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Would you stand for this?

Do you work in an office? Do you sit down at your desk most of the working day?

If you do, then it may be a good idea to ensure you stand up and move around a bit during the day.

Recent research has estimated that 1 in 9 deaths can be blamed on sitting down for at least 6 hours a day.

Let’s pause for a moment as that’s a shocking figure!

In the UK alone that would equate to thousands of people dying every year due to lack of movement and the cost to the National Health Service is estimated at £700 million annually.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that 17% of diabetes, 5% of heart disease and 8% of lung cancer cases could be avoided with less sitting.

Leonie Heron from Queen’s University Belfast was the lead author of the study and said “You need to put your body under a little bit of stress to maintain a healthy heart and whole system”.

She went on to say that “It suggests that it is bad for our health how our working lives are structured for a lot of people. You can attenuate that risk by being more active in your leisure time, but it’s something employers can look at. Maybe they should be providing opportunities for employees to be active during the day, perhaps making sure people move every hour…or providing opportunities during lunch and coffee breaks.”

My guess is that a lot of you do sit down for at least 6 hours a day working at your computer. It’s probably a good idea therefore to remind yourself to get up and move a bit when you can as it will be good for your health.

Unless, that is of course, you’re getting up to walk out of the office to have a cigarette…

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…

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…

Diversity champion leaves…

If you are the diversity champion of an organisation with approximately 20,000 employees it’s probably best if you’re not bullying staff.

Deloitte’s (now ex) deputy chief executive and diversity champion Dimple Agarwal has resigned from her role after allegations of bullying by her were received from several staff members.

The British newspaper, the Telegraph first reported Ms Agarwal was facing multiple complaints from staff over inappropriate working practices.

Distressed staff alleged she was aggressive towards them on calls and in emails as well as demanding they work long hours including joining calls before dawn and late at night.

Before her resignation, Ms Agarwal had said that the physical and mental wellbeing of the firm’s employees during lockdown is a priority for Deloitte.

Deloitte UK boss Richard Houston reportedly said “I cannot comment on any of the allegations contained in the article. But, as I have consistently made clear, I’m absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone in our firm is treated with respect, and I will not tolerate behaviours or actions that are inconsistent with our global shared values.”

Ms Agarwal isn’t the only senior executive from the Big 4 to leave due to some awkward behaviour.

Last month, the UK chair of KPMG resigned from his role after telling staff to “stop moaning” about their working conditions during the pandemic and claiming unconscious bias was “complete crap”.

Zooming in…

At the start of the year zoom calls were relatively uncommon. Now though, with the global pandemic, they are a common feature of business life for most of us.

Whilst some people will creatively claim that their video isn’t working so that they can scroll through their phone whilst half listening to the meeting, most people will have their video on so that the rest of the people in the meeting can see them.

This has had a bit of an impact on fashion. After all, if the lower half of you isn’t being seen why worry too much about what shoes or trousers/skirt you’re wearing.

The London and Milan fashion weeks which took place last month had a definite “waist-up” focus.

For example, the leading fashion house Prada had its logo near the collars of its top. Prada reportedly said that this was not inspired by zoom but rather by the “contemporary human relationship with technology”.

As anyone who has met me will confirm, I’m clearly not an expert on fashion but the cynic in me feels that some people who spend a lot of money on designer clothes will want other people to know what brand of clothes they are wearing.

What better way of highlighting your expensive clothes on a zoom call than to have the logo just below the collar. A clever move by Prada

Other changes which have been reported in women’s fashion recently include an increase in the popularity of jewellery whilst sales of handbags and shoes have fallen.

In summary therefore, it’s important how you look on a zoom call but only if it’s visible…

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.

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.

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…)

Does this suit you?

What do you wear to work?

If I had asked that question 10 years ago the chances are that a large proportion of answers would have been “a suit”.

Things are different now though. Tastes are changing and so are a number of office dress codes. As a result, fewer people are now wearing suits to the office.

A number of major companies revised their dress codes this year. JP Morgan for example decided to allow their employees to wear business-casual attire on most occasions. PwC also switched to a more casual dress code where employees were allowed to wear jeans as long as there were no client meetings.

Whilst this relaxing of business wear rules can have benefits for individuals who prefer to work in more casual clothing, there are some organisations who will suffer.

