September 2006 - Posts
If you don't travel or think much about what life is like in other parts of the world, you may think that the way you tip a cabbie or a waiter is universal.
Of course, it's not, but knowing that doesn't mean you can't be surprised or amused to hear about how the issue is handled in various countries.
I wasn't thinking about this until reading the comments to a posting about Ramadan on an Australian cab driver's blog
. In Australia, tipping isn't set up the same way it is in Canada or the States. I love how Monash tells its students
that it's "entrenched" but "not as essential as it is in the USA, perhaps because Australian workers are protected by a more generous minimum wage."
Going to an Australian tourism site, however, you get a much less wishy-washy opinion
is generally not expected within Australia, however it is acceptable to
leave a small amount should you feel you have received exceptional
So what do you believe, "entrenched" or "not expected'? I'd say those are two very different views on the topic!
I give the time-breaking point to Aussie in America: "
Australians 'employed in a service-related industry' are likely to
think it is a bonus to get an American customer. Americans 'employed
in a service-related industry' are likely to groan inwardly as soon as they
hear their customer has an Australian accent."
For a somewhat complete list, check out Wikipedia's rather thorough article
. And for additional amusement, check out the discussion page
, where the editors are hashing out what the final product should look like. An interesting fact from the discussion page is that in Japan tips are given out infrequently. It's apparently "seen as a voluntary action to either express personal wealth, status or just to be nice." And when the tip is given out, it's huge, worth up to a hundred dollars.
In case you're wondering, CAs (as well as, sigh
, CA-students) can't
accept tips or cash gifts from their clients. Then again, neither can the police - and for rather similar reasons too, really.
The week's more than half done, and thanks to a heavy dose of 'real' work, my mind's been completely off waiting for exam results.
It was, anyway, until I went online and saw discussions of accounting, which reminded me of the fact that there's still just under two more months to go before Announcement Day
The discussions weren't depressing or stress-inducing, though - through Neil
I learned about the Anonymous Accountant
's site. Looks like he's just started
I think that pretty much sets up the entire online CA trinity. That I know of, anyway. There's no doubt countless other staff and others doing things online but having the sense to write about something other than work!
It's nice to be back and actually doing tests, making Excel files look pretty, and cleaning up documents and making them progressively easier for other people to understand. I'm getting the funny feeling that all the practice from the UFE may have actually improved my writing skills. At work, anyway.
In completely unrelated news (except for the part about macroeconomics), the first minute of this video is amusing because it implies that the gold standard is a Good Thing. And because it (hopefully) highlights how far we've come(?)
The week immediately after the UFE was a refreshing change of pace - no more studying!
I was lucky in that I didn't have an excessive amount of work to do either. It's getting busy at work, but having been gone for well over two months, it's easy for your assigned job to slip through the cracks.
I got additional work to do, but it wasn't a huge assignment. The next few months are going to be another story, though, which was why I was glad to relax and do nothing this week. Nothing, that is, aside from the regular 9 to 5 work and playing a few computer games such as Company of Heroes (amazing), Rome: Total War, Barbarian Invasion (took over both capitals of the late Roman Empire's world playing as the Huns), and this weekend's free demo of Guild Wars: Nightfall.
I've only played it for a few minutes, but it seems interesting. A lack of time - due to having something resembling a social life and the fact that I already have too many games to play - is one of the main reasons I won't be actually buying the full version.
That, and the fact that playing an online game is way too much of a commitment for me these days. If I'm going to play a game, it had better be fun, and not a chore. I'm sure Guild Wars may be fun, but the entire genre of online games makes me feel like I'm "wasting" the game somehow if I'm not playing it all the time. So I think I'll pass.
Compounding matters is the fact that the demo requires you to download huge chunks of data, that interrupt gameplay. This entire post was composed while waiting for an entire level to load.
I imagine that if you actually bought the game you would likely have all this data already sitting on your computer from the CD that would come with the game - still, this whole set-up isn't especially impressive. I'll stick to Oblivion, now that I finally have a computer capable of handling that game!
Can you really feel all that much triumph if you don't actually know how you did on the exam that consumed most of the past year?
Everyone's glad to see you back, and you're glad to be back - but a desire to either be humble or not 'jinx' the outcome of your exam keeps you from boldly declaring you're completely done the exam writing process.
