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Room for improvement at the Big 4…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what went wrong?

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

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

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

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

BDO LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Deloitte LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

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

Grant Thornton LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

KPMG LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Mazars LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Moore Stephens LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

PwC LLP Public Reporting 2017/18 (PDF)

This is shocking…

A lot of our readers are accountants or are training to be accountants. It should arguably follow therefore that you are good with figures. You are good with numbers and can manage your finances.

Not everyone though may be as good at managing their own personal finances and for any of you who may have problems controlling your spending, a new product will shortly be hitting the market which could be of interest to you.

A British company by the name of Intelligent Environments has developed a wristband that will deliver an electric shock to the wearer when they exceed pre-set spending limits.

The Pavlok wristband links to an individual’s online bank account and when a pre-set limit is exceeded a 255-volt electric charge is delivered to the wearer. The wristband is named after the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose research showed that the behaviour of dogs could be altered by the prospect of reward or punishment.

Submitting yourself to an electric shock to stop yourself spending money does seem a bit extreme and with a cost of £120 then the buyer may well end up having an electric shock earlier than anticipated…

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…

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…

1-0 to the Premier League

If you’re a premier league footballer it’s kind of obvious that you’re going to make a lot of money.

Deloitte, the Big 4 accounting company, prepare annual reviews of the Premier League’s finances and has just released some figures from the 2016/17 season.

In total, Premier League footballers took home £2.5bn in wages. This was the highest figure on record and showed an increase of 9% on the previous season.

The increase in wages though was quite a bit lower than the increase in the clubs’ revenue.

Total revenue increased by nearly £1bn to £4.5bn in the 2016/17 season and this was also a new record.

Although revenue increased by a higher percentage than wages, the proportion of revenue spent on wages is still pretty significant with the wage to revenue ratio being 55%.

Collective pre-tax profit was also a new record high being £0.5bn. This was almost three times the previous record of £0.2bn from back in 2013/14.

Deloitte partner Dan Jones said “As predicted last year, the Premier League’s three year broadcast deals which came into effect in the 2016/17 season helped drive revenue to record levels.

“Despite wages increasing by 9% to £2.5bn, this increase is nowhere near the level of revenue growth noted. This relative restraint from Premier League clubs reflects both the extent of their financial advantage over other leagues and the impact of domestic and European cost control measures.”

The financial success was spread across all clubs with all 20 Premier League teams making an operating profit.

Deloitte’s full report on the Premier Leagues finances will be available in June.

She did what for a living?

Businesses can pay significant amounts of money for celebrities to endorse their products.

For example, the American singer and actress Selena Gomez is reportedly paid USD 550,000 per post that she promotes to her 133 million Instagram followers. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer on the other hand “only” receives USD 400,000 per promoted post to his 120 million followers.

But not everyone is happy for famous people to be associated with a product.

Charles de Cazanove is a Champagne house that was founded by Charles de Bigault de Cazanove way back in 1811.

The Cazanove brand is now owned by the GH Martel Group and they have launched their latest Champagne vintage in a promotion with Clara Morgane. The champagne is imaginatively called “Le Champagne by Clara Morgane” and sells for €50 a bottle.

So, do you know who Clara Morgan is?

If you don’t and you’re a lady then ask your husband or boyfriend if he knows who Clara Morgan is.

If he does know who she is then there is probably another question you should ask him as Ms Morgan is famous as an adult movie actress.

Although Ms Morgan now performs with her clothes on (she’s a singer), it’s not good enough for a descendant of the founder of the Cazanove brand.

Count Loic Chiroussot de Bigault de Cazanove, who apart from needing a very long business card, isn’t happy that his family’s name is being associated with an adult movie star.

He reportedly said that “I am truly shocked. It’s simply scandalous. How could anyone associate the name of my illustrious family to that of Clara Morgane? It’s inconceivable.”

Although the family sold the brand back in 1958, the Count has been reportedly getting lawyers to try to remove his family’s name from the Clara Morgane vintage.

Either way, with all this publicity I’m sure the GH Martel Group are drinking to the success…

Can you trust an accountant?

That’s an interesting question and I’m sure that along with most other professions there are people you can trust and people you can’t trust.

If I asked the question about trusting accountants to the rock band Deep Purple though I’m pretty sure what answer I’d get.

Dipak Shanker Rao looked after the accounts of Deep Purple for more than 20 years.

In fact, to be fair when I said that he “looked after” the accounts maybe I should have said that he siphoned off more than £2 million of the band’s money without their permission.

Mr Rao has admitted “borrowing” at least £2.27 million from two of the companies within the Deep Purple empire. HEC Enterprises and Deep Purple (Overseas) owned the copyright to a lot of the band’s songs but the companies went into receivership in 2016.

Out of the £2.27 million borrowed by Rao, only £477,000 has been recovered. Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover (members of the band) are suing Mr Rao for up to £4 million.

In the meantime, Mr Rao has been struck off as an accountant and banned from managing or controlling a company until 2028.

One of Deep Purple’s most famous songs is called “Mistreated” and I’m sure that they feel that way at the moment…

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.

Does this help you concentrate?

The Journal of Consumer Research published the results of five experiments into how the level of background noise can impact on performance when someone is working on creative tasks.

The  results are interesting and in simple terms found that a moderate level of ambient noise is better for enhancing performance on creative tasks than both low levels and high levels of ambient noise.

Or put another way, people are more likely to be able to work creatively if there is a medium level of ambient noise compared to where there is silence or loud noise in the background.

So, what lessons can we learn from this if we’re studying?

Whilst the optimum situation and level of background noise is very much a personal preference the science behind it could indicate that we should head somewhere with a mid level background noise.

Now, where could we find such a place?

Well, the local pub around the corner has a great mid level background noise as far as I’m concerned but there are some liquid distractions that will harm studying.

What about a coffee shop or cafe? Again, there would be some great mid levels of background noise but you’ve got to get there and what happens if you don’t find a seat. All of this will dig into your valuable study time.

Well, up step the fantastic website coffitivity.com which enables you to play background coffeeshop noise on your computer whilst you’re studying.

You can’t order a Cafe Latte or Cappuccino but in my opinion it’s a great tool for those who like to study with a non intrusive background noise.

It’s also excellent for people who don’t have any friends to go to the coffee shop with.

Gin and whose tonic?

Drinking a lot of gin may not be good for you but it looks as though it is good for the tax authorities.

There’s been a change in the drinking habits of people in the UK.

Gin is suddenly very fashionable, especially the flavoured gin made by smaller distilleries. Last year 40 new gin distilleries opened up in the UK bringing the total distilleries crafting gin to 273.

This has made the tax man very happy. The reason he is happy is that there is a very high rate of VAT and Duty on hard spirits such as Gin compared to less alcoholic drinks such as beer and cider. VAT and Duty on a bottle of Gin accounts for more than 75% of the cost of that bottle and with designer gins such as Death’s Door gin retailing at £55 then that’s a pretty good return for the tax authorities.

This increase in demand for gin has resulted in duty receipts from spirit sales overtaking duty receipt from beer sales last year for the first time.

In 2016 the tax authorities collected over £11 billion from alcohol sales which is an equivalent amount to what a 2p increase in income tax would create.

So, they you go, the next time you wake up in the morning with a hang over from drinking too much gin at least you’ll know that the money you spent has proved a tonic for the government and helped increase their tax receipts.