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Will auditors become more like Tom Cruise in the future?

Gone are the days when auditors were manually checking and ticking lots of pieces of paper. Today’s auditing techniques involve significant use of computers.

But how far can this computer use go? Will they be able to predict when accounting fraud is going to take place as opposed to tracking transactions that have already occurred?

The film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise was based around software that could predict when a crime was going to happen and the culprits would be arrested before they actually committed the crime. Although this film seemed well and truly within the realms of science fiction, two police forces in the UK have undertaken trials of a sophisticated computer software package which aims to predict where and when future crimes are likely to occur.

The software is known as Crush (Criminal Reduction Utilising Statistical History) and is used to identify potential crime hotspots based on a variety of data including crime reports, offender profiles and strangely enough even weather forecasts.

Once these upcoming crime hotspots have been identified then the police can allocate resources accordingly.

The system is produced by IBM and the UK tests are based on a successful roll out of the software in the US by the Memphis police force which resulted in a reduction of serious crime by 30%.

Back to auditing though and will the next step be predicting when a fraud is likely to occur using statistical analysis based on industry, profit movements, director’s personal life and spending habits (plus the weather of course)?

Given the reliability of some computers though, one thing for sure is that if you happen to live in a town called “Syntax Error” then you may have a surprise visit from a Tom Cruise lookalike with a briefcase and a calculator…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

Pass the biscuits…

Does your weight affect the amount of money you earn?

That’s an interesting question and researchers from the universities of Strathclyde in Glasgow and Potsdam in Germany have come up with a potential answer.

They analysed data from nearly 15,000 working men and found that men within that the recommended Body Mass Index (BMI) health range earnt more than those who were outside of the range.

Individuals who were underweight on the body mass index were found to earn 8% less than those who were in the top end of the healthy bracket. They found that the effect was more prominent in manual jobs where no doubt the extra strength of the guys in the healthy weight bracket helped increase their earnings.

What was perhaps surprising though was that there was also a difference in earnings in white-collar office jobs. They found that in the more middle-class occupations the rewards peaked at a BMI of around 21.

It wasn’t just men who were impacted though. The study also looked at the weight and earnings of 15,000 German women and found that the slimmest earnt the most and the obese the least.

Jonny Gifford, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development was quoted in the press as saying “it is depressing that, in this day and age, looks are in any way a factor in how much people are paid”.

I have to agree with him as organisations should employ people on the basis of their abilities as opposed to how heavy they weigh.

Anyway, best dash as I’ve got a packet of biscuits to finish…

Is this for real?

If you buy a Chelsea or Manchester United football shirt and it turns out to be a fake it can be annoying but if you buy medicines and they turn out to be fakes it could be a lot worse as it could kill you.

Illegal copies and fakes of products are one of the big problems facing businesses today (£300 billion is the estimated size of the global counterfeit market) but some scientists have recently developed what they believe could be a cheap solution to the problem.

The technology is currently being developed by a company called Quantum Base and in simple terms involves placing an extremely small microdot onto the product which gives off a unique light signature.

The microdot is really small and I do mean really small – it’s a tiny flake of atoms which is a thousandth of the width of a human hair. Not only will it be impossible for a human to see but it will be unique. The flake of atoms which will make up the microdot will be unique and cannot be cloned. They will be placed on the product at the production facilities and then the atomic structures will be recorded on a database.

The technique for preventing fake products is that when an individual buys a product such as medicine or designer clothes they can scan their phone over the label and an app on their phone will identify the light source from the atomic structure on the microdot and send it to the database to confirm whether or not it is on the database.

If it is on the database, it’s genuine. If it’s not, it’s fake.

An excellent way of identifying whether the product you are buying is real or fake.

As mentioned, the technology is still be developed and made ready for the market by Quantum Base but it looks very promising in terms of helping to eradicate the problem of fake products.

Would you drink this coffee?

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Over in Thailand though a new type of coffee has just been put on sale which has, how can I put it, but a pretty unusual processing method.

The key staff involved in the processing function are also unusual as they have massive heads and bodies, weigh on average 4,000 kg and are grey in colour.

Yes, that’s right. The key team members involved in processing coffee are 20 Thai elephants.

The new brew of coffee is “processed” by getting the elephants to eat some coffee beans and then stepping back (in fact stepping way back) and letting the natural digestive juices in their stomachs do the job of “processing” the beans before they are deposited naturally on the ground a day later.

