I love words, as you know. But – like Jaffa Cakes on the shelves and “Today” on Radio 4 in the morning – we sometimes take them for granted. (Although with the recent sale of United Biscuits to a Turkish firm, I am stockpiling just in case…) And so we often forget what they really mean. A conman is a conman not because he has confidence – although he usually does – but because he inspires confidence in others. He is charming and attentive, and we learn to like and eventually trust him. And once our defensives are down, he reverts to his true snake-like nature and his original vile intentions, and we are left wondering what happened. No, I’m not dwelling on an ex-boyfriend – although he will recognise himself from my description. I am talking about clients, and what we could call “client capture”. This is where you become so fond of a client, so captured by their charm and so ensnared by their story, that you stop seeing things clearly. It’s like putting on the beer goggles, only it’s donning due diligence dark glasses.
The dangers of client capture were highlighted in a case earlier this year in the Royal Court of Jersey, involving a local trust company and some of their clients. In the case, victims of a substantial fraud succeeded in a claim of “dishonest assistance” against the trust company, because it had provided directors to a number of Jersey companies which were beneficially owned by a fraudster. The trust company’s officers had, on the instructions of the fraudster, dishonestly made payments out of the companies when they were on notice that those payments could be fraudulent. Why were they deemed to be on notice? Well, the court found that the officers were not fully aware of or complicit in the fraud, but rather that they did not act an honest person would have done in similar circumstances. In particular, they did as their client (the fraudster) requested without asking any questions – even when he asked them to lie for him and to edit accounting documents for him. The court held that “an exaggerated notion of dutiful service to clients, which produced a warped moral approach that it was not improper to treat carrying out clients’ instructions as being all important” is dishonest, regardless of whether the person involved genuinely believed it was honest. In other words, no matter how much you like and trust the client, you must always ask questions of him and of yourself – and always be prepared not to like the answers.