Having said that, it's a relief to be back at work. While some people joke about the need to get drunk for a month or take a vacation far away from the scene of the intellectual crime - it is after all, criminal to spend that much time thinking about nothing but matters of commerce, eh? - it's not the best approach for me.
I'm glad to be at work, where work - and your friendly co-workers - take your mind off the exam and the interminable wait for 2006 UFE results to be announced on Friday November, 24
- probably at 10 a.m.
I’d like to thank zip.ca and Blockbuster Entertainment for almost making me fail the UFE.
Not from wasting time watching movies instead of studying - although that was a risk that made me cancel my zip.ca membership for a while.
No, I would’ve failed from spending too much time rolling on the floor laughing my head off.
Today was day three of the UFE
- the final day! - and question three - yeah, the final question - was about a movie rental business, which had some problems. Customers didn’t like the Blockbuster
-ish “no late fee” policy because there was still a late fee (you have to buy the video if you don’t return it on time), and the business also decided to go head-to-head with zip.ca
The case didn’t identify any of those
businesses by name, of course - but if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’d at least know about the Blockbuster fiasco. And I’ve been using zip.ca off-and-on for the entire past year, so I know exactly how their service works.
I think I managed to actually answer the question without “sinking myself” by talking about the short history of zip.ca’s operations, as interesting as they are - but in an ode to risk-taking, I did toss in a quick paragraph about that anyway - technically there is such a thing as “bonus marks” on the UFE - they’re called secondary indicators. They’re what you get for answering the question no one asked you to deal with: you get a mark for the secondaries if and only if you forgot or failed to talk about one of the six competency areas
in sufficient depth somewhere else over the course of the three day exam.
Despite “going to town” on http://www.moviesbymail.ca/ (a site which, of course, doesn’t exist in reality... yet, anyway), I saved enough time to talk about the important things - how to deal with accounting for their new issues, how to audit those areas, and ways to identify and fix their website’s many problems.
The UFE rewarded you if you were an accounting geek and thought
regularly about “what would be the accounting effect of this or that
impact on a business”. Or if you’re just clever and could come up with
an intelligent discussion of the topic on the spot.
The first question of the exam was a reason to relax - and immediately tense up, depending on how you feel about tax. The first two days of the UFE were remarkably light on tax issues - but they made up for all that with a full question devoted to your fictional role as an auditor for the CRA
investigating a seedy butcher named Andrea.
I’m probably being over dramatic again - Andrea wasn’t necessarily seedy - just poorly informed about taxes. Ridiculously poorly informed, I suppose. You weren’t required to calculate how much tax she would owe, but one hundred thousand dollars would’ve been a good ballpark estimate.
In case you’re wondering, she only declared thirty thousand bucks of income
The second question was about another issue near and dear to me: online video. While there was no direct connection to Videosift, the question was about a couple that made a fortune with their “reality TV show” partly thanks to buzz generated online. If you’re a fan of comics, punk music, or any other idiosyncratic community that punishes those who become popular and “sell out” you could’ve done very well on that question.
It would also help, of course, if you could give them some intelligent advice about their decision to sell out.
I could probably write more, but I’m done like dinner. The exam’s over and it’s time to relax. We’ll know how things actually went
Day two of UFE 2006
. Three questions, four hours.
Although I didn't take that explicit approach, one of the questions involved a university where you could twist the facts very gently to make it sound like the professors are stealing money from the students. You might get in trouble for using that approach, but it leads to a much funnier interpretation than just saying that "management of faculty expense accounts is shoddy". I leave humour behind here and stick to the requireds on the exam, naturally.
That was the second question, though. Before making it to that question there's the little matter of the first multi, which involves providing advice to a guy with a security system installation business. You serve on a volunteer "advisory board" that gives business advice to new businesses - and can certainly use some, having lost well over a hundred thousand dollars in two years. He's on track to recover, but only if plays his cards right - and finds enough
And doesn't go to jail for violating tax laws.
You give advice on a few things like that and before you know it, your 90 minutes are up.
The fact that the first two questions were 90 minutes each was a small surprise: we were told to expect three 90-minute questions, but in hindsight, I think we were also told there might be some "slight" variation.