The beans are then handpicked out of the elephant dung by people who probably don’t bite their nails before being dried and then ground into coffee.

The finished coffee is said to have a slight pooey taste smooth flavour without the bitterness of normal coffee and is some of the most expensive coffee in the world selling for nearly £150 per kilo.

It’s certainly an unusual production technique but it’s also for a good cause as 8% of the sales revenue goes towards the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants in Thailand.

Who are you sat next to?

If you’re in the office at the moment take a look at the person next to you. Would you say that he or she is a “good worker” or a “toxic neighbour”?

A recent bit of research by economists from Harvard Business School has shed some light on the type of person you should be sitting next to.

If you’re an “average worker” and you sit next to a hard working and diligent person then your performance is likely to improve.

Unfortunately though the opposite is true and if you’re an average person who sits next to somebody who isn’t very good at their job then that badly performing person could well take you down to their level.

The researchers studied data from seating plans and reports from over 2,000 employees. The performance of these employees was rated based on the time they spent to complete a task as well as quality and effectiveness. Their efficiency was based on how often they had to ask for help.

One of the interesting bits of the research was finding out whether when a person sat next to a high performing individual that person’s performance improved because they learnt from the better performing individual or they were inspired by him or her.

When the research team split these people back up again the average worker’s performance reverted back to the average level rather than stay at the high performing level. This implied that the improvement was not due to learning new skills but instead was due to being inspired by the good worker.

When it comes to sitting next to a “toxic employee” who doesn’t perform, the bad news is that the negativity rubs off on the good employee almost immediately.

So it may well be worth trying to sit next to the stars of the office rather than the toxic ones

A quick word of warning though and if the person you sit next to has recently asked their boss to move away from you asap then the chances are that you aren’t the star of the office but instead are…

Should you employ good looking people?

Should you employ good-looking people or not so good-looking people?

Whilst the obvious answer would appear to be that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like as long as they can do their job properly, researchers in Japan have found out that the attractiveness of an employee can have an impact on the sales of a business.

Interestingly though, it’s probably not the correlation most people would think applies.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied retail sales in shops and found that the more attractive the shop assistants of the opposite sex were, the lower the sales were. The researchers found that male shoppers were less likely to go into the shop if the more attractive woman in the research study was serving.

Even if they entered the shop with the attractive shop assistant in it, only 40% of them bought something. This compared to 56% who purchased something when a less attractive assistant was serving.

Lisa Wan of the University said “attractive service providers can lead consumers to become self-conscious or embarrassed. This is especially true when the provider is of the opposite sex. Even when the attractive salesperson is the same sex, consumers may feel a sense of inadequacy through self-comparison.

In either case, the shopper may avoid interacting with physically attractive providers, rendering the salespeople ineffective”.

It’s worth mentioning though that the scientists undertaking the research were monitoring a shop selling figures from Japanese comics and the male shoppers were obsessed with computers.

“Male shoppers obsessed with computers” – surely they would only notice the female shop assistant if she was holding a computer?

An awkward mistake.

Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person by mistake? What about posting something on social media which, with hindsight you’d wished you hadn’t?

We all make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world but I’ve got a feeling that Magnús Örn Hákonarson will be remembering his recent mistake for a while to come.

Magnús is in charge of his employer’s social media activities and recently what was supposed to be a private message was posted on his employer’s Facebook page.

Magnus works for The Landsbjargar’s Accident Investigation Company in Iceland and he accidentally posted an invite to a party to all the followers of the company. To add to the excitement, this wasn’t a normal party but was an invite to all the followers to take part in a bondage party with a fetish dress code.

The invitation highlighted the dress code as fetish or alternative and included information about safe words, leather masks and whips. Members of the BDSM society Magnus was a member of were able to buy the tickets for 1,000 ISK (£7) whilst non-members had to pay 3,000 ISK (£21).

As soon as he realised his mistake he removed the party invitation from the company’s Facebook page.

Whether or not his colleagues knew about his hobby is by the by. They certainly do now and the nice thing about it is that his employers realised it was a genuine mistake and have been very supportive.

