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Would a good liar make a good accountant?

Do you have children? Have they ever told you a lie? Even a small teeny weeny lie?

Well, if they have then although you may not be particularly pleased with them, it may actually mean that they have good memories and excellent thinking skills.

Psychologists at the University of Sheffield tested 135 children and found that those children that lied performed much better than the honest children in the group.

The children in the study were aged between 6 and 7 years old and during the study they were given a trivia game. The answers to the trivia game were on the back of the card which they had been given. Initially, each child was in a room accompanied by one of the researchers but the researcher then left the child alone with the card with the answer on the back.

Before leaving the room the researcher told the children not to look at the answer but what the children didn’t know was that when they were alone in the room there were hidden cameras which were monitoring whether they would look at the answers on the back.

25% of the group subsequently cheated and looked at the answers on the back of their cards but claimed that they hadn’t cheated when the researcher returned to the room.

At a later stage, all of the children had to perform a separate memory test and the research found that the children who had lied performed significantly better than those children who didn’t lie.

Dr Tracy Alloway, project lead from the University of North Florida was also involved in the research and said that “this research shows that thought processes, specifically verbal working memory, are important to complex social interactions like lying because the children needed to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the researcher’s perspective in mind”.

This has got me thinking as a lot of the readers of this blog are accountants or studying to be accountants.

“Thought processes”, “verbal working memory”, “juggling multiple pieces of information” and “keeping other people’s perspective in mind” are all skills which many accountants need.

Does this mean that you would make a good accountant if you were a good liar when you were a child?

Whatever your answer is, I’m not sure I would believe you…

Pass the doughnuts…

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 doughnut to finish…

Would you do this with your job?

If a company outsources jobs, in some situations it can be seen as good business practice but if an individual outsources his own job then what is that seen as?

Outsourcing is where a company gets another organisation to undertake a job or business function that would have previously been completed in-house. This is often done for cost saving reasons and an illustration of outsourcing would for example be getting another organisation to maintain your payroll.

A while ago there was the first example I’d heard of an individual outsourcing his own job.

Verison is one of the leading telecoms companies in the US and their security team provided details of a case study where an employee by the name of “Bob” who was a top developer had actually outsourced his own job to China without his employers knowing about it.

In other words, he had received his salary from his employers but had personally paid for somebody else to do his job at a cheaper rate without his employer knowing about it!

He was paid in excess of USD 100,000 for his job and yet he was paying a Chinese consulting firm less than 20% of that to do the job for him.

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos (!!)
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Despite not actually doing any of the work himself his performance reviews were excellent and he had been regarded as the best developer in the building.

So, in summary – he was paid a pretty good salary and all he did was play around on the internet.

All his real work was outsourced by him to a Chinese company. He paid them whilst his employer paid him 5 times the amount that he had paid the Chinese company.

Bob lost his job but it does raise an interesting debate as when a company outsources it’s seen as a clever move but when an individual outsources their own job they end up losing that job.

Anyway, whilst you’re thinking of that particular point I’d like to mention that the next blog article will be written by a Chinese company but please don’t tell my employer.

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

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, IBM have worked in conjunction with the Memphis police department in America to develop 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 rollout of this software reportedly 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…

The Captain was sober, the First Mate was drunk. Was that true? Was that fair?

I’ve been a qualified accountant for a fair few years now.

I had the pleasure of bumping into my first auditing lecturer recently. It was at a business mixer event and even though it was a long time since we last saw each other he really hadn’t changed that much.

We got talking and I reminded him of something that he told me that I’ve remembered ever since and to me is a great way of explaining what is meant by “True and Fair”. Those of you that have studied financial reporting papers will be aware of the importance of “True and Fair” in connection with financial statements.

In summary, financial statements should provide what is generally understood as a true and fair view of the reporting entity’s financial position, performance and changes in financial position.

I always remember my lecturer telling me the story of the ship’s captain that was having a problem with his first mate who was always drunk. In the end the captain wrote an official entry in the captains log saying “Today, the first mate was drunk.”

The first mate was upset about this and the next time he took charge of the ship when the captain was asleep, he wrote in the log that “Today, the captain was sober”. This of course implied that on other days the captain wasn’t sober as he was drunk.

Now, the statement “today, the captain was sober” was clearly true but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it was fair!

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?

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…

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.

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)

EY confirm the women were real

Some of you may have heard of the website Ashley Madison.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ashley Madison, it’s a website where married people can register to meet other married people without their respective husband or wife knowing and then have an affair.

In fact, some of you may be registered members of the site (this does raise the question that if you are a registered member of Ashley Madison and are reading this business blog then at the moment you are finding business stories more interesting than having an affair so well done on that).

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of a website facilitating affairs, Ashley Madison has had an up and down ride over recent years.

Back in 2015, they were hacked. As a result the personal details of their users were leaked and there were a lot of users. When I say “a lot”, there were 32 million users.

The situation got worse for Ashley Madison though.

As well as their systems being hacked and details of who had signed up being leaked, it turned out that the vast majority of users were men and of the women who had signed up a significant proportion were Bots (i.e. a piece of software) or prostitutes.

All in all, not great selling points when trying to encourage new members.

In an attempt to build up trust (if trust is a relevant word for people looking for affairs that is…), Ashley Madison commissioned Ernst & Young to cast an eye over the membership data and see if it stood up to scrutiny.

There were some interesting results including the fact that 15,542 new members signed up each day in 2017 (that’s nearly half a million new users per month).

There were also more active women on the site than men. Globally, the ratio of active males to active females was 1 to 1.13 but there were variations on a regional basis ranging from Australia where the male to female ratio was 1 to 0.78 and Columbia where the ratio was 1 to 2.39.

Ernst & Young also reported that “The Client had used Bot programs to generate message activity with paying customers in prior years. The Bot programs were decommissioned in 2015 and our procedures related to calendar 2017 found no evidence that the use of Bot programs previously operated had been reinstated.”

So, in theory the registrations are human and there’s no danger of falling in love with a bot.

The full Ernst & Young report can be found at www.ashleymadison.com/2017report but I would be careful as if you’re viewing this on a computer at home and your husband or wife finds you’ve been visiting ashleymadison.com then there could be some difficult questions to answer.

Then again, if you start typing in the website and your web browser recognises it from a previous visit to that site then maybe…

How much do Big 4 partners get paid?

KPMG UK released their results last month for their most recent accounting period and they showed a fall of 10% in pay for the KPMG partners when compared to the previous year.

Although the firm’s revenue rose by 5% to £2.2 billion, it’s profit fell to £301 million.

The firm wrote off a number of technology investments.

KPMG, like the rest of the Big 4, have invested heavily in technology companies in an attempt to stay at the forefront of technology.

Unfortunately for KPMG, not all of their investments were successful. Bill Michael, the Chairman of KPMG, highlighted one investment that hadn’t done so well – KPMG had committed £3 million to Flexeye, a tech company that analyses large amounts of data and it hadn’t proved to be the wisest investment.

