January 2009 - Posts
The last accounting case I wrote was in September of 2006 - though for the past two summers I've found myself helping the current writers that I was coaching and mentoring by marking and debriefing their cases, which is almost as intense as writing cases themselves.
For the uninitiated, an accounting case is a role-playing simultation, typically written, where you play the role of an accountant sent in to review the status of some business, identify all the accounting issues, which options are applicable and valid according to your local region's accounting rules, and wrapping up everything by reporting to your taskmaster with your findings.
The UFE itself is entirely comprised of seven or so cases written in thirteen hours over a three day period.
In an accounting case competition, you're generally taking on a UFE-type case on steroids, working in a group, and either handing in your finished product, or, the fun way, presenting it orally.
I say "on steroids" because while a typical UFE case is designed to test whether you could survive a typical business scenario in an intelligent fashion, in a case competition you need to quickly separate those who know the CICA handbook inside-out to those who are just starting to learn the difference between Section 5970 and EIC-121, among many other fun obscure topics.
If everyone had a good chance of answering all the questions properly, trying to decide on winners would become an infuriatingly difficult exercise.
If only I had known this when I had taken part in a traditional "hand it in and wait for a response" case competition in my university days, where we were promptly floored by the questions. Although in some competitions the cases are tailored to frosh with limited accounting knowledge, the hardcore cases are so difficult that fully qualified CAs would have trouble answering everything on their own without extensive reference to accounting manuals.
As I mentioned earlier, I was invited to adjudicate at my old university's annual case competition. The event ran amazingly smoothly, with a small army of runners herding myself and my co-judge from another firm to the right place and the right time to watch as the Commerce students wrestle out their responses to a brutally delicious case - one full of challenges where they had to figure
out the answer to problems many would not experience in their regular classes until late in fourth year - not good if you're in first or second year!
It was good to see students teaming up - or getting teamed up - to ensure a mix of skills, so everyone could tackle one of the challenges and do their part to deliver the group's message.
Aside from the nostalgia kick from visiting my old campus, it was interesting to see all those lessons my profs and other instructors had intoned into my head over the years coming back with a vengeance. A sample:
- Rank your issues
- Don't restate case facts
- Link your conclusions to the overall purpose
Those pointers make so much sense when you see people making an oral presentation where this is exactly what they are or aren't doing. It makes you want to retype the above list and add a great deal of exclamation marks to accompany it, then hand it out to the 2010 case writers to help them avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Next time, I'll revisit case writing and the bullets in the above list, to flesh them out for those who didn't have the privilege of doing a case competition and to share the tips for future case writers. Not only do they help you with competitions, they have direct application on real life accounting exams too.
At the end of the day, the reps were lined up on stage, ready to congratulate the winners.
If you know anyone who is a young CA student, say goodbye to them for the next few weeks. Chances are, though, that if you haven't said "have a good trip" you're too late - they've already disappeared down a rabit hole into the requisitioned conference room known as AuditLand.
They'll emerge before midnight, if they're lucky, subsisting on takeout and fastfood throughout the day, in a Sisyphean struggle to perform year end audits, only to return again at 7 or 8 in the morning to soldier through another day.
I know this is true, because I experienced it myself - with the exception of forging a more humane start time to 8:30 a.m. or so - 7 a.m. is just ridiculous.
CAs, like all normal people, would rather be skiing than sitting in an office. But "ski pro" generally doesn't pay as well, so trad-eoffs happen.
This is important to note: 10 or 14 hour days do happen for CA
students. If you go into this line of work not knowing this, you're
setting yourself up for a brutal shock.
Note that I wrote "CA student.
" Once you have your CA, you might continue to soldier through brutal January-February year-end audit busy seasons.
I don't work those hours anymore - anyone with their full designation does what they can to stick to work in other departments where you're busy during other times of the year. Others just quit and work for "industry" - meaning non-audit firms, where a 9 to 5 job is not seen as a rare perk, but something normal.
Once you're past the busy season hump, there's nothing like responding to friends and relatives who say, "oh, it's April, so you must be really busy, eh?"
No, you respond. The typical busy season, unless you're in tax, is January-February.
"Oh, so how was that?"
Not bad at all, I can now say - I haven't had to work on those jobs lately. My fall, on the other hand, wasn't as much fun, in terms of having spare time outside work.
I try not to be too much of a jerk about having "normal" work hours - when I see brand new staff waiting for their supervisor to explain how to run this or that through the audit I can usually help them out so they're not stuck and waiting for someone to come back. But helping the new hires is only one of the ways to stay busy. Then there's the surprise calls.
So, what's this about competitions?
I walked over to my desk and noticed a missed call - HR called.
But not the "you're about to be fired" HR call. Instead, it was from the nice people in campus recruiting, asking if I'd be available to judge a case writing competition at my old university this week.