Fashion brands focussing on tailored men’s suits are an obvious example of a business which could suffer due to the decline in demand for men’s suits.

Brioni, the Italian menswear fashion house owned by French holding company Kering was founded in Rome in 1945 and is renowned for its high-quality suits. It has had numerous famous faces as its customers including James Bond in the Bond films from Goldeneye to Casino Royale and more recently it was reported that Donald Trump has been wearing Brioni suits during his US presidential campaign.

But things aren’t going well for Brioni.

Earlier this year Bloomberg reported 400 job losses due to a fall in demand and recently Justin O’Shea, the creative director of Brioni who was brought in to modernise the luxury Italian brand, left abruptly after just six months in the job.

Mr O’Shea is well respected in the fashion industry and has a reputation for being a very straight talking person. He told Vogue that “First of all, I would change the shitty logo. I would change the campaign. I would change the clothes. In fact, I would change pretty much everything.”

When it comes to change though, one thing seems certain and that is that the fall in demand for men’s suits is unlikely to change given the relaxing of more and more office dress codes.

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…

Improving productivity or big brother surveillance?

Is this a clever way to improve productivity or a big brother surveillance system creeping into corporate life?

Humanyze, a technology company, produces devices which monitor the activity of employees and one of the more well known companies that has used it recently is Deloitte in Canada where volunteers in their St John’s, Newfoundland office wore the devices which are like oversized ID cards.

According to Humanyze their “social sensing platform” uses a variety of sensors and is capable of capturing face-to-face interactions, extracting social signals from speech and body movement, and measuring the proximity and relative location of users.

They combine these with other data sources such as electronic communications, objective productivity metrics, and spatial analysis to provide insights on how complex work gets done in the modern organization.

CBC Canada reported that the Deloitte team in Newfoundland were changing from a traditional cubicle office layout to an open concept space and the Humanyze badges were used to measure how well employees were performing in the new layout.

The participation by the Deloitte staff was optional and they were provided with contracts that made them the owners of the data.

All the information was collected anonymously and the employees were given personalised dashboards that showed their performance benchmarked against their colleagues.

Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, an analytics leader at Deloitte said that “The minute that you get the report that you’re not speaking enough and that you don’t show leadership, immediately, the next day, you change your behaviour. It’s powerful to see how people want to display better behaviours or the behaviours that you’re moving them towards.”

So, is this a clever use of technology or the first step towards big brother monitoring?

Either way, I guess it may help identify the office winner of the “who spends the most time in the toilet award”…

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?

A very forward thinking leader…

She is the first female boss of a major accountancy company in the UK and Sacha Romanovitch is doing things differently.

At 47, Sacha who heads up Grant Thornton in the UK is one of the youngest leaders of a major City firm and has certainly got some innovative views in terms of how she plans to run Grant Thornton.

She has just announced a profit share scheme for the whole business which could boost salaries by 25%. She will oversee a “shared enterprise” scheme which will allow future profits to be shared between all of its 4,500 staff instead of being restricted to the most senior staff.

Ms Romanovitch was quoted as saying “The benchmark that we are working to is that in great organisations that do this, it ends up being between 10 and 25 per cent of a person’s salary. That is what they can potentially earn as a profit share. John Lewis [a prestigious UK department store] does it, Arup [an engineering firm] is the other one that does it really well.”

She has also announced plans to “crowd source” new business ideas and to consider allowing lower ranked staff to join board meetings.

In a move which will no doubt endear her to the team at Grant Thornton she has also agreed to cap her own salary. She has stated that her salary will be limited to a maximum of 20 times the average salary in the company.

This is an admirable move, especially when you consider that bosses of FTSE 100 firms (the largest 100 stock exchange quoted companies in the UK) have on average a salary which is 149 times the average salary in their respective firms.

In a recent newspaper interview Ms Romanovitch, who is a married mother of two and who works from home in the beautiful county of Devon on Fridays, said she was a fan of social media and thinks firms that restrict staff use of social media are wrong.

She said “A lot of firms don’t let their people use social media because they’re worried that they will say something they shouldn’t.

I find that a bit scary. I employ great people. If I was worried that they were going to say something on social media that they shouldn’t, I’d question whether I should employ them at all.”

Congratulations on a great start Sacha and if you’re interested, the marvellous photo of Sacha at the top of this article is from her twitter page which can be found here.