Whilst profits fell, it hasn’t all been bad news for KPMG as their audit practice grew by 10%.

Back to the average pay of the KPMG partners though and although their average pay fell by 10% I’m sure that the partners will still be able to afford to buy a sandwich for lunch.

The average pay for the KPMG partners was £519,000 each.

That’s not too bad is it?

But how does it compare with the average pay from the partners of the remaining Big 4.

The most recent reported results show the following average pay per partner:

Deloitte – £865,000

EY – £677,000

pwc – £652,000

It looks like Deloitte partners will be having the more expensive sandwiches for lunch.

KPMG fires unethical partners

Picture the scene – you’re the senior auditing partner of KPMG in America with more than 30 years of experience serving some of KPMG’s most prestigious clients. There are over 9,000 KPMG people in the US who look up to you as the boss.

You receive some leaked information about which of your audits the US audit watchdog is going to examine as part of their annual inspection of how well KPMG perform audits.

Do you:

(a) Disclose this unethical breach immediately, or

(b) Try to keep things quiet and make sure that the audit files of the audits selected are perfect?

Unfortunately for Scott Marcello, the (now ex) head of KPMG’s audit practice in America, he didn’t choose option (a).

The background to the issue is that every year the US audit regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) selects a sample of audits to inspect and ensure they have been performed properly.

A former employee of the PCAOB had joined KPMG. A friend of his who was still working at the PCAOB tipped him off about which audits would be selected for inspection this year.

The confidential information was then passed up the KPMG hierarchy until it reached Mr Marcello.

We can only guess what Mr Marcello and 4 other KPMG partners were planning on doing with the leaked information but one thing was for sure and that was they didn’t disclose the leak.

Whilst the 5 partners clearly weren’t very ethical, KPMG as an organisation acted quickly once they found out about it.

The 5 partners were fired and Lynne Doughtie, the chairwoman and chief executive of KPMG was quoted as saying “KPMG has zero tolerance for such unethical behaviour. Quality and integrity are the cornerstone of all we do and that includes operating with the utmost respect and regard for the regulatory process. We are taking additional steps to ensure that such a situation should not happen again”.

The PCOAB publish the results of their inspections and the previous results of the KPMG inspections perhaps give a reason for why Mr Marcello was keen for any help, whether it was ethical or unethical.

In 2014 and 2015, KPMG had more deficiencies in their audits than any of the other Big 4 in America.

38% of their inspected audits in 2015 were found to be deficient whilst in 2014, 54% were found to be deficient.

Not the brightest fraudster

There are clever frauds and there are not so clever frauds.

Both are morally wrong but this gentleman’s attempt at fraud clearly showed that he wasn’t the brightest individual. It’s also resulted in him receiving an 8 year jail sentence.

Mohammed Shareef from Harrow in the UK ran a number of ice-cream shops and thought that an easy way to fraudulently obtain money was via his VAT affairs.

If somebody is registered for VAT they have to charge VAT on their sales but they can offset any VAT on eligible expenses. If the VAT on their sales is greater than the VAT on their purchases, they pay the balance to the tax authorities. If VAT on their sales is less than the VAT on their purchases, they can reclaim the excess VAT suffered from the tax authorities.

This is where Mr Shareef’s grand plan originated.

His plan was to submit false VAT repayment claims and to do so he needed some false VAT expenses.

Mr Shareef’s plan went to his head though as instead of small amounts, he submitted false VAT repayment claims amounting to £1,669,463 over a number of years.

These claims came to the attention of the authorities and they investigated the expenses. They found that Mr Shareef clearly didn’t have the greatest criminal mind in history.

Ignoring the shops he actually owned, he instead submitted invoices for shops that didn’t even exist.

He also claimed he had no knowledge of certain documents but they were all found on his computer and investigators proved he was the author of the documents.

He also created fake bank statements but these statements were obviously fake as they had spelling errors in them. He also had fake 2012 statements where he had mistakenly put transactions in with a date of 2011.

He was found guilty of cheating the public revenue and sentenced to 8 years in jail.

Can PwC partners sing?

Well, what can I say?

I admire them for being brave enough to do it but if I’m honest, by the look on some of their faces, I think a few of them aren’t sure that this will be the high point in their career.

Partners in accounting companies are renowned for being hard working and intelligent individuals.

One thing they are not renowned for is singing.

Now, whilst there are no doubt a number of partners who are good at singing, the PwC partners in Hungary have just released a video of them singing a cover of the famous John Lennon song “So this is Christmas” and it has confirmed that their finance and business skills are far superior to their singing skills (or at least I hope their finance and business skills are better than their singing…)

Congratulations though to them for getting into the festive spirit and their singing skills can be seen in the video below (if you’re viewing this in the office I’d advise headphones so as not to alarm any of your colleagues…)

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 recent 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…

High heels at PwC

Let me ask the men who are reading this a quick question – how would you feel if you had to wear uncomfortable high heels during a 9 hour working day?

My guess is that unless you have a pretty unusual job, as a man you wouldn’t feel too happy wearing high heel shoes. There would also probably be some fairly blunt discussions with your employer if they made it compulsory that you wore high heels.

If you’re a woman though, then it’s a different matter.

Nicola Thorp, a 27-year-old lady was temping at PwC’s office in central London as a receptionist. She turned up for her first day of work at PwC in flat shoes but she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2 inch to 4 inch heel” (5 cm to 10 cm).

According to the BBC, when she refused and complained that male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay.

To be fair to PwC though, they had outsourced the reception duties at their London office to outsourcing firm Portico and the dress code was not a PwC policy. A PwC spokesman told the BBC that “PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees.”

Portico said that Ms Thorp had signed the appearance guidelines but would now review them.

Ms Thorp however has taken the matter further. She has launched a petition on the UK Parliament website calling for it to be illegal for companies to demand that women wear high heels.

The UK Parliament website works in such a way that if a petition receives more than 100,000 signatures the matter will be considered for debate in parliament.

As at the time of writing, the petition has received over 140,000 signatures so it’s likely that the matter will be debated in Parliament.

My guess is that being debated in the UK parliament was the last thing on her mind as Ms Thorp put on her shoes to head into her first day of work at the offices of PwC in London…

Who audits the auditors?

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has just published its audit quality inspection reports for the 6 largest auditing companies in the UK. The job of the FRC’s Audit Quality Review (AQR) team is to monitor the quality of the audit work of those UK audit firms that audit public interest and large entities.

The AQR team have been busy over the last year and have now released lengthy reports for BDO, Deloitte, EY, Grant Thornton, KPMG and PwC.

Overall, the quality of the audits has improved during the last year with the number of audits that required “significant improvements” dropping from 10 to 2 for the Big 4. There were no audits that required significant improvements at BDO or Grant Thornton.