They're smart people in that group - they know exactly what I wrote above - that my busy season is over, so if anybody might have a few hours to spare on short notice, it would be me.
Or someone in the tax group. But they picked me, so I win.
And so I return to my old university to see how well university students can grapple with an artificial simulation injecting a hectic week worth of accounting chaos into a single morning in the form of the delightful instrument of torture known as the "accounting case."
Then, with a CA from another firm, we'll judge them to see how well they answer the questions.
I think I'll bring my camera.
The internet is full of lively conversations about Canada's proposed federal budget.
@krisjoseph Tomorrow morn Jack Layton will pitch the burial of C Party leadership as a shovel-ready infrastructure project
As with most parliamentary democracies, the government's budget must be approved by the elected officials in Parliament before it is accepted. If it is rejected - a risk in minority government scenarios such as the one Canada finds itself in - the government falls. The opposition can try to assemble a coalition government. Failing that, an election takes place.
It must have been a little annoying to be a young CA tax professional with the thought in mind "this may never end up actually becoming the country's budget if the government falls tomorrow," while rushing to complete an astute summary of the budget to share with all the firm's clients and the general public.
Knowing that everyone likes a little publicity, the firms promptly posted their highlights. here's a set of links to all the Big Four firms' 2009 Conservative government budget proposal.
I originally posted the links to them via my neglected twitter @PromisedMePie account for the benefit of those following the #cdnbudget discussion but found them promptly ignored, which doesn't surprise me - those who were geeky enough to actually want to discuss the budget read the actual document itself. Though if you're lazy these links are a huge time-saver.
KPMG has a webpage with a nice little table summarizing the tax effect on personal income.
38,833 – 77,664
40,727 – 81,452
77,665 – 126,264
81,453 – 126,264
126,265 and over
126,265 and over
That's a very lazy copy and paste of the table, above, thanks KPMG. Note the clever user of PDFs by the other firms, reducing the ability to allow me to copy and paste selected excerpts.
The table's pretty straightforward - if you earn $40,000 a year, you currently pay 15% tax for the first $38,333, and 22% tax on the money you earn over $38,333.
With the new proposed budget, you'll only pay 15% on all your income instead. Saving 7% of that $1667 comes out to $116.69. Repeat the math using the same idea if you're lucky enough to be in the higher tax brackets.
Going back to the other big firms, you can find E&Y's announcement, in PDF form - direct link here. PwC also has a PDF, here. Deloitte, last to come online, has a webpage and a PDF which seems to repeat the webpage.
All are pretty similar and I'm not going to dissect the differences because that would rank among the highest possible colossal wastes of time I could come up with.
Colossal waste of time seems to be the partisan negative reaction to the budget
In the sense that I like to dream of big things, I would agree.
There's nothing to really grab Canadians' imagination. Like a spike in gas taxes to pay for the income cuts. We obviously can survive gas at double the price, so why not exploit this newfound knowledge, and reimburse Canadians who are good at saving gasoline with even more generous tax cuts? This way we avoid ruinous deficits and also help the environment.
It's not the only way the budget could've been improved, but that's the easiest idea I can dream up, and it only takes a couple of lines to share.
It hardly sounds ridiculous to me, either.
Would you fund income tax cuts with with higher gas taxes? Login to comment.
Right here at the ICAO's results page, coming a week after CASB Module 1 results.
In less than a year from now the results will be taken offline. A tribute to privacy or something. Until then, check to see if your favorite writers passed.
And to those who did, congratulations!
If not, you still have one more chance in May.
On a tech note, I like how the ICAO posts a temporary page up at http://www.icao.on.ca/ on results day. Nothing special, but it prevents traffic looking for CKE results from crashing the website with a heavy load of hits on the normal main page - all you get is the following today:
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario
CKE Results | CA Firms
And the last three parts above get linked to the relevant pages. Nice.
"Frack, no one told about this side of the game!"
While Ontario's 2009 January CKE writers eagerly await their results - coming out this Friday - last week the West Side writers including one talented young blogger got results from Module 1 of the CASB. I'm glad to report that our intrepid blogger as well as more than one of my other readers got the following message from the CASB's Alberta HQ:
“Eligible to Proceed”
That means they passed with flying colours.
The CASB's modules are like the CKE and SOA - prep steps you have to pass on the way to getting the write the UFE - ultimate final exam for CA students to write across the country.
Congratulations to all.
Speaking of congraultory happy news, I've made a small but long overdue update to the list of interesting sites to check out - Adrienne writes from the point of view of reason among American craziness - good times. Extended congratulations go out to Jeff, who joins the list as Private CPA, a newly qualified American Certified Public Accountant working in private industry.
Red Bull: the crucial but optional exam study aid. I still haven't had any of it, oddly enough.