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

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 EY partner has been a bit naughty.

Well it seems like an EY partner was working late with a client and it was more than the audit files that they were reviewing.

office relationsNew York stock exchange quoted Ventas Inc has announced that it has removed EY as their auditor due to an “inappropriate personal relationship” between a (now former) EY partner and Ventas’s (now former) Chief Accounting Officer and Controller, Robert Brehl.

It looks like discussing the audit files wasn’t exciting enough for both of them and one thing led to another and before you could say “prudence concept” they were ripping each other’s clothes off having inappropriate personal relationships.

Now, as any self-respecting finance professional will know, a core characteristic of auditing should be “independence”.

[Words deleted so as not to upset people of a sensitive nature] with the Chief Accounting Officer when you’re an audit partner is clearly not a characteristic of independence.

KPMG have now replaced EY as the auditors of Ventas and my guess is that both the ex-EY partner and Mr Brehl will soon get a reminder of what independence means as if they are married their husband/wife will soon be independent of them.

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

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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.

Are Manchester United getting it wrong?

Manchester United are dropping down the table.

Now, I’m not talking about the Premier League table where at the time of writing they are 7th in the League and are guaranteed to obtain their lowest points total in a season in the Premier League era. No, instead I’m talking about the Deloitte Football Money League.

man-utd-financesDeloitte are arguably the top accounting firm when it comes to dealing with UK football teams and each year they profile the highest earning clubs in the world.

The 17th edition of their report highlights the financial results from the 2012/13 season and it seems that Man Utd falling down league tables isn’t restricted to the Premier League table.

For the first time since the Deloitte Football Money League began they have fallen out of the top 3 big earners in the world. European champions Bayern Munich from Germany, leapfrogged Man Utd into third place behind Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Like most clubs in the top 20, Man Utd did generate more money than the previous year and the financial position going forward in the short term should be ok as there is a new Premier League television contract as well as some lucrative commercial deals present.

The problem could come though if they fail to qualify for the Champions League over the next few seasons. Dan Jones, partner in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, said: “Consistent non-qualification for the Champions League would be a problem because, in round number terms, it is worth circa €50 million”.

So, it’s potentially a rough couple of years ahead for United.

The top 10 earners according to the Deloitte report are:

1. Real Madrid: €519 m
2. Barcelona: €483 m
3. Bayern Munich: €431 m
4. Man Utd: €424 m
5. Paris Saint Germain: €399 m
6. Manchester City: €316 m
7. Chelsea: €303 m
8. Arsenal: €284 m
9. Juventus: €272 m
10. AC Milan: €264 m

A copy of the full report can be seen here.

After 118 years Barclays are saying farewell to pwc.

After getting to know each other 118 years ago in 1896 it’s looking like pwc’s relationship with the Barclays banking group is coming to an end.

barclaysBarclays has just released their 2013 Annual Report and the Report highlights that they are putting their audit out to tender and pwc will not be invited to tender.

They put this down to several reasons including being “mindful of investor sentiment regarding external audit firm tendering and rotation” and the fact that “2014 is likely to see new regulation in this area both from the UK Competition Commission (implementing its decision to mandate tendering at least every 10 years) and the European Union (requiring audit firm rotation at least every 20 years).”

Barclays is one of pwc’s major clients and the fees received by pwc were pretty significant.

In 2013 the total audit and non-audit fees paid to pwc by Barclays amounted to £45 million.

Interestingly, the non-audit fees paid to pwc represented 28.5% of the audit fee.

Allowable non-audit services are pre-approved up to £100,000, or £25,000 in the case of certain taxation services. Any proposed non-audit service that exceeds these thresholds requires the specific approval from the Chairman of the Audit Committee before pwc can be engaged.

Barclays said that during 2013 the Chairman of the Audit Committee scrutinised all such requests for approval, particularly those that concerned taxation-related services, and two requests for approval were declined.

Whilst losing the Barclay’s audit is no doubt a £45 million disappointment to pwc, it’s fair to say that the other accounting companies are looking forward to the opportunity of tendering for a £45 million audit.

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?

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.

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.

Professional exams and romance. A perfect match?

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. The day first started becoming popular in the 19th century in Great Britain and it’s a day when couples celebrate their love for each other.

