Handling client money

Understand your obligations when handling client money and trust accounts

In Brief

  • If you receive or hold client money as a member in public practice, you need to have a trust account
  • Rules apply to managing trust accounts and being a sole or joint signatory on a client bank account. These rules are slightly different for members in Australia and New Zealand
  • Australian members have an additional obligation to have their compliance audited annually.  Queensland members must also comply with the Queensland Trust Accounts Act 1973

What is client money?

Client money is any money coming into the control of a member in public practice, or any of the member’s personnel which are the property of a client.

It includes money that you and your personnel have no present entitlement.

This doesn’t include fee retainers. It also excludes money dealt with by an insolvency practitioner under any insolvency legislation for which a separate bank account is opened by a receiver, liquidator or similar person.

Keep it separate and safe

All client money must be handled in an account separate to your business funds.

This requires you to establish a separate bank account (or multiple bank accounts) where client monies are held in trust.

Alternatively, members may have authority to transact on client bank accounts either solely or in conjunction with one or more other people.

In either scenario, you must make sure:

  • monies are dealt with according to the client’s instructions;
  • you keep adequate records of all transactions; and
  • there are adequate internal controls and procedures in place

In Australia, you also need to have your compliance with the requirements of APES 310 audited annually.

Client Monies Standards

Go to the Members Handbook to check out APES 310 Client Monies (Australia) or PS-2 Client Monies (New Zealand)

Find out more

Setting up a trust account

You can use a separate trust accounts for each client or pooled trust accounts for multiple clients.

When you operate a trust account, you will need to provide statements to your client after the year-end date.

Arrangements should be put in place with a financial institution for any bank fees or charges on the trust account to be charged directly to the firm's general account.

The name of bank accounts opened as trust accounts must include the words “Trust Account”.     A sample bank letter to open a trust account and an Information Sheet – Professional Accountants and Trust Accounts is available to assist members in Australia.

Queensland Trust Accounts

Queensland members (including Trust Account auditors) must also comply with the Trust Accounts Act 1973.

Find out more

Preparing statements and year-end dates

  • Australian members

    The applicable year-end date must occur within 12 months of the month-end following your opening a trust account or obtaining the authority to operate a client bank account.

    Under APES 310, once you have set the applicable year-end date for a trust account, you cannot change it without the approval of the applicable professional body.

    Where CA ANZ is the applicable professional body for a member or firm, direct your requests to change the year-end date to us.

    Any year-end statements that need to be issued to clients under APES 310 must be issued within 30 business days of the applicable year-end date.

  • New Zealand members

    Members handling client money in New Zealand must observe the rules under NZICA Professional Standards 2. PS-2 requires that you prepare and issue a statement containing details of the application of client monies, and any interest earned on a timely basis and at least annually or at the request of the client.

Being a signatory on a client bank account

Members sometimes act as a signatory on a client bank account. 

The standards apply when you or your staff have authority to transact on a client's bank account as part of the provision of services to that client. All requirements of the standards (including the need for an audit in Australia) apply. However, there is audit relief in Australian where a member does not operate a trust account and can only co-authorise transactions on a client bank in conjunction with the client.  In these circumstances a review (limited assurance engagement) rather than an audit (reasonable assurance engagement) is permitted. 

You don’t need to be formally appointed as a signatory for the standards to apply. If you have been given the means to transact on a client's account, such as being given a username and password, the standards apply.

The standard does not apply where you have authority to transact on a bank account in a capacity other than as the accountant to a client. For example, it does not apply where you are the director of a company and have authorised transactions in that capacity. 

Conducting a compliance audit

  • Who can conduct an audit of trust accounts and client money?

    An auditor of a trust account or client money, must hold a practicing certificate  issued by CA ANZ, CPA Australia or the Institute of Public Accountants. You do not need to be a Registered Company Auditor to conduct an audit under APES 310.

    Only members in Australia are required to have their compliance audited annually.

  • Performing the audit

    APES 310 requires auditors to perform the audit in accordance with Auditing and Assurance Standards, subject to any legal requirements. The trust account auditor is concerned with the member's compliance with the requirements of APES 310. The audit is not a financial statement audit.

    APES 310 includes a sample auditor's report which states that the audit is 'conducted in accordance with applicable Standards on Assurance Engagements including ASAE 3100 Compliance Engagements'.

    APES 310 was revised in November 2019 and the amended requirements apply for engagements commencing on or after 1 January 2020. Accordingly, we have updated our guidance to assist members to comply with APES 310 and conduct APES 310 compliance audits and reviews.

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