Published on: 18 Apr 2017
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.
(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.
Published on: 06 Nov 2015
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.
I’ve never heard of an individual outsourcing his own job though but that has just changed.
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 has now 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…
Published on: 24 May 2015
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.
The 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.
Published on: 01 Oct 2014
If you take a step back though, they are arguably in competition with each other and here’s an important question:
Have they been ethical in their approach to competing with each other?
In my opinion the answer is a resounding yes, and it’s a good example of how competition can and should be undertaken ethically.
Ethical competitive approaches include for example focussing on your strengths rather than deliberately trying to harm or damage your competitors.
If you’re looking for the other extreme though and want an example of how to compete unethically then head over to Philadelphia in America.
Nickolas Galiatsatos, the owner of Nina’s Bella Pizzeria in Philadelphia came up with an extremely unusual and completely unethical approach to winning business from his competitors.
Mr Galiatsatos was spotted by the owner of Verona Pizza, a competing restaurant, heading to the toilet of the competitor restaurant carrying a full plastic bag but then emerged a couple of minutes later minus the bag.
Doing nothing to dispel the stereotypical view of US policemen spending a lot of time at Donut bars and Pizza restaurants, there just happened to be two policemen sat in the restaurant eating pizza at that time.
Further investigation by the police found a number of mice in and around the empty bag in the toilet and when they headed out of the restaurant to find Mr Galiatsatos they found him depositing some more mice around the back of another nearby restaurant.
Mr Galiatsatos has now been charged with criminal mischief, harassment and disorderly conduct as well as cruelty to animals.
Importantly therefore if you’re thinking of ways to get ahead of your competitors please don’t involve bags of mice…
Published on: 29 Jan 2014
The deadline for submitting income tax returns in the UK is in a couple of days on 31 January. According to the UK tax authorities there are still over 2 million returns that need to be submitted.
There are no doubt a lot of people hastily getting their figures together to meet the deadline.
Over in the US, one individual took a somewhat unusual approach to claiming deductions in his tax return.
Brooklyn Tax Lawyer, William G. Halby, kept records of his visits to, um how can I say this, but let’s just say certain ladies of the night that provide a certain adult service.
He subsequently claimed the expenses of these visits as tax deductible medical expenses on his tax return.
Mr Halby was quite open about claiming the expenses and as a Tax Lawyer he represented himself at the State of New York Tax Tribunal when the tax authorities argued the expenses were not tax deductible.
Now this wasn’t a small amount which he tried to put in as a tax deduction. Over a 4 year period he claimed expenses of $322,000 for what he felt were for medical purposes.
In one year alone he claimed “medical expenses” on his tax return which were itemised in detail and amounted to over $110,000.
Now this got the accountant in me thinking about these figures and after spending a brief couple of days reviewing some of the New York Agency websites where these ladies advertise their services, I’ve found that the average price for a “consultation” is in the region of $500.
This means that on average Mr Halby made 220 “medical visits” in one year alone.
Undertaking this number of visits and then claiming them on his tax return is arguably proof of both dedication to solving his medical problem as well as maintaining suitable and sufficient records for tax purposes.
All of his expenses were however rejected by the Tax Tribunal. The full text of the Tribunal’s decision can be found here.
Mr Halby is aged 78 and is currently single.
Published on: 27 Apr 2013
Anyone that suffers from an allergy knows full well that it can be a very unpleasant experience. One of the more common allergies is when people are allergic to nuts.
According to Allergy UK, peanut and tree nut allergy is the most common food allergy in adults and children. The symptoms can range from mild reactions to more serious problems including difficulties in breathing.
It’s a vital safeguard therefore that food products are clearly labelled with their ingredients in case they contain items which an individual is allergic to.
The Food Standards Agency is an independent government department responsible for food safety and hygiene across the UK. They monitor food products and when for example the allergy labelling is incorrect they can force the food product to be withdrawn from sale or recalled to protect the consumer.
They have just issued an alert about some food that was being sold by the supermarket chain EH Booths.
If I’m honest I’m not sure what to say about the warning as by way of background the food that was being sold by the supermarket was bags of monkey nuts. Monkey nuts are peanuts with the shell on.
To quote from the alert:
EH Booths is withdrawing some batches of its Whole Hearted Roasted Monkey Nuts, because the presence of peanuts is not declared on the label. This makes the product a possible health risk to those who are allergic to peanuts.
Or in other words, the supermarket had failed to highlight that a bag of peanuts with their shells on would contain peanuts.
Now, I’m not an expert here but I can’t help thinking that the presence of peanuts in the bag could have been a bit of a clue that the product contained peanuts.
If by any chance you’re not allergic to peanuts but are allergic to milk then you should be ok as long as that carton of milk doesn’t contain any milk.
Published on: 23 Apr 2013
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.
Scott 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.
Published on: 20 Feb 2013
Police forces are classic Not-for-Profit Organisations and whilst they don’t have similar revenue streams to those which are found within commercial for-profit organisations they do have to balance the books between their funding (revenue) and their costs.
The Police force in the Australian state of Victoria came up with a novel approach to serving an intervention order that not only ensured that the offender received the order but also saved money.
An individual in Australia had allegedly been harassing and threatening his ex-partner. An order was made against him instructing him to cease this behavior and to stop contacting her.
It was however proving difficult for the police to track him down. They had tried actual visits, sending details by post as well as phone calls to serve the order on him but all to no avail.
They identified that he was an avid Facebook user and in a novel approach to matters the police transcribed all the court documents and sent them to his Facebook inbox.
Going one step further they also recorded the following video for him which was again delivered through the medium of Facebook.
After receiving everything via Facebook, the offender has now agreed to comply with the intervention order although it is not clear whether he clicked the “like” button on his Facebook page after he first viewed the video.
Published on: 24 Jan 2013
Fast food is big business but for Subway, the world’s largest restaurant chain with 38,000 restaurants in 100 countries, something isn’t quite big enough.
Subway is famous for their “Footlong” sandwiches whose name implies should be a foot long (12 inches / 30 cm).
Their “Footlong” has been the backbone of their advertising for a number of years and any company’s advertising should be accurate and shouldn’t be misleading.
Well up step Australian Subway customer Matt Corby who purchased a Footlong and measured it before eating it. He then took a photo and posted it on Subway’s Facebook page with the request “subway pls respond”.
The photo is shown above and as can clearly be seen the Footlong isn’t in fact a foot but is 1 inch short at 11 inches.
Was this evidence that Subway had been deliberately misleading their customers by calling it a Footlong when it should have been called an “11 inch long”?
Does the extra inch matter?
Well, things took off quickly on Facebook and there were soon more than 100,000 likes and over 5,000 comments to Matt’s post. The shock discovery that the Footlong was an inch short of bread soon spread around the world.
Subway quickly supplied the following statement to the Chicago Tribune newspaper:
“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve. Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway Footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide.”
Is this going to be a good enough solution to the problem of the missing inch of bread?
Unfortunately for Subway within hours a number of lawsuits were filed in America in connection with the missing inch.
One of the lawsuits filed by Mr Buren from Chicago for example is claiming that the Footlong sandwich product is false advertising and as a result he is suing the company for $5 million.
Now, I’m an accountant and not a lawyer but if he’s successful the $5 million will buy an awful lot of 1 inch pieces of bread…
Published on: 10 Sep 2012
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
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…