The shops have been full of Valentine cards and gifts for people to send to their partners. I have a nice story about Valentine’s Day and professional exams as a few years ago two of my students first met on one of my courses and then ended up getting married on Valentine’s Day a few years later.

They worked for different Big 4 companies and love started to blossom when they sat next to each other on my course and the guy Andy asked Liz (his future wife) at lunchtime on the first day of the course if she understood what was being taught in the morning as he was finding it quite difficult. Fast forward 3 years and they got married on Valentine’s Day.

He later claimed that he did understand what was being taught but simply wanted to start up a conversation!

The moral of the story though is that if you’re on a course or studying with some friends and you find one of your colleagues attractive then don’t be afraid to get talking and who knows you may end up getting married in a few years!

Should Ernst & Young have done this?

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I think truth and honesty in business are vital.

I can therefore say in all truthfulness and honesty that I think Ernst & Young is a great company.

They have some tremendous people working for them and the students I’ve met over the years have all been fantastic.

If I’m really honest and truthful though I have to say that in my opinion there is a bit of a question mark over some of the performances in the video below.

The video was apparently taken at an EY recruitment day event and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think that EY did a good job on the song-writing side of things and whether the employees that joined in with the singing, hand clapping and swaying with such rhythmic precision should stick to doing consulting and client work.

Now to be fair it has to be said that the recruitment event where the EY song was filmed was held 12 years ago so things have no doubt changed since then with the recruitment techniques used. It’s not clear though whether there was a slump in people applying for positions with EY 11 years ago.

Now, all of you that have just had a great weekend and are reading this in the office on a Monday morning, join together and start singing “Oh Happy Days, Oh Happy Days…”

Guess who’s going to Myanmar?

Such is the spread of large accounting companies around the world that there are very few countries left where you can’t find an office of one of the Big 4 or mid tier companies.

Myanmar in Asia was until recently one of the few countries that hadn’t had the pleasure of international accounting companies being present.

Things are changing though and the people of Myanmar (also known as Burma) will shortly be seeing the KPMG logo on offices as KPMG has just announced that they will be the first Big 4 company to open up offices in Myanmar.

According to KPMG, Myanmar is widely seen as the “next economic frontier” in Asia and recent easing of international sanctions against the country has “sparked a great deal of interest from investors globally”.

Kaisri Nuengsigkapian, CEO of KPMG in Thailand has led the initiative to extend operations to Myanmar and says that “Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, and literally at the center of opportunity in the region. Investors are flocking to the country and are excited about the possibilities they are finding.”

Initially the company will be offering Tax and Advisory services with the plan being that Audit services will follow later (presumably not to audit the tax advice given by their colleagues though…)

So, congratulations to KPMG for being the first and how long will it be before the others join them?

By the way, the photo above shows Taung Kalat in Myanmar and is not a photo of KPMG’s new offices.

Did Ernst & Young get it wrong?

I think that Ernst & Young (EY) are a great company but if I’m honest I think they are missing something.

I know a lot of people that work at EY and overall they seem to be both pretty switched on and very professional but I think they’ve got something seriously wrong.

For several years now there has been a financial crisis in most countries around the world. The term “recession” has been in all the papers and on the TV.

Companies around the world have been cutting back on staff and their sales are down.

But what about EY?

Surely they should also be following suit with a reduction in sales and staff cuts?

Well the impressive news is that they have just released their latest annual results and they appear to have got it completely “wrong”.

Their combined global revenue for the year ended 30 June 2012 grew by nearly 8% to US$ 24.4 billion (personally speaking I always feel that billions look far more impressive when written with all the zeros so US$ 24,400,000,000)

All of their service lines showed good growth (Assurance revenues were up 4.1%, Tax 7.0%, Transactions 9.4% and Advisory 16.2%).

Jim Turley, Global Chairman and CEO of EY said that “we are pleased that our business showed good results, the best since 2008, in the midst of what has been several years of uncertainty.”

In terms of regional growth then the emerging BRIC nations did particularly well with Brazil growing 17.5%, India 19.8%, Africa 10.2%, China 11.8% and the CIS 15.6%.

In the UK the growth was 11% and this was the highest level of growth in 6 years. Over 1,200 new jobs were created by EY in the UK last year and Steve Varley, UK Chairman and Managing Partner of EY appears to be committed to making EY in the UK a diverse and inclusive employer.