Unfortunately for KPMG though, they were the company that undertook the two audits that were highlighted by the FRC as needing significant improvements.

The FRC reviewed 22 KPMG audits and out of those there were 2 that required significant improvements.

The first one involved a change of systems and a 3rd party IT provider. The FRC identified that the KPMG audit team did not “design and perform procedures to obtain sufficient audit evidence in response to the migration risk”.

In the second audit where there were problems the FRC highlighted that insufficient audit work had been performed in relation to revenue and inventory.

Details of the scope of the reviews can be found here and are the full reports on the individual companies are on the following links:

BDO
Deloitte
EY
Grant Thornton
KPMG
PwC

Would a good liar make a good accountant?

Do you have children? Have they ever told you a lie? Even a small teeny weeny lie?

Well, if they have then although you may not be particularly pleased with them, it may actually mean that they have good memories and excellent thinking skills.

Psychologists at the University of Sheffield tested 135 children and found that those children that lied performed much better than the honest children in the group.

The children in the study were aged between 6 and 7 years old and during the study they were given a trivia game. The answers to the trivia game were on the back of the card which they had been given. Initially, each child was in a room accompanied by one of the researchers but the researcher then left the child alone with the card with the answer on the back.

Before leaving the room the researcher told the children not to look at the answer but what the children didn’t know was that when they were alone in the room there were hidden cameras which were monitoring whether they would look at the answers on the back.

25% of the group subsequently cheated and looked at the answers on the back of their cards but claimed that they hadn’t cheated when the researcher returned to the room.

At a later stage, all of the children had to perform a separate memory test and the research found that the children who had lied performed significantly better than those children who didn’t lie.

Dr Tracy Alloway, project lead from the University of North Florida was also involved in the research and said that “this research shows that thought processes, specifically verbal working memory, are important to complex social interactions like lying because the children needed to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the researcher’s perspective in mind”.

This has got me thinking as a lot of the readers of this blog are accountants or studying to be accountants.

“Thought processes”, “verbal working memory”, “juggling multiple pieces of information” and “keeping other people’s perspective in mind” are all skills which many accountants need.

Does this mean that you would make a good accountant if you were a good liar when you were a child?

Whatever your answer is, I’m not sure I would believe you…

How much would you really take?

How much holiday would you take in a year if your boss said you could take as much as you liked?

If it were me, I’d become a virtual stranger in the office given the number of days I would be lounging about on holiday.

In reality though the few companies who are offering their staff unlimited time off are actually finding that their employees are taking fewer days holiday when they are given the option of taking as many days off as they like.

Bloomberg has reported that Grant Thornton, the 6th largest accounting firm in the US has just announced that they will be offering their US staff unlimited time off.

GT has launched a video of some of their staff being told the news and perhaps unsurprisingly they seem happy (possibly also, a little unsure as to whether the person behind the video camera had been drinking and was making the whole thing up…)

Bloomberg reports that When it comes to the Big 4 accounting firms in the US, KPMG LLP offers a maximum of 30 days, Deloitte LLP has a maximum 35 days and PwC has a maximum of 22 for management level staff, according to the companies. EY has a minimum of 15 days with additional days added with years of service.

GT though are no doubt hoping their new holiday policy will make them a more attractive employer and Pamela Harless, chief people and culture officer for GT said “This is a modern move for an industry where these types of benefits aren’t really common”. GT are “convinced it will help us to be far more attractive in retaining talent as well as attracting talent.”

What is perhaps surprising though is that for the very small percentage of companies who already offer their employees unlimited holiday entitlement, their experience has been that the number of days taken as holiday as actually fallen since unlimited time off was introduced!

Haje Jan Kamps, the founder of Triggertrap identified this problem and highlighted that “Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day.

The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.”
In summary though, an interesting development for GT and well done to them for launching such an initiative with the aim of incentivising and motivating their staff.

One interesting final question though – if you could take as much time out of the office as holiday without it affecting your career prospects, how much would you take?

Is it a load of bear or a load of bull?

The major stock markets around the world have had a rough ride this last week. The drop in share prices has been driven by the heavy falls on the Chinese stock market. At the time of writing the Shanghai Composite index (a stock market index of all stocks that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange) has fallen by nearly 16% over the last week.

If you read the financial press words such as “bear market”, “bull market” and “correction” are being used a lot.

What do these phrases mean and where do they come from?

A bear market is where share prices are falling and is commonly regarded as coming into existence when share indexes have fallen by 20% or more. A market correction is similar to a bear market but not as bad (a market correction is where there is a fall of 10% from a market’s peak).

A bull market on the other hand is where share prices are increasing.

So, where do the phrases bear market and bull market come from?

There are two main views on the origin of these terms.

The first view is based on the methods with which the two animals attack. A bear for example will swipe downwards on its target whilst a bull will thrust upwards with its horns. A bear market therefore is a downwards market with declining prices whilst a bull market is the opposite with rising prices.

The second view on the origin is based around the “short selling” of bearskins several hundred years ago by traders. Traders would sell bearskins before they actually owned them in the hope that the prices would fall by the time they bought them from the hunters and then transferred them to their customers. These traders became known as bears and the term stuck for a downwards market. Due to the once-popular blood sport of bull and bear fights, a bull was considered to be the opposite of a bear so the term bull market was born.

Whatever the actual origin of the terms though I’m sure most people will be hoping for a bull market rather than a bear market.

An impressive lady but competition is coming.

She’s an interesting lady.

Her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. She’s 56 years old and has had over 150 different careers including being a lifeguard, a doctor and a Spanish language teacher. Perhaps most impressively of all she travelled into space in 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

She’s managed to do all of this despite being only 29 cm tall.

The Barbie doll is the centrepiece of many a child’s toy cupboard and it’s been estimated that over a billion of them have been sold in more than 150 countries since they were first introduced in 1959.

There have been a number of business issues faced by Barbie recently. Even though there’s an Accountant Barbie, I should in fact clarify that and say that there have been a number of business issues faced by Mattel, the owner of the Barbie brand.

Some of you may have heard of Bratz dolls.

Bratz dolls were a competitor to Barbie dolls back in the early 2000s and they were pretty successful. They were so successful that by 2004 they had taken more than 40% of the UK toy doll market and had in fact also taken the top spot for sales of dolls which had been held by Barbie since records began 10 years earlier.

In 2006 Mattel sued MGA Entertainment, the owners of the Bratz brand as they claimed that the Bratz doll creator Carter Bryant was working for Mattel when he developed the idea behind Bratz.

In essence Mattel argued that as they were paying Mr Bryant to work on Mattel matters and not those of another venture the Bratz doll idea was Mattel’s and not MGAs.

Back in 2008 a Californian judge agreed with Mattel’s claim and told MGA to stop making and selling Bratz dolls and also ordered MGA Entertainment to pay Mattel $100 million in damages.

However, MGA weren’t happy with this decision and the case went back to court in 2011 where a federal jury delivered a verdict supporting MGA.