Given his interest in BDSM he might have been slightly disappointed that he wasn’t punished but instead his employers issued a statement saying “There are many people with different backgrounds and interests within the volunteer group. People are engaged in all kinds of sports and hobbies and the rescue team’s board of directors will not distinguish these interests, as long as they are legal.”

All in all, nothing to beat yourself up about.

PwC, a Bishop and a thief…

What do you do if you work for PwC and you’re due to be promoted to a partner in October?

Well, if you’re Max Livingstone-Learmonth the answer is to catch a suspected handbag thief.

Now, this in itself is admirable but Mr Livingstone-Learmonth did it in style as he was actually dressed as a bishop.

“A future partner of PwC dressed as a bishop?” I hear you ask.

Although it may sound strange that he was dressed as a bishop, he was in fact in fancy dress as he was part of a charity world record attempt for the longest non-stop relay.

He was running as part of the I Move London Relay. This involved 2,500 runners taking it in turns to carry a relay baton over a combined distance of 4,000 miles by running 10km and 5km loops continuously over 30 days and nights in central London.

Mr Livingstone-Learmonth was part of the team of runners and according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, he saw a woman chasing a man who had reportedly taken her bag. He then sprinted 100 metres to her rescue and caught up with the thief keeping him pinned to the wall until the police arrived.

He told the newspaper that “I’m not religious but it does feel a bit like divine intervention that I was there”.

He went on to explain that “A guy shouted, ‘stop that man’, and it was just pure instinct to run after him. I caught up to him and pinned him to a wall with my crosier.”

“I said, ‘It’s not your day if you’ve been run down by a bishop’,” he added.

So, well done to the future partner but one thing is even more impressive – during the struggle he kept hold of the relay baton. If he had dropped it the Guinness World Record attempt would have been jeopardised as it would not have been a complete relay.

Nice work Mr Livingstone-Learmonth.

Room for improvement at the Big 4…

Oh dear. It certainly wasn’t a great performance by the Big 4 when it came to their annual inspections by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in the UK.

The quality of the audits performed had decreased and for KPMG in particular, according to the FRC “there has been an unacceptable deterioration in quality”.

The FRC is an independent body who check the quality of the audits undertaken by the 8 largest firms in the UK. Think of it as “auditing the auditors”.

They rate the quality of the audits undertaken using the following scale:

• Good (category 1)
• Limited improvements required (category 2A)
• Improvements required (category 2B)
• Significant improvements required (category 3)

Overall results from the most recent FRC inspections during 2017/18 show that 72% of audits required no more than limited improvements (compared to 78% in 2016/17). Or to put it another way, 28% of the audits reviewed required improvements (category 2B) or significant improvements (category 3).

For KPMG though things were particularly bad. When the FRC looked at their audits within the FTSE 350 (the largest 350 companies on the London stock exchange), they found that 50% required MORE than just limited improvements (compared to 35% in the previous year).

If you take a step back then this really isn’t very good is it. If you went to a restaurant where 50% of the meals served required more than limited improvements you’d be unlikely to go back to that restaurant again and I’m sure that restaurant wouldn’t be in business for much longer.

KPMG are going to face increased scrutiny by the FRC in the next round of inspections. 25% more KPMG audits will be examined over the 2018/19 cycle of work and the implementation of their Audit Quality Plan will be closely monitored.

So what went wrong?

The FRC noted that there were a number of factors. These included a failure to challenge management and show appropriate scepticism across their audits.

Stephen Haddrill, CEO of the FRC, said “At a time when public trust in business and in audit is in the spotlight, the Big 4 must improve the quality of their audits and do so quickly. They must address urgently several factors that are vital to audit, including the level of challenge and scepticism by auditors, in particular in their bank audits. We also expect improvements in group audits and in the audit of pension balances. Firms must strenuously renew their efforts to improve audit quality to meet the legitimate expectation of investors and other stakeholders.”

Whilst the level of quality found within the Big 4 audits fell, the performance of the mid tier companies improved. The FRC inspections on BDO, GT, Mazars and Moore Stephens showed general improvements in the quality of inspected audits.

The FRC’s Audit Quality Review is explained in more detail here and if you’re interested in reading the reports on the individual firms they can be found on the following links:

BDO LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Deloitte LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Ernst & Young LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Grant Thornton LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

KPMG LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Mazars LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Moore Stephens LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

PwC LLP Public Reporting 2017/18 (PDF)