He said “Continuing to lead on gender diversity among the Big Four is something I am very passionate about – 28% of our UK leadership team and 18% of our partners are female. I know we can do more and I know we need to move forward so that we focus not just on gender, but also on the ethnic diversity of our people and partners.

So we have been bold, setting an aspirational goal that at least 30% of all our new UK partners are women and at least 10% are BME (black, minority ethnic) by 2015. We’re clearly not there yet and aspirations alone won’t drive change, but we believe diversity and inclusiveness is a business imperative.”

So, in summary there’s a global recession on and yet EY have increased sales in all their service lines, their global revenue has increased by nearly 8%, they’ve recruited significant numbers of people and are committed to a diverse workforce going forward.

Somehow I don’t think that EY have got it wrong…

Is this the best or worst resignation letter ever?

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Here’s an interesting question. If you resign from your job, what should your resignation letter look like?

Should it be simple, brief and straight to the point or should it be sent to the whole office and include various accusations about your boss including a certain, how shall we say it but, adult liaison in a meeting room with a colleague?

Well if your name is Kieran Allen then the second option appears to be the correct answer.

Mr Allen used to work for MEC, one of the leading media agencies in London. Yesterday he resigned and his resignation letter contains some pretty juicy accusations.

Now whilst this isn’t the first resignation letter that contains some juicy accusations it is the first resignation letter with juicy accusations that has gone viral on the Internet and as a result has been seen by millions around the world.

To avoid a knock at the door from some lawyers, I’ll keep the manager’s name anonymous (although if anyone wants to see the full letter then a simple search on the Internet will reveal it!) but Mr Allen claimed that he left MEC after 2 1/2 years of “loyal service” because of the treatment he received from his manager.

Mr Allen claimed he was forced to take time off work due to stress after being overloaded with work by the manager and he claimed the manager made him feel like a complete outsider on his return.

We’ve all been overloaded with work at some stage or other so this is initial claim isn’t that exciting.

The more interesting accusations though were when he claimed in his letter that the manager “regularly made sexist and other bigoted remarks” and “took a female colleague out for a drink on the day he interviewed her, then took her back to the MEC offices that night and had sexual relations with her in the meeting room on the 3rd floor”.

Mr Allen then went on to say that all of these allegations were “common knowledge throughout the team”.

Some people will applaud Mr Allen for his resignation letter whilst others (no doubt including his manager) will say that he should have kept his issues to himself.

Either way there are some serious lessons to be learnt from all of this. For example, it’s probably advisable to make sure you knock on the door of the meeting room on the 3rd floor at MEC before opening it…

Who do the Big 4 want to win the US election?

It hardly seems like 4 years ago that President Barak Obama became America’s 44th president but here we are with just a few weeks to go before the next US election takes place.

Whilst there will be plenty of arguments for and against each candidate over the next couple of months I came across an interesting website which summarises the political donations made by companies in America.

The website opensecrets.org was created by the Center for Responsive Politics which tracks money in politics.

After quickly using the search function on the site it was straightforward to identify the amount of money that the Big 4 have donated to the election campaigns for President Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

The donations as at the time of writing are:

Donations made to Barack Obama / Mitt Romney by the Big 4:

Deloitte (Obama: $291,056; Romney: $286,110)

Ernst & Young (Obama: $38,350; Romney: $158,925)

KPMG (Obama: $24,498; Romney: $67,250)

PwC (Obama: $55,033; Romney: $266,650)

Total (Obama: $408,937; Romney: $778,935)

I’ll leave it up to you to perform your own analytical review on the above figures and to decide who the Big 4 appear to want to win the next US election and of course it’s probably got nothing to do with Barack Obama’s plan to increase the marginal rate of tax on high earners and Mitt Romney’s proposal to reduce taxes for high earners…

Should this former Deloitte accountant become a doctor?

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One of the key attributes of finance and business people should be ethical behaviour. Note that I say “should be” as not everyone seems to agree with this approach.

Former Deloitte UK employee Nahied Kabir seems to have a slightly different view of what is acceptable in terms of ethical behavior.

Here’s a quick multiple choice question for you to see how ethical you are compared to Mr. Kabir.

Question – You’re struggling a bit with your professional exams and your employer’s policy is that if you don’t pass your exam within 2 attempts you’ll lose your job. Do you:

a) Focus your efforts on passing your exams. Or,

b) Focus your efforts on forging two doctor’s certificate.