Now whilst the court cases between Mattel and MGA are all very interesting, if you’re a parent of a young daughter what is probably of more relevance is that the Bratz dolls are being relaunched onto the market this coming weekend.

So, if you’re queuing up with your daughter to buy a Bratz doll this weekend you can impress her with your background knowledge of who owns the brand as well as let her know that the UK doll market is the second largest and second fastest growing segment of the UK toy market and has grown 11% over the last year to reach £288m.

I’m sure she’ll be very impressed with your discussion and won’t at all be interested in the doll she’s about to get….

Who audits the auditors?

It’s a great life being an auditor. You visit your clients and can ask as many questions as you like.

After all, your job is to confirm the accounts are showing a “true and fair view” or to be more precise, your job according to “International Standard on Auditing (ISA) 700, Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements”, is to “form an opinion on whether the financial statements are prepared, in all material respects, in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework.”

So, that’s the job of the auditors.

Who checks the quality of the audits though?

In the UK, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) undertakes annual quality inspections of the largest auditing firms in the UK including Deloitte, EY, KPMG, pwc and a number of mid tier firms.

The latest annual report has been released and whilst there has been an improvement in the performance compared to previous years with 67% of all audits inspected in 2014/15 being assessed as either good or only requiring limited improvements, 33% of the audits inspected fell below the highest standards set by the accounting regulator and were classified as either requiring improvements or significant improvements.

Let’s just pause there for a moment.

What this is saying is that one in every three audits undertaken by the leading accounting companies in the UK have been classified as needing improvements or even worse, needing significant improvements.

Three of the more common issues identified in the report were:

  • Insufficient scepticism in challenging the appropriateness of assumptions in key areas of audit judgement such as impairment testing and property valuations.
  • Insufficient or inappropriate procedures being performed. This is common to many areas including revenue recognition.
  • The failure to adequately identify the threats and related safeguards to auditor independence and to appropriately communicate these to audit committees.

The FRC do however appear to be trying to improve things and have introduced various initiatives.

For example, they now “require firms to develop action plans to address the weaknesses identified in individual audit engagements and firm-wide procedures”. In conjunction with the development of these action plans they now require firms to undertake a detailed rootcause analysis of the factors contributing to the issues arising from the inspections and those action plans together with the related analyses will then be subject to follow-up inspections.

A copy of the report can be found here.

The FRC also prepared individual reports for the Big 4 and they can be found on the following links:

Deloitte

EY

KPMG

pwc

The Vatican Bank releases their results.

The Institute for Religious Works, or as it’s more commonly known “the Vatican Bank”, has just released its latest set of accounts and they show a sharp increase in profits.

blog-vatican-262x275The bank has just reported net profits of €69.3 million for 2014 which compares very favourably with the corresponding figure of €2.9 million in 2013.

So what has caused the turnaround?

The bank has reported that the improved figures were as a result of a fall in operating expenses together with higher income from trading in securities.

Last year, the management of the bank was replaced as part of a clean up ordered by the Pope to remove corruption in the bank. The reforms also involved the bank bringing in anti-money laundering experts to screen all the accounts to ensure they comply with international laws governing the banking sector and the bank’s new standards for clients. Over 4,000 accounts have now been closed since 2013 and whilst the majority were dormant accounts, 554 accounts were closed because they did not meeting the bank’s new standards.

President of the Board of Superintendence, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu said that “The long-term, strategic plan of the Institute revolves around two key objectives: putting the interests of the clients first by offering appropriate and improved services and by de-risking the activities of the Institute”.

In summary, the bank seems to be doing much better now. If you are interested in opening an account with the bank though it’s worth noting that the use of the bank is limited to clergy, Vatican employees and staff at its embassies. There are now reportedly over 15,000 clients on the banks books.

More details on the Vatican bank’s accounts can be found here.

This is one way to lose your job…

Let’s be honest now. Have you ever played around on the Internet whilst at work?

Most of us will probably have had a quick look at websites such as Facebook or news sites but it’s worth bearing in mind that most organisations have a policy which restricts looking at non-work related websites.

dog with computer2Some people will mistakenly think that if they delete the browser history it will remove all traces of what sites have been visited but the IT savvy people amongst you will realise that the history is stored on servers.

Three judges in the UK obviously didn’t realise their browsing history would be tracked and following an investigation they were fired as they had been viewing pornographic websites on court computers.

The court cases they were presiding over obviously weren’t exciting enough and they took matters into their own hands to liven up their days by viewing adult websites on the court computers.

One of the judges who was fired was called Timothy Bowles. In a bizarre coincidence there is in fact another judge in the UK with the same name.

You have to feel sorry for the innocent one of the two.

Imagine the scene, the innocent Timothy Bowles is sat at work when word goes around amongst his colleagues that Timothy Bowles has lost his job because he was looking at porn during working hours.

A frantic clarification was issued by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office stating “that District Judge Timothy (Paul) Bowles who sat at Romford County Court and has been removed from office should not be mistaken for the High Court Chancery Master Timothy (John) Bowles. There is no connection between the two.”

So, in conclusion three judges have lost their job due to watching pornography on court computers.

There is an important lesson to be learnt from all of this and that is, if you’re going to look at pornographic websites in the office it’s best to do so using a colleague’s computer rather than your own…

Deloitte’s new US CEO used to make up stories to leave early.

Very many congratulations to Cathy Engelbert.

Cathy is the first female CEO of a major accounting firm in the US. She’s been appointed as the leader of Deloitte’s 65,000 US employees and it sends a great message about equal opportunities.

cathy_engelbertIt’s a fantastic achievement so many congratulations.

There’s an interesting interview with Cathy in the Washington Post.

The interview highlights some nice facts. For example, when Cathy first started at Deloitte in 1986 only 7% of Deloitte partners and principals were women. Fast forward to 2015 and women now make up about 25% of the partners in the firm. There is still a way to go until it’s 50% but it is certainly heading in the right direction.

However, probably the most interesting fact that came out of the interview was her admission that she made up stories so that she could get out of work to spend some time with her kids:

“I used to make up stories if I had to leave early for something related to my kids. I learned my lesson, because a woman who left the firm actually shared that she was leaving because she didn’t have kids yet, she wasn’t even married, but she saw people like me and didn’t want to be like that—always working.”

A very honest interview by Cathy and of course, she doesn’t make up stories any more. She’s the CEO so she can leave whenever she wants to…

Would you like to do this at lunchtime?

What do you normally do at lunchtime?

Do you grab a bite to eat and head back to your desk to continue working (or at least pretend to work whilst playing on the internet)?

cat in the officeDo you grab some fresh air outside the office to recharge your batteries?

A recent initiative between the app based taxi service Uber and an animal rescue organisation has resulted in what I think would be a fantastic way to spend your lunch break and also to recharge your batteries.

You can get a kitten delivered to your office for 15 minutes between midday and 4 pm.

