more detail from firms as it moves away from the existing system of asking for a snapshot of the balance in client accounts on an annual basis.

The solicitors’ watchdog will now ask for the highest, lowest and average balance in firms’ client accounts across the year in a move to ensure firms’ reporting to the regulator better reflects the true picture.

Under the present system, firms provide a snapshot of the balance in the client account at the point at which they submit their accounts to the SRA each year.

The initiative, headed by SRA director of risk Andrew Garbutt, represents an expansion of the regulator’s current line of questioning about client money that has been part of the annual certificate renewal process for some time.

Garbutt said: “The amount in the client account has traditionally been provided when accounts are submitted to the SRA. However these merely provide a snapshot of the account activity and doesn’t give a true picture about the firm’s business. So three new supplementary questions about the highest, lowest and average balances held have been added to the renewals process.

“This will help refine the information we have and better inform our risk assessment of the firm, adding to our information on areas of work, annual turnover, and so on. This in turn will determine our supervisory approach to that firm.”

The new demands are set to come in on 1 November in line with the start of the 2012-13 certificate renewals, with the SRA planning question-and-answer sessions for solicitors before then.