Now, in my opinion (and hopefully in your opinion as well!) the correct answer is (b) (a).

Alas for former Deloitte employee Mr. Kabir he chose option (b).

In summary, Mr. Kabir failed an exam twice and at a meeting to discuss terminating his employment contract with Deloitte he produced a forged doctor’s note.

Deloitte let him sit the exam again and he passed this time. He then had a further 3 exams to sit and you guessed it he failed all 3.

At the next meeting to discuss things with Deloitte he claimed that he failed due to the ill health of his mother. He then produced a second forged doctor’s note from another doctor claiming his mother was suffering from ill health.

Proving that as well as being a pretty rubbish accountant he was also pretty bad at forging letters, the forged letter from the second doctor was exactly the same as the forged letter from the first doctor with the exception of only 4 words!

It’s probably no surprise to you that Mr. Kabir is now no longer working with Deloitte and the accounting body he was sitting his exams with (ICAEW) have published their report on the disciplinary action they took against him.

Again, it’s probably no surprise that he was “declared unfit to become a member of ICAEW”.

There’s no news yet whether Mr. Kabir is planning a successful career as a bank note forger…

Good and bad news for PwC…

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If you work for one of the top firms of accountants in the world and you’re an audit partner it must be [a refreshing change/really annoying – delete as appropriate] when you yourself are audited.

Well in the UK this has just happened for some of the major accounting companies.

The Professional Oversight Board is one of the bodies that works towards improving the quality of audit work and audit firms. They have just published their 2011/12 inspection reports and there were some interesting findings.

Their public report on their inspection of PwC for example commented on a number of items including PwC’s “audit transformation programme”.

The POB said that

“During the year, the firm launched its Audit Transformation programme, the stated objective of which is to enable audit teams to focus on key judgment areas, standardise the firm’s approach and improve audit quality. However, the guides issued to date under the programme appear to focus on improving audit efficiency by reducing audit hours.”

The Report then went on to say that

“The programme also includes increasing the use of the firm’s off-shoring capability, now through two overseas centres, one in India and the other in Poland. Work performed in 2011 by these centres accounted for about 4% of the firm’s core audit hours and is expected to increase to 6% in 2012.”

The POB work was quite thorough as they also looked at PwC’s “staff performance evaluation” forms where interestingly they found that “approximately a quarter of the appraisal forms and objectives for the following year were signed off after the due date.”

The good news for PwC was that the vast majority of the 14 audits that were examined by the POB were either performed to a “good standard” or an “acceptable overall standard”.

Unfortunately for them though there was one audit which was singled out as requiring “significant improvement”.

In case any of you are interested in reading the reports on PwC and some of the other major accounting companies, they can all be found here.

Somehow though I don’t think the partner responsible for the “significant improvement required audit” will be showing all his friends a copy of the report.

Should a PwC partner blame the junior staff?

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If something goes wrong on an audit, whose fault is it? Is it the partner’s fault or the junior member of staff’s fault?

Over in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper has provided some interesting commentary on a legal case that is currently taking place concerning an audit undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The background to the case is that shareholders in a company called Centro are claiming that PwC misled and deceived them by failing to properly disclose that the Centro group had billions of dollars of short-term debt that needed to be refinanced in 2006 – 2007.

The lead PwC partner on the audit, a gentleman by the name of Stephen Cougle, is facing a bit of a grilling in court at the moment.

Under cross-examination yesterday in the Australian Federal Court, Mr Cougle denied trying to “bury” one of the errors by putting it in the small print notes at the back of the accounts.

According to reports, he said “when one of his PwC colleagues told him in late August that a $1.1 billion bridging loan had been wrongly classified as a long-term debt in the unaudited, preliminary accounts, he suggested Centro might need to disclose it publicly. When Centro declined this idea, he decided one option was to point to the discrepancy in a note to the final accounts”

According to Mr Cougle though he did not try to “bury it”.

Whether or not it was satisfactorily disclosed will be a decision for the court and that decision is not expected until the end of May

However, one thing for sure is that a number of the junior PwC staff members who were on the audit are probably not currently the best of friends with Mr Cougle.

Despite being the lead partner on the audit, he has already “declined to accept any responsibility for the accounting debacle” and has “blamed junior staff.”