With only four hours to write, that meant the last question could only be an hour long - and so it was. And talk about an amusing question: it involved a coffee store chain like Second Cup
called Sunkick. The only difference is that they say they excluslively sell organic coffee beans. Nice.
Well, I've written before about how they try and get cute with the names of businesses and characters in questions
. I get it, I get it - the Sun is a Star, and "bucks" can be "kicks".
It's not funny.
What was funny, though, was the fact that in the exam question you find out that your "character" accidentally received an e-mail from a senior executive, outlining his diabolical plans. We're taking cartoonish super-villainy
- passing off pesticide-soaked coffee beans as organic and saving money as a result. And selling franchises to relatively poor entrepreneurs, and then driving them into bankruptcy so you can virtually 'steal' the franchise away from them.
All pretty diabolical and great fun to write about. I love how one example of villainy (the potential franchise fraud) wasn't especially obvious, so the question tossed in the organic coffee fraud to make things more obvious. Sweet.
In a similar vein, the question about university professors exploiting their expense accounts - you see, the leftover funds are destined for student scholarships - actually provided evidence to support the thought many people came up with, "hey, university bookstores sell more than books!"
And indeed, a professor casually admits to you over lunch that he usually uses the leftover cash in his expense account at the end of each year to outfit himself with essentially 'free' clothes - and no one has caught on to this until you, the intrepid internal auditor, get on the case.
If it wasn't for the fact that there are actual tax-court-related implications to all this it would be laughable, but instead, it's something serious. That you have to write about.
For 90 minutes. Well, probably 10 to 15 out of the 90 minutes, since you have a few other things to talk about, like the new robotic parking lot and how to make sure it's not going to destroy the university, one nickel at a time.
Today's 5 hour comp was about ostriches. In our fictional UFE scenario, we had to discuss the viability of a business that consists of an ostrich farm. To make things interesting, in the scenario we were told that there was a new "bird flu" epidemic which was like mad cow, but for ostriches.
How timely. I can't say I didn't chuckle when I read the first page of the exam - it was a story "ripped from the headlines", so to speak. This went to prove that this exam was definitely
written 18 or so months ago, which is the normal practice. I can only imagine what the 2007 UFE comp might be about. A major sports league having a lockout? How about 2008? Back-dating stock options? You can only rub your chin and wonder.
Interestingly enough, this exam featured the so-rare-it-bleeds variety of CA job: a "review" engagement. If you talk about assurance, you normally discuss a regular financial audit, which is the "gold standard" when it comes to certifying financial information as being correctly, or "fairly", presented.
A review engagement, on the other hand, is more like the "silver standard". In case you're wondering, a "Notice to Reader" would probably take the "bronze" position.
Anyway, review engagements aren't something you always do in the course of business, or studying for that matter. If you're able to keep your cool and check section 8200 of the handbook in case you're rusty on the topic, you'll likely do fine. Given that 2500 or so people wrote, there's a good chance that a bunch of people freaked out today. Well they'll get another shot at performing well over the next two days if that in fact is the case.
The other good news for everyone is that this means that there is almost no chance that we'll be asked anything about review engagements tomorrow or Thursday - if we are, I'll be completely shocked, but not freaked out, since I think I already know how to handle them quite well. But given the amount of ground they try to cover on each UFE, it's very unlikely that they'll touch this special topic more than once within the three day period.
Today's question definitely didn't include a major discussion of tax, which means we can all look forward to who-knows-what tax-wise in the multi's we're about to write. Should be fun!
In an amusing coincidence, Canada's entire CA-student blogging
community- all two of us - was sitting in the same row today. What're the odds
As for the other indicators, I have a vague idea about what type of
'competency areas' were covered, but it's almost a fool's game to wager
on what they were exactly.
I feel happy and confident about how things went so far - I've already realized where I made mistakes - well all make them on the exam - but they didn't seem to life-or-pass-threatening, which is pretty reassuring. The rule of thumb is that if you make it look like you know what you're doing, you can get away with one or two silly errors, so I'm not too worried.
They said in the Star article I ripped apart yesterday that last year's Ontario Gold Medalist felt she did horribly on one of the days - while I don't feel horrible, it's good to know that we can completely fool ourselves into thinking that our performance was much better or worse than it really was.