Yes, a real live cute fluffy kitten!

What a great way to de-stress the office – adorable kittens arrive for 15 minutes of playtime in the office.

The kitten visit costs approximately £20 and they can be ordered vie Uber’s app. All the proceeds go to the animal rescue centre.

Everyone here in the office was getting excited when they heard the news but sadly the service isn’t currently available in the UK (at the moment it is only available in Australia and America).

I think it’s a brilliant idea though – it can help de-stress the office, the cat’s rescue centre gets additional revenue and if you happen to fall in love with the kitten the kitten may well find it’s new “forever home” rather than have to stay at the cat’s rescue centre.

It also has an added benefit if you happen to dislike a colleague in your office who is allergic to cats…

How much does a Big 4 partner earn?

Different types of organisations have different rules regarding the disclosure of pay details of senior executives.

If you are a director of a quoted company in the UK, details of your remuneration package must be shown in the published annual report.

big 4 salaryIf you’re a partner in a professional services firm on the other hand then there isn’t such a disclosure requirement.

A recent report called Cheques and the City (a great play on names and would sound familiar to those of you who are fans of the American television sitcom starring Sarah Jessica Parker) by the High Pay Centre has provided more information about the leading Accounting and Law firms in the UK.

The report is an interesting read and some of the points raised are:

– approximately 1,400 of the 4,500 equity partners from the Big 4 and the 5 leading law firms were paid over £1m in the UK last year (there are roughly 11,000 people in the UK with incomes of more than £1m so this means that 13% of the individuals in the UK with income greater than £1m were from the top accounting and law firms).

– The senior partners at PwC, Deloitte and KPMG were each paid £3.6m, £2.7m and £2.4m respectively last year (there was no news on how much the senior partner of EY received last year but I think it’s safe to say he should have enough money to buy a coffee on the way to the office).

– The Big 4 are responsible for auditing 99% of the FTSE 100 and 96% of the FTSE 350 (the largest 100 and 350 quoted companies in the UK).

– The type of work undertaken by each of the Big 4 was as follows (figures shown are £m):

Big 4 revenue share

 

For those of you good with figures you’ll notice from the above table that KPMG is far ahead of the others in terms of the proportion of consulting work they undertake compared to audit and tax work (more than 50% of KPMG’s revenue was from consulting compared to just over 20% at PwC).

The Cheques and the City report can be found here.

This crackdown has caused a bit of a headache.

When governments try to crackdown on corruption and bribery it is normally good news for the “good people” and bad news for the “bad people”.

ShuiJingFangUnfortunately for Diageo, the world’s largest spirits maker, they haven’t done anything wrong but have been caught up in an anticorruption drive in China.

Diageo make the world-famous Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka but they also make the Chinese spirit “Baijiu”. To most people outside of China, Baijiu is unknown but for people in China it’s extremely well known and is considered to be an expensive luxurious drink.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has led an anticorruption drive which has seen businesses reducing the level of luxurious gifts that they give out. Expensive watches, fine food and expensive cigars were all commonly gifted by companies to encourage business and win favours.

The Baijiu drink was also commonly bought by companies to give away as gifts but following the anticorruption clampdown sales have collapsed in the last year.

Diageo owns nearly 40% of Shui Jing Fang, the Chinese company that manufactures Baijiu and the sales of Shui Jing Fang fell by nearly 80%. As a result, Diageo has written down the value of the investment in Shui Jing Fang by £264 million.

You’re not an auditor, you’re a financial detective…

, , ,

I’m an accountant and I’m proud of it.

I think the education and knowledge that you acquire both during your studies and continuing professional education are fantastic.

At the start of my career when I worked for one of the Big 4 I spent several years in the Audit department and this was a great opportunity to find out how a variety of different companies worked.

Sometimes though it has to be said that the term “auditor” doesn’t always have the most exciting of images to the general public. People may think that an auditor is merely somebody who checks other people’s work.

To be honest though a simple piece of rebranding whereby “auditors” were known as “financial detectives” would go a long way to removing some of the negative perceptions that some people have in terms of the excitement of the profession and could create a whole new generation who want to become auditors financial detectives.

Now, whilst most people have heard of the term “auditor” a lot of people don’t really fully appreciate how it works.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) have got a website called “True and Fair” which in their own words aims to “help you find out anything you would like to know about the process known as audit – or to use its full title “Audit of Financial Statements”.”

I think it’s an excellent site and if you are an auditor and want friends or family to find out what your job entails then you should direct them to it (although admittedly if you’re on a first date with somebody and they ask you what you do then maybe say you’re a financial detective).

For any of you that are attempting an ACCA or CIMA paper with an auditing content it also makes for very good background reading.

The site can be found at www.trueandfair.org.uk

Forget about Harry Potter. What about Alan the Accountant and his pants?

The Harry Potter books are a publishing phenomenon. Who would have thought that a story about a boy wizard would be so successful? Here we are more than 10 years after the first film in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the movies alone have earned more than £4 billion worldwide. Add in the books, merchandise and rights and you have a hefty sum.

But will there be a challenger to the Harry Potter crown?

I’ve just come across another children’s book and forget about wizard characters such as Harry, Hermione and Ron and instead welcome in “Alan the Accountant”.

Author Jinky Fox has produced a book about the likeable accountant Alan and whilst I haven’t yet managed to find a “window of opportunity” to read the book yet it does sound an exciting read.

Publishers Flaneur said that “as a student the author Jinky Fox planned to become an accountant, but was sidetracked into fine art”.

‘The series of books planned for Alan the Accountant will help me examine the exciting world of Accountancy that I turned my back on,’ commented Jinky.

So, as an accountant myself I’m pleased to see this potential challenger to the Harry Potter crown.

As one of the publicity shots for the book shows on the left he even looks like a fashionable accountant when he’s in his trendy pants.

A colleague in our marketing department though joked that seeing as it’s a book for children starring an accountant it will no doubt help children to fall asleep at night.

Lap-dancing, land and VAT.

What’s the link between lap-dancing, land and VAT?

It’s an interesting question and one which a VAT tribunal has recently been considering.

old-ladyDancers at the Sugar & Spice club in the UK have to make payments to the club for the use of their facilities and the dancers earn their income directly from customers for dancing on the dance floor or private dancing in separate rooms.

The dancers pay the club a fee of £40 together with a commission of 25% on the fee they receive for private dances in the separate rooms.

When it came to completing their VAT return, the club argued that the fee of £40 charged to the dancers was a taxable supply (i.e. VAT would be charged) but the commission charged was for an exempt supply of land (i.e. they argued that the payment was for the provision of the room which they claimed was land and as a result VAT would not be charged).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tax authorities argued that the commission was a taxable supply and was in respect of services provided to the dancers such as advertising, music, heating and security. They argued that this amount should be liable to VAT at the standard rate.

A decision couldn’t be reached between the Sugar & Spice club and the tax authorities so the situation went to a VAT tribunal.