Now blaming junior staff for an error in the accounts that you signed off on is in itself an interesting point to debate. After all, there is a well-known saying that you “can delegate work but you can’t delegate responsibility”.

The outcome of this case will be very interesting for auditors around the world. Not least for guidance on who is the best person to blame if there is an error on your audit…

Is this the new face of Ernst & Young?

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I guess we’ve all done it at some time or another.

We’ve woken up one morning and due to too much work (or too much drink…) you look in the mirror and think “oh dear” (or some similar but slightly stronger words).

Well step forward Mr Ed Moyse and Mr Ross Harper who when they looked in the mirror recently saw the Ernst & Young logo staring back at them.

Now this wasn’t a drunken night out at an EY party that went wrong. No, it was a deliberate move.

The two entrepreneurial university students were thinking of ways to reduce the student debt that they had built up when they came up with the idea of using their faces as mobile advertising screens.

They set up their website – buymyface.com – and are selling their “advertising board” faces for one year.

One of their first clients was EY who paid them to display the EY logo on their faces during a skiing trip to the Alps so that EY could advertise to potential new recruits.

The idea seems to have caught on and according to their website as of today they have raised £34,000 from selling their unusual advertising boards.

Their going rate for a day’s advertising on their faces has also increased since they started their business.  They are now charging £600 for a day’s advertising.

EY seem to be so impressed with them that they have now become the main sponsor of the website.

Does this mean that at some stage in the future your accountants “uniform” of dark suit and white shirt will be accompanied by the corporate logo painted on your face?

Hello and goodbye to the CEO of Deloitte Netherlands…

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It’s been a mixed year for Piet Hein Meeter the (former) chief executive of Deloitte in the Netherlands.

It started well for him as he was appointed as the new CEO of the Dutch operations of Deloitte on the 1st of January this year.

However within a few months his fortunes have changed dramatically.

Deloitte recently announced that Mr Meeter had resigned from his position due to “infringement of independence rules which surfaced following a routine internal compliance review arranged by Deloitte”.

The background to this is all about auditor independence.

In order for auditors to be able to do their job of “checking the books” of clients they have to be independent. After all, if an auditor is not independent from the company he is checking then there’s a risk that he or she may give a biased or incorrect opinion on matters.

In the case of Mr Meeter it seems that he had shareholdings in some of the clients of Deloitte Netherlands and hence broke independence rules (i.e. he headed up an audit company that checked the accounts of a company which he part owned).

It does seem rather strange that Mr Meeter held these shares as it’s a fundamental independence issue for senior staff and partners within accounting firms not to hold shares in clients.

It may well have been a simple but extreme case of oversight by him as there was no evidence of him benefiting from his shareholding and position (the investigation by Deloitte pointed out that “Meeter had no involvement in any of the audits of the applicable companies and that Deloitte’s independence as audit firm of these clients has not been impacted).

Deloitte quite rightly acted quickly though to avoid any potential problems and Mr Meeter is now no longer with Deloitte.

We wish his successor, Mr Peter Bommel, the best of luck in his new role.

Mr Bommel is currently the interim CEO of Deloitte Netherlands and no doubt has recently reviewed his personal investments very carefully to ensure that there is no repeat of Mr Meeter’s error.

Has pwc just made a huge mistake?

The 84th Academy Awards ceremony (the Oscars) took place last night in Los Angeles.

Pwc have looked after the balloting process of the Oscars for 78 years and since they have been involved they have counted in excess of 450,000 ballots and filled over 2,600 envelopes with the winning names.

According to pwc there has never been a single security breach but if I’m honest, I’m not so sure.

Whilst the French silent movie The Artist won best picture award, some would argue that there must have been an error by pwc when it came to counting the votes.

The US “Center for Audit Quality” organisation recently released a film which tells the 3 minute story of “Mr Ledger Lines”, a dashing external auditor and surely this should have won the best picture Oscar??

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the short film below, which aims to provide a brief overview of what an external auditor does, was worthy of an Oscar or not…

He’s the boss of EY but what does his mum think?

He’s just been appointed as the new head of Ernst & Young with ultimate responsibility for the 152,000 EY people in 144 countries but what does his mum think?

It must have been a proud moment for Mr Weinberger as getting to be the head of such a prestigious organisation as EY is a pretty good achievement in anyone’s books.