It's a time to live through those "just remember your training and you'll survive" cliches from various military Hollywood movies and rock on through.
It'll also help that tomorrow I'll have my "A" calculator - continuing the tired military theme, it's my FAMAS assault rifle
Today I stupidly forgot it on my desk - but fortunately I packed lots of chocolate along with my "B" calculator - the sidearm
of accounting: big and clunky with a huge recoil. It served me ably, firing .50 cal rounds of knowledge
into the heads of my, er, math equation... enemies.
The last couple of paragraphs are proof that you really do exhaust your thinking capacity for the day while writing the UFE - time to get some rest for tomorrow!
Although there's no such thing as a "stupid question" there are definitely stupid mistakes.
My "favourite" stupid mistake is to perform a cash flow quant incorrectly. While a cash flow is incredibly easy to do, there's any easy way to sink your calculation with an idiotic error: take out all non-cash items.
It should be obvious, and is, but in the excitement of the exam environment it's too easy to punch in some numbers and forget that there's one or more figures that have to be removed - such as amortization (a.k.a. depreciation). While it's a legitimate expense for your income statement, it should not be seen on a cash flow statement or you risk exposing yourself as careless or just plain stupid.
On a different level, not bringing extra layers of clothes to the exam hall is another huge potential error. Depending on where you're writing, it'll either be far too cold or far too hot in the exam hall. I'm betting on "far too cold" winning out and I'm bringing several layers just in case the A/C is still on when it shouldn't be - or perhaps the heat won't be on - and it should be
We'll see how things turn out tomorrow.
As the exam gets closer, my postings may grow increasingly more erratic. I hope you enjoy them anyway.
Unfortunately we live in a world full of scoundrels ready to take advantage of other people's trust. That's another way of saying that you can't wear headphones to an exam to listen to your favourite "writing music" while writing an exam because of the ever-present possibility that you could instead have recorded possible answers to your exam and this would be a form of cheating.
On an exam like the UFE it's extremely unlikely you would be able to actually predict what will be on the exam and use a recording to your advantage, but try and argue your case with an invigilator - you'll lose
On the one hand, it's a shame, since I was just skimming through Winamp and noticed a nice cluster of songs by Metric and Fatboy Slim which would go well with just about any mundane task like writing The Hardest/Most-Hyped Exam of My Life.
Those are great songs to listen to when you're rocking out - typing up a storm, linking together all sorts of concepts together.
Think of listening to Live it Out
while explaining why opening more locations for a restaurant chain is risky because the owners have very little cash and the locations they're considering may be too far away to manage and their revenue projections may be too aggressive. Although this has little to do with the following lyrics, it just feels more fun when you get to listen to Emily Haines sing this:
On the day we were supposed to leave
You changed your mind at the station
You had a nice apartment
There was a good bar downstairs
Your old friend worked there
I'll go anyway, I'll go anyway
They won't refund the ticket
It's a good story
But I don't want to live it alone
Crash to take a chance
I wanna live it out
I know I'm already dead
No concrete adversity
Only traps of our own actions
How we wanted it to be
Now I'm never gonna see you again
You checked out
Now as you know, I want to pass. Okay, I can't listen to enjoyable music, but I'll pass regardless of that - I've been practicising all summer in almost absolute silence!
Having said all that, what's my motivation to do really
It's pretty simple: if you make honour roll or gold medal, in addition to the large cash award, you get invited to a "winner's lunch".
I want that lunch, damnit.
pointed out that the Star did an article on the UFE
So instead of actually doing any last minute studying, for now the most appropriate use of my time must be to fisk
their article for kicks. In a way, it's a form
of studying. Only the UFE and perhaps some esoteric Semiotics courses could allow you to pull off fisking an article as studying. I mean, just finding Wikipedia links about fisking led me to an article about handwaving
- a technique you really really
want to avoid on the UFE.
Having said that, there's something to be said about back of the envelope calculations
. You don't want to do an over-elaborate/elegant mathematical 'proof
' for the numbers you're grinding through - you want to do a quick but understandable calculation that will tell you whether a business will or will not run out of cash, or something similar depending on the scenario. After (or before) tax cash proceeds from a transaction, valuation of a business, whatever.