The tribunal concluded that it was more than a simple provision of land (i.e. because of the provision of advertising, security, etc) and as a result VAT would be chargeable on the total amount.

So there you go. The next time you happen to be in a lap dancing club you can ask the young lady in front of you whether she knew that the room she is dancing in involves a standard rated supply rather than an exempt supply…

Not the best thing to post on Facebook…

Some things just shouldn’t be posted on Facebook.

Confidentiality agreements are regularly seen in business. At the risk of stating the obvious, these agreements are set up to ensure that whatever was agreed between 2 parties remains confidential.

confidentiality agreementUnfortunately for a gentleman called Mr Snay, he broke a confidentiality agreement and as a result is now $80,000 worse off.

The background to the story is that Patrick Snay sued his former employer Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami for age discrimination. He won an $80,000 settlement from them.

There was a condition attached to this though and that was he had to keep it secret (or using business terminology, he had a “confidentiality agreement” with the other party).

Whilst Mr Snay was no doubt feeling very pleased with himself and his $80,000 award he’s probably regretting telling his daughter or to be more precise, he’s probably regretting telling his daughter not to post about it on her Facebook page.

Yes, his daughter Dana told her 1,200 Facebook friends about the news.

She posted that “”Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver,” and “Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”

As a result of this post the school didn’t pay the $80,000 settlement. They argued that Mr Snay had broken the confidentiality agreement. The Florida Appeals Court agreed with them and stated that the settlement does not have to be paid.

So, that one particular Facebook post by Dana cost her parents $80,000. Somehow I don’t think “Mama and Papa Snay” hit the like button on their daughters post.

It may seem obvious that auditors sell audit opinions. But that’s like saying top restaurants only sell calories.

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I was having an interesting discussion with a group of students on Friday about a previous blog entry concerning “truth and fairness”.

It’s important to remember that an auditor does not make an absolute promise of accuracy.

The existence of audit risk means that a competent auditor will occasionally issue an audit opinion that proves to be inappropriate; most frequently because an unqualified opinion has been given when a qualified opinion would have been more appropriate.

We stake our reputation as a profession on perceived failures being very rare.  This means that we need to make sure we’re using tools that are up to the task.

In order to state whether financial statements give a true and fair view, it is necessary to have a system of GAAP that adequately defines truth and fairness.  It appears that the spectacular failure of Lehman Brothers in the USA happened as a result of window dressing financial statements, but which complied with US GAAP.

In a highly globalised market for audit services, perhaps we need to more explicitly state true and fair as true and fair (EU) and true and fair (USA)?  This is attempted already within ISA 700 by stating “..true and fair view in accordance with…[insert system of GAAP]”.

However, reputational damage happens to the profession globally as a result of perceived weaknesses in one nation’s system of GAAP.

Maybe we need to amend the wording of the audit opinion to make this clearer?

Your jewels are stolen and then this happens…

Well, that was a bit unfortunate.

First of all their jewels were stolen and then they had to pay tax on those very same jewels that they no longer had.

vat-reliefLuxury New York Jewellers Harry Winston can only be described as being pretty unlucky.

The company had taken advantage of the French Customs warehousing provisions. In simple terms, warehousing provisions enable goods that are only temporarily imported into a country before being re-exported to be held in a secure Customs warehouse without officially entering the country. The benefit of this is that it means traders who are importing goods and then re-exporting them don’t have to pay VAT or customs duty on the temporary import.

Unfortunately for Harry Winston, the jewels were stolen from the customs warehouse during an armed robbery.

Now, whilst the company was no doubt contemplating the loss of his jewels, things got worse for them as the French tax authorities claimed VAT and customs duty on the jewels. They argued that as the goods had now left the Customs warehouse and entered the country, VAT and Customs Duty was due on them as they had now been imported into the country!

Perhaps understandably Harry Winston wasn’t too happy at this. Not only were their jewels stolen but they were now being told to pay taxes on them!

They decided to take the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ECJ made their decision though and confirmed that VAT and Customs Duty were in fact payable by the company.

The ECJ stated that it was an unlawful removal of goods from the warehouse and this gave rise to a customs debt on importation (interestingly the law didn’t care too much that the unlawful removal from the warehouse wasn’t made by the owner but instead by some thieves!!).

The unlucky jeweller could have avoided the taxes if they could have proved that the items had suffered destruction or irretrievable loss. As they had been stolen there was no evidence that the goods had suffered destruction or irretrievable loss.

How much do Big 4 partners earn?

The results for the UK KPMG partnership for the year to 30 September have been released and they must make pleasing reading for the partners.

big 4 partner salaryThe average KPMG partner pay has increased by 23% from £580,000 to £713,000.

KPMG’s profit rose by 27% to £455 million on revenue of £1.8 billion. The firm’s advisory unit made the most money for the organisation with profits of £308 Million.

So, KPMG’s average earnings per partner were £713,000 but how do these average earnings per partner compare with the rest of the “Big 4”?

Figures recently reported in the Times Newspaper, showed that the latest average earnings per partner in the UK based on reported partnership earnings were:

EY £651,000

PwC £705,000

KPMG £713,000

Deloitte £772,000

It seems that the longer the name of the Big 4 company, the higher the average earnings per partner.

Last year we saw Ernst & Young re-brand themselves to the shorter name of EY. After discovering that the longer the name of the Big 4 company, the higher the earnings per partner, will we now see EY changing their name back to Ernst & Young?

Thank you to all of you that read our blog during 2013 and also for your nice comments about our free courses (here are our free ACCA and CIMA courses).

Have a great 2014 and all the best from the ExP Team.

Ernst & Young ladies – are they good looking enough?

It just doesn’t matter how good-looking you are, if you work for Ernst & Young then you will never win this beauty competition.

So there I was spending a pleasant evening looking at the eligibility rules for people who want to enter Miss Texas, or to maybe clarify that a bit, the rules for those ladies that want to enter the Miss Texas USA beauty competition.

Now whilst this may be a prestigious beauty pageant where the winner could go on to become Miss USA and if all goes well then Miss Universe, what exactly does this have to do with finance and business? Or to be more precise, what has this got to do with Ernst & Young?

Well, if you look in the rules and regulations and look past the items which neatly ignore certain discrimination issues such as “must never have given birth to a child” and “must be a naturally born female” there is the phrase “No contestant or any member of their immediate family can be employed by ….  Ernst & Young, or any of its subsidiaries”.

There you go. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most beautiful lady in the world (or should I say most beautiful “naturally born female”), if you work for EY you’re just not going to win Miss Texas USA.

So, any ideas why EY ladies are not eligible to enter?

It’s nothing sinister and in fact it’s all very ethical. It’s down to the fact that EY are the official vote counters for the contest and to avoid any potential accusation of anything underhand such as deliberate miscounting, EY staff cannot enter the competition.