His bio on the EY site makes impressive reading but after a quick search on the net you come across the local newspaper where he was brought up in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The Citizens Voice has a few words from his mum.

Now Mums, Moms, Mothers, Mummies or whatever you call them are great. Always there when you need them and we wouldn’t be the impressive grownups we are without all their help over the years.

One thing though that a lot of mums do tend to forget is that their children do grow up.

Sometimes they can still treat you as though you are, how can we say it, but still the baby of the family.

Mr Weinberger may therefore have been a bit worried when he heard that his mum had been interviewed. After all, were we about to hear all his embarrassing stories from when he was a child?

Well, according to the paper, Members of his considerable extended family were delighted to learn the news, but perhaps none so much as his mother, Goldye Weinberger, of Scranton.

“I’m his mother, I always knew he was destined for greatness,” she said.

She just didn’t know in what. She remembers her son – one of four children, the rest girls – always outside, playing baseball or basketball with kids in the neighborhood. He was a good student at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, but not a “numbers” kids and not bookish. She called him “a student of the world.”

She admitted she’s somewhat surprised her son, who is a lawyer, is head of a renowned accounting firm.

So all’s well for Mr Weinberger – he’s head of the company and his mum didn’t say anything embarrassing about him.

He must be so happy that he will no doubt be singing along loudly with this EY video…

The Big 4 don’t appear to be happy about this…

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We blogged earlier this year about Michel Barnier, the EU internal market commissioner announcing plans to issue new laws which would dramatically impact the “Big 4” (namely Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC.)

Well, these changes have now got a bit closer as the draft law has just been released.

In an attempt to reduce conflict of interest and to introduce more competition into the industry the main proposal of the draft law includes the requirement for the Big 4 firms to separate their auditing and consulting divisions in the EU.

This is a pretty big issue as in simple terms if the law becomes final it could prevent the Big 4 “audit firms” from providing any non audit related services such as consulting, providing tax advice or running training courses.

This could see a major restructuring of the audit profession.

Other provisions in the draft law include banks being banned from insisting that a company uses a Big 4 firm if they are to be lent money by the bank (at the moment a number of banks make it a requirement for a company to be audited by a Big 4 firm before they will release significant loans.)

There is also a proposed requirement for audit firms to be rotated every 6 to 12 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the Big 4 are reported to be against any changes to the current rules (after all as the saying goes, “how many turkeys would vote for Christmas?”).

I’m pretty sure though that the “mid tier group” of auditing firms that are below the Big 4 in terms of size such as BDO, Grant Thornton and Mazars would maybe take a different view to the Big 4 and be in favour of Mr Barnier’s views as this could open up a number of opportunities for them.

Before everyone that works at a Big 4 company starts rushing to rearrange the office furniture though it’s worth noting that the law at the moment is only draft and the EU states and the European Parliament have to provide the final sign off before the law becomes a reality.

Is it easier to become a partner if you’re a man or a woman?

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Not so long ago the finance profession was predominantly a male one.

At the risk of showing my age, when I first entered the world of work the senior roles in the company I worked for were completely dominated by men.

Things are rightly changing though and in most countries around the world the younger generation that are now entering all business functions appear to be more evenly balanced between the two sexes.

This opening up of opportunities to both men and women can only be a good thing. Any form of discrimination whether it’s discriminating on the basis of race, gender or religion is not only morally wrong but can also result in valuable parts of the working population being overlooked for jobs.

KPMG is one of the top firms in the world and they appear to be getting their gender equality sorted out.

Despite being in the finance and consulting industry which in previous generations was dominated by men, their latest set of promotions indicate that woman are “fighting back”.

KPMG in the UK has just announced the appointment of 29 new partners and 88 new directors.

Prior to their announcement the proportion of female partners working for KPMG in the UK was 14%. Out of the new promotions though, 24% of the new partners and 30% of the new directors are women.

Richard Bennison, CEO of KPMG in the UK, said:

“We are also very pleased to be able to improve the gender balance amongst our partners. We are genuinely committed to enabling more women to reach senior positions.”

So, whilst the number of female partners is still in the minority the percentage is starting to get more balanced.

Congratulations therefore to KPMG on this and it does of course raise the question of how long will it be before the balance is completely reversed and 14% of the total partners are men and 86% are women?