Having endorsed simplicity, it is true, though, that any "quant" as we call our delightful little numerical exhibits, is
"a demonstration that, assuming certain axioms
, some statement is necessarily true." That happens to be Wikipedia's short definition of a mathematical proof. Except, of course, we use the term assumption
as a synonym for axiom.
Anyway, that was turning into the mother of all tangents - the point is to deconstruct the Star's article. Neil already correctly pointed out that the Star's interpretation of the QSKI comprehensive case was faulty at best.
Calling the Mississauga's Convention Centre the home of an "intimidating, windowless hangar-sized exam room" amusing, but not really that accurate. Well, it is
windowless, and it is
hangar-sized. But if the room intimidates you, there's something seriously wrong with you.
It's actually not a wholly horrible article - it does get some things right. But it's also obvious they didn't do very deep research. Claiming that all candidates work at a "public accounting firm" isn't true. Some did, but have quit. Others never did - you can work for the auditor general (federal or provincial) to get your audit hours. Silly Star reporter!
They discuss a student named Ting Yeh who didn't make it through three times. Apparently being told that this would the hardest exam Ting would ever face was enough to destroy confidence. Which is odd.
It implies that either Ting had poor skills leading up to the exam or really bad instructors. Or some combination. The instructors we get are top-notch, so I suspect it's less the instructor and more the student. Although good instructors will remind you that by the time you've finished your summer of prep, you should be confident that there's nothing they can throw at you that you can't handle. If there's a tough question, it's going to make ever struggle, so just keep your head above water and you'll be fine.
Panic may be your worst enemy, if you're suspectible to it. You don't want to freeze and stress over how the exam is going to surprise you or destroy you. In some ways, it's not really especially difficult. Practice cases I've done are in many ways easier than many university exams - although perhaps that's because I didn't study much in university.
But compared to multiple-variable calculus and other abominations, writing cases is relatively fun. Or maybe I'm a sick freak who likes to write. My university average was not the "A" they say Ting had. Perhaps I didn't have some sort of ego conflict to overcome?
There's a howler in the story about IT: "The exam has for years tested technology's impact on businesses, but
just last year candidates were allowed to write the exam on computers."
Well, yeah. It took a while to develop the software that we call SecureExam
. I think it's only been in existence for about five years - if anything CA's are early adopters of technology. While other jurisdictions, like US bar exam folk, are slowly adopting use of laptops, we're up to over 90% usage this year. An awkwardly worded observation on the Star's part if anything.
They correctly note that there are medics available in case of panic or what have you - I rembmer seeing one sitting by the doors at the CKE
. Of course, I was popping drugs to deal with the fact that I had just had emergency surgery two weeks before that
exam, so if anyone should have been gratified to see medical support it would've been me. And yet I found it strangely amusing. And passed that exam with surprising ease.
The article concludes with a few dribbles that trail off into something resembling a pat conclusion. Note to self: come up with a useful conclusion that ties everything together and avoid being trite like a hack reporter. It can and will be done.
Studying. Sleeping. Whatever. Less than 48 hours before the UFE begins, and I'm in that delightfully tense state of mind along with 2500 others across Canada, and, oddly enough, Bermuda
Instead of stressing over what kind of scenario I'm going to have to write about on Tuesday - and again on Wednesday and Thursday - I thought I'd spend a moment to speculate a little about why Bermuda is part of the CICA. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it's just funny to have one country's accounting organization belong to that of another nation.Wikipedia
didn't shed much light on this - but it made me realize that Bermuda is an "overseas territory" rather than a nation. There was an independence referendum in 1995, but that didn't go through. Perhaps that has something to do with all this. Oddly enough, the Economy
article told me even less.
I was hoping to find answers on the homepage of the ICAB but going there I found only this cryptic message: "As a result of security issues, ICAB's website is under re-construction."
I can only imagine what sort of hacker mayhem may have forced such a response. I could use the contact info on that same page to find out more details. Or I could use the Internet Wayback Machine
to see what the site looked like before being taken pretty much entirely offline.
But I am
actually getting sleepy . So I'll close with one final observation for the night: 8000 CA
students? Are there really that many in existence at any one time?