Looking on the bright side for EY staff though there must be some pretty happy gentlemen who have been selected to work on the Miss Texas USA account.

Surely everybody should get this benefit at work?

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Having a motivated team in the office is key to any business. As well as a salary component, a person’s remuneration package could include other benefits such as flexible working days, health insurance and access to an executive jet.

I mentioned access to an executive jet because surely all of you have got regular access to the company jet to whisk you off to exotic places??

Bloomberg has reported on a Philadelphia lawsuit by a former pilot of the fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch’s corporate jet.

To cut a long story short, the 55 year old former employee is claiming that he was discriminated against when he was replaced by a younger man.

As will soon become apparent, my guess is that he may well have been replaced by not only a younger man but by a better looking younger man.

It’s been reported that according to papers submitted to the court, Michael Jeffries, the chief executive of Abercrombie & Fitch insisted that models were hired to work as stewards on the plane.

These models stewards had to be clean shaven and wear a uniform of Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirts, boxer briefs, jeans and flip flops.

As well as insisting on male models being stewards it also claimed that if Jeffries, his partner Matthew or any other guest made a request they should respond by saying “no problem”.

The other thing which I personally think should be a benefit provided to all employees is that Jeffries was also able to take his 3 dogs with him on the jet and there were even detailed instructions on the seating arrangements for his dogs when they travelled with him.

So there you go. The next time you’re discussing your annual review in the office feel free to say that as well as salary, healthcare, and flexible working arrangements you want access to the company jet with male or female models of your choice employed as stewards or stewardesses on the plane.

Oh, and don’t forget to insist on jet travel for your 3 dogs…

How can you make $1bn dollars overnight?

The Chief Executive of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer has been in the news a lot recently. Yesterday, he announced that Microsoft had agreed a deal to buy Nokia’s mobile phone business for £4.6 bn.

From Nokia’s perspective it may be the case that Microsoft is the saviour of the company. After all, Nokia once had 40% of the mobile handset market but now is way behind Apple and the various Android devices.

microsoft buy nokiaShareholders in Nokia may have mixed feelings though as the Microsoft deal values the Nokia business at $7 bn whilst back in 2007 the business had a market capitalisation of $150 bn. As they say, it’s all in the timing when it comes to selling shares!

From Microsoft’s point of view the acquisition of Nokia highlights their desire to make sure they have a foothold in the expanding mobile market. They will also enhance their presence in the hardware business to compliment their software business.

As well as the announcement of the purchase of Nokia, Mr Ballmer made another big announcement a couple of weeks ago when he announced that he would be retiring from his job as Chief Executive of Microsoft.

He made his announcement in the evening after the stock market had closed.

Arrivals and departures of key executives of quoted companies is price sensitive information and share prices can move significantly as a result.

Depending on what markets and analysts think of the arrival/departure of the executive, share prices can go up or down.

So how did the market react to Mr Ballmer’s resignation?

When the market opened the day after his announcement Microsoft shares were up 10%.

In other words, investors were pleased with his announcement that he would be leaving!

Was Mr Ballmer upset at this reaction?

Only he knows the answer to this but one thing that softened the blow was the increase in his personal wealth as a result of his decision to leave Microsoft.

He owns 333 million shares in Microsoft and following the increase in the share price as a result of his departure, the value of his shareholding in the company increased by $786 million.

So, by making the decision to leave the company his wealth increased by $761 million.

Now, let’s be honest here. How many of you would “fire yourself” if you could make nearly $1 bn overnight?

How many deficiencies did KPMG and pwc have?

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) is the main “watchdog” of the US auditing profession. As part of their quality review procedures they look at samples of audits undertaken.

PCAOB ReportThey have just released their findings for their inspections on the work of KPMG and pwc in the US.

The results of their inspections may surprise some of you as they identified a pretty high number of deficiencies in the work undertaken.

The deficiencies identified were more than the occasional one or two.

In the report on audits performed by pwc for example, the PCAOB found significant deficiencies in 21 of the 52 pwc audits it inspected. That’s just over 40% of the audits sampled.

They inspected 48 audits undertaken by KPMG and found deficiencies in 17 of them (35%).

The PCAOB says that in many of the situations the firms had failed to obtain appropriate audit evidence to support their audit opinions.

For example, during one audit review they found that pwc hadn’t tested the valuation of some financial instruments sufficiently. These financial instruments represented a significant proportion of the company’s portfolio.

If you’re interested in reading the full reports they can be found here:

KPMG PCAOB Report

pwc PCAOB Report

The PCAOB did point out that that their inspections took place throughout 2012, so the fact that a deficiency was included in the reports didn’t necessarily mean that it remained unaddressed by KPMG or pwc.

Would you do this to get a job with KPMG?

An accounting undergraduate in Australia called Meri Amber has done something pretty unusual when it comes to trying to get a job.

KPMG-songAs well as her skills as an accounting undergraduate she’s very talented when it comes to songwriting. In an attempt to get a job with KPMG she’s written her own song called “KPMG Audit Team – Love Accy” urging KPMG to “give her a call”.

She’s also produced the video below showing her love for KPMG.

It seems to have worked as KPMG’s national manager of graduate recruitment in Australia, Rebecca Jones, is reportedly in preliminary discussions with Meri.

Rebecca is quoted as saying “we think it’s a good song. It’s nice to see the industry portrayed in a quirky, unusual way that helps break the stereotypes. [The big four are] all looking for people who are well-rounded and we could definitely work with someone like Meri to show that KPMG is more than just an accounting firm.”

Here’s Meri’s video:

Good luck to Meri in her new career as an accountant or if it doesn’t work out good luck in her career as a singer songwriter.

Have GlaxoSmithKline employees been bribing doctors?

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Last year its global revenues were £26 billion and their net income £5 billion. Their drugs include the anti-depressant Paxil (worldwide lifetime sales to date over $12 billion) and the diabetes drug Avandia (over $11 billion).

gskIt seems that all is not well for the company in China though and they appear to have undertaken some less than honest business practices.

It’s just been reported that the company has allegedly been paying bribes and these bribes are pretty significant. Over £300 million in bribes to be precise.

They are accused of paying £323 million in bribes to doctors and other officials in China since 2007 to persuade them to prescribe GSK drugs to their patients. They appear to have paid these bribes in order to win market share and agree higher prices for their drugs.

The Authorities claim the transactions were disguised as payments to “travel agents” who were middlemen who organised “conferences” for doctors. Instead of this money being spent on conferences though it seems that it was given illegally as bribes.

The Head Office of GSK is understandably taking this pretty seriously and the head of their emerging markets department, Abbas Hussain was quoted as saying “We have zero tolerance for any behaviour of this nature.”

He went on to say “I want to make it very clear that we share the desire of the Chinese authorities to root out corruption wherever it exists. We will continue to work together with the [Chinese Ministry of Public Security] and we will take all necessary actions required as this investigation progresses.”

With a reference to their internal controls he said “Certain senior executives of GSK China who know our systems well appear to have acted outside of our processes and controls which breaks Chinese law”.

Somehow, I think GSKs internal control procedures need to be revisited urgently to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

One thing’s for sure though is that this is certainly going to cause a headache for the company and I’m not sure one of their headaches tablets will get rid of the short term pain of this.

Ernst & Young is no more.

For years I’ve referred to the company as Ernst & Young and I’ve known some great people who have worked for Ernst & Young but at the start of this month “Ernst & Young” ceased to exist.

EY London_newlogoNow before any of you that work for Ernst & Young start panicking there’s no need to be worried as it’s part of their recently announced rebranding exercise and from now on they will be known as EY.

Their name is not the only thing that has changed. They also have a new Global Chairman and CEO in 51 year old Mark Weinberger who was quoted as saying “It is a privilege to lead this great organisation in these dynamic times.”

Not content with getting a new name and a new boss they have also introduced a new logo and a new “purpose”. Their new purpose will also be their tagline and is:

“Building a better working world”.

Mr Weinberger went on to say that “Every day, every EY person is part of building a better working world – for our clients, our communities, and our families. We believe that everything we do – every audit, every tax return, every advisory opportunity, every interaction with a client or colleague – contributes to building a better working world.”

That’s a pretty ambitious target and good luck to Ernst & Young EY with implementing their new plans.

So, EY have gone down the same road as pwc and KPMG by abbreviating their name to their initials. Does this mean that Deloitte will soon announce a rebranding to “D”?

What has Ernst & Young found out about fraud?

Ernst & Young has just released their report on their 2013 Fraud Survey covering Europe, Middle East, India and Africa.

There were some interesting, and some would say disturbing findings.

bribery-rules20% of the employees who were surveyed were aware of financial manipulation in their own company in the last 12 months. If you move higher up the management chain the percentage becomes higher with more than 40% of board and senior manager level individuals who were surveyed saying that sales or costs had been manipulated at their company.

When it comes to the subject of bribery, 57% of all respondents feel that bribery and corruption are widespread in their country, which rises to 67% in rapid-growth markets.

One very interesting issue when it comes to bribery is that of a compliance perception gap between management and employees.

According to EY, “While the majority of respondents are aware that their company has an anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policy, the survey shows many organizations have a significant perception gap between senior management and employees when it comes to the relevance and effectiveness of this policy. 60% of directors and senior managers believe that their company would support people who reported cases of suspected fraud, bribery or corruption, whereas only 34% of other employees agree.”

60% vs. 34% – quite a big perception gap!

The full EY report can be found here.

An ex-partner of KPMG has been a bit naughty…

An ex-partner at KPMG has been a bit naughty. In fact, he’s been more than a bit naughty as he’s been accused of insider trading.

Insider trading is the illegal activity of using information which isn’t in the public domain to make a personal gain or avoid a personal loss.

insider-trading-examplesScott London was a partner at KPMG in the US and led their LA audit practice. Two of their major clients were the nutrition supplement giant Herbalife and the leading footwear company Skechers.

It’s been alleged that Mr London passed on price sensitive information to a golfing friend of his who then subsequently made more than $1.2 million in illicit trading of shares ahead of merger or earnings announcements (in other words, the golfing friend bought shares at a low price knowing that the share price would increase as soon as the information he was secretly given was released into the public domain).

The US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Mr London and his golfing buddy with insider trading on non-public information.

As soon as KPMG found out about this Mr London was fired and quickly became an ex-partner in the firm.

A statement from Mr London was published in the Wall Street Journal where he apologised “for any harm that results to KPMG”. He went on to say that “I regret my actions in leaking non-public data to a third party regarding the clients I served for KPMG”.

It’s not looking very good for Mr London as the authorities will no doubt come down heavily on him.

It’s unfortunate for KPMG as well as due to Mr London’s illegal activities their independence on the audits of Herbalife and Skechers had been compromised. As a result they have resigned as auditors of both Herbalife and Skechers.

Surely somebody should have registered this website?

Oh dear. Some unfortunate news for the world famous Michelin Guides.

Michelin Guides were first published in 1900 and are annual restaurant guides published by the top French firm Michelin.

michel-platiniNow, whilst the company has an undoubted level of expertise in reviewing restaurants, what they don’t appear to have is a similar level of expertise in registering websites.

One of the critical success factors for a lot of businesses nowadays is an up-to-date, informative and easy to find website.

Unfortunately for Michelin Guides though if you go to www.michelinguides.com you won’t find any details of the famous French firm or their products. Instead you’ll find some rather unusual photos of Michel Platini, the former French international football player and the current president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

It’s been reported in the press that 28 year old Adam Mascall managed to buy the domain name for £6 and has set up a humourous website which pokes fun at the UEFA president.

The website contains photos of Michel Platini which have been changed to show him in various “guide” situations. Mr Mascall claims that the website is a homage to Michel Platini and reads “Michel in guides” rather than “Michelin Guides”.

The French firm are understandably not happy about this and have threatened legal action against Mr Mascall. As at the date of writing though www.michelinguides.com doesn’t have any information on restaurants but does have some rather fetching pictures of Mr Platini.

So in conclusion, the business lesson to be learnt from this is to make sure all important website names for your business are registered and re-registered when they expire.

Otherwise you take the risk of a 1980s French Footballer appearing in front of your customers rather than your products…

Will her next murder mystery novel involve an accountant?

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She is one of the most successful authors in the world and has sold over 100 million books featuring the character Dr Kay Scarpetta. She’s earnt a lot of money from her writing and has estimated earnings from her writing career of £300 million.

Patricia-CornwellIn the 4 years to 2009 alone she earned more than $40 million but when she checked her records from her accountants that were looking after her affairs, the famous author Patricia Cornwell found that her fortune was reduced to just $13 million.

As a result of this discovery the author sued her advisors Anchin, Block and Anchin, a New York accounting company for negligence and breach of contract.

Amongst other things she argued that her accountants had borrowed millions of dollars in her name without telling her, that money from the sale of one of her Ferraris was unaccounted for and she had had to unnecessarily pay taxes of $200,000 on the purchase of a private helicopter.

Perhaps the most important claim by the unhappy author was that the negligence caused by the accountants was so distracting that it caused her to miss a deadline for writing one of her books. This missed deadline cost her $15 million in non-recoverable advances and commissions.

One of the fundamental principles of codes of conducts for accountants around the world is “professional competence and due care” and although I haven’t followed this case in detail it does seem that the accounting company involved hasn’t followed this principle particularly well.

Ms Cornwell’s case against her former advisers reached a conclusion this week in Boston over in America and the judge presiding over the case agreed with the author and she was awarded $51 million for breach of contract and negligence.

After the drama of this court case I wonder whether we’ll see one of Patricia Cornwell’s future murder mystery novels involve the victims being accountants that lost a lot of money for one of their clients…