Wondering about that is almost as effective as counting sheep. But reading Handbook sections
on leases, pensions and other fun stuff is no doubt even more effective.
Time to add another chapter to my previous post on the same topic
With mere days left until the UFE, the time to write cases is over, as Neil quite astutely noted
Not wanting to panic about not remembering common audit procedures, it's a good time right now to review various procedures - after all, having been on study leave means that I haven't actually been doing any of these for a long time now.
I can't stress enough the importance of knowing that simply rattling off a procedure scores you no points
- you need to be able to apply it to the case you're dealing with. I could repeat this over and over - it's that important to know - so hopefully you read this paragraph, or already know this fact, and won't forget it!
The fun thing is that these procedures aren't necessarily standard "financial" tests, like confirming various currency balances. Going back to the 2005 UFE, for example, you may need to test the electronic ticket system at a ski hill. This can include tracing the flow of data through the system to see if it's being recorded correctly: scan a barcode, check the computer records, and find out if everything got processed correctly.
A lot of people miss out on simple things like that because they're simply too simple
. "Redo your most basic transaction? No, it's can't be that easy, can it?"
It can be. And is.
Here are some other generic "specified procedures" that you can hopefully refine and use where needed. Ideally you'll say what needs to be done, why it needs to be done (which accounting assertion
you're validing), and how you're going to do it (the procedure itself):
- Accounts receivable: get information about how much merchandise customers usually return. Based on that, make sure the provision for returns is reasonable. Review customers' financial condition and colleciton history to assess the likelihood of collectibility.
- Inventory: use sales info to determine if given items in the inventory stockpile have become obsolete.
- Contingencies: communicating with the client's lawyers to find out if there's any outstanding lawsuits or related threats should be obvious. A more subtle move is to check and see if the legal expense line in the income statement has shot up significantly from the prior year. Did you get an explanation as to why that's the case?
- Income taxes: Similarily, you can do some sleuthing by reviewing tax returns and tax assessments to determine if there's any tax contingencies lurking in the background.
- Property, Plant & Equipment: get detailed lists of everything the business has and verify existence. How do you verify the lists? Through physical inspections and by getting or reviewing appraisals.
- General procedure for revenues and expenses: review the cutoff to ensure that year-end figures are not under or overstated.
Memorizing lists is a Bad Thing, but generally, remembering to answer the "what", "why", and "how" questions will leave you in good shape when dealing with assurance issues, from audit to due dilligence procedures.
The words in that headline are probably enough to scare most people away from reading any further. Except for UFE writers and people looking for free tax advice.
Well, you won’t find any free tax advice, but there is a valuable insight here for UFE writers: it’s surprisingly easy to talk about how to use (“crystallize”) the $500,000 Lifetime Capital Gain Exemption that Canadians can use when dealing with an asset which qualifies for the LCGE.
I have a particular scenario in mind: the client wants to sell their shares in their corporation, and they’re going to get non-cash consideration in return - that is, they’re getting stock in exchange for stock. While they have the option of doing a tax-free share exchange, let’s assume they’re old and want to take advantage of their LCGE because it’s their last opportunity to do so - the new stocks don’t qualify and they don’t have anything else they can apply their LCGE against.
What they must do is elect to use the provisions of section 85 to choose a transfer price that is high enough to let them trigger a capital gain that can be applied against their LCGE. It’s that simple: boost up your transfer price by $500k, and say you’re using the section 85 provisions. The only catch is that everyone involved in the transaction must agree to this treatment - the other sellers, as well as the buyer.
And you’re done. On the UFE, anyway. In real life there would be some more details to attend to. It’s nice when things are wrapped up nicely in the relatively simplified environment of an exam though, eh?
Not much to add in terms of comments today - I had a much more interesting commentary
on spam yesterday.
936 - looks like September is on track to beat 1000 per month.
Looks like it might be time to shift e-mail addresses. Again. Although it might be a pity to disrupt this project. I think I'll figure out a solution.
Read this very interesting article
about getting in trouble for wearing a t-shirt that says "we will not be silenced."
It said those words in both English and Arabic - there are pictures of it here
Looks like I'm going to have to add Jet Blue
to my boycott list.