KPMG UK made headlines today by announcing it's offering - encouraging? - it's staff to either take a 4-day week or 4 to 12 weeks off at 30% pay - a semi-paid-leave-of-absence. Interestingly, even some top partners are offering to lead by example, including the head of the Bristol UK office.
This follows the mandatory vacation that KPMG Canada staff had to take during the past Christmas break.
A move like that is extremely important if the firm is serious about this policy for all staff but wants to stave off the idea that Damian Wild suggests, that taking the offer could be a career limiting move.
It's definitely true that you need top as well as other senior and middle management to demonstrate that the company is serious about its policy, whatever they're trying to accomplish. In less drastic scenarios, this is also true in the case of flexible work arrangements - either in the case of ultra-temporary working from home arrangements, to actual 60%/80% workloads.
If you really want to make your HR people beam with pride, do like the best do, and make encouraging these sorts of practices in a positive way part of managers' appraisals at year end.
Going back to KPMG's scenario, since this looks like an act born of economic desperation rather than long-term planning, I do fear for the poor UK staff that are finding themselves in this situation.
Knights Templar heading off for vacation on the Eastern side of the Mediterranean.
The key issue with this scheme - I love the innocent British use of the word "scheme" - is how it's presented in this article
: employees "have the option of moving on to a four-day week, with the fifth day unpaid."
My concern isn't that this is a career limiting move so much that, as anyone with a bit of experience in AuditLand knows, a theoretically shorter week isn't necessarily shorter. All that's guaranteed is a 20% pay cut. But is that a free day to bum around at home and be unpaid, or will you still be working a full week, just not getting paid for Friday?
If you have generous bosses, they'll actually say, "go home, don't touch work" on Thursday night.
Knowing the time pressure of audit work, how likely is that - especially during the year-end busy season?
Talk of a 5-day week is silly when many people work 6-days a week. The truly driven go seven days a week, but I strongly advise against that for your personal sanity.
Will they actually balance the workload around so that everyone has a little bit of work rather than leaving some swamped and others beached high and dry? If they can pull that off it'll be a rare coup, but reality argues that this doesn't work out too well in real life.
If I found myself working for KPMG in the UK I would wait to see if
it's true that they're expecting the majority to take part - the press
accounts make it sound like this is the plan. Then I would quickly
seize the partially-paid vacation option. 30% pay for doing nothing trumps 80% pay for killing myself while everyone else is slacking off. Because I know, as much as I would love to be a slacker, I would still make sure the work gets done. Which probably means equally long hours.
A so-called 4-day-week is no way to live. If I had a house full of small children to support I might be looking at things differently - that 50% would probably be crucial - but if you have minimal needs, the 30% option looks great.
The other reported claim, that they're going to try and pay out bonuses at the end of the year, despite the current chaos, is either incredibly over-optimistic, or a clever way to rally the troops. I'm leaning towards the former, but these firms are pretty clever about not offering things unless they're pretty sure they can deliver. Otherwise the staff will remember the missed chances.
Avoiding layoffs through lower workloads
Reading the news, it's interesting to see who seems to simply crib from what sounds like the press release or wire service, and who digs a little deeper.
As the KPMG rep states, after laying off 700 staff seven years ago: "'In
hindsight we regret the redundancy programme we had in 2002. We lost
some good people.'"
This is smart and laudable thinking. Good business school profs teach the same way: make layoffs your last option - be creative and try other solutions first. If your first decision is to fire everyone, You're Doing it Wrong.
Hopefully they can weather the storm - it's not like people are going to cancel on having audits. Of course, the audit groups, with exceptions, are relatively more stable places in times like these.
Anyone working in the advisory/consulting side of KPMG, on the other hand, must be facing grim times ahead if news like this is going public.
I'll bet this would be a great time to get out of the British Isles and enjoy a proper vacation if you can manage it, though. Sticking around for seminars without food is just weak.
I'm having some food in the kitchen and I hear the TV in the other room. It's CNN talking about the plane crash.
Larry King, being himself: "What did the pilot do right?"
Survivor: "I think it was all in the landing."
The victim's answer is correct and to the point. I have a problem with the idiotic line of questioning.
I guess he has to fill his hour on TV with something. A shame there's UN headquarters getting blown up and no one seems to care.
Well, I guess they do care, since CNN reported on it, but given the blanket media coverage, but some happy "yay everyone in America's doing good" news will trump gross human rights violations any day of the week. Sad.
This is a really bizarre but true scenario: I found myself at a social event where someone asked me where I worked. I told them about my Big Four company and they said, "oh, that company."
Um, yes - why do you say that? Did we audit you before? Were you our client?
It turns out this person was opposed to one of our policies in another country - supporting the cause that they were opposed to, leading to protests and other political actions.
Above: clearly not the protest
Interesting - I didn't know we had that position, I respond. Because in Canada we actively support the political cause you're interested in - I'm helping coordinate one charity drive in this area, and I know of another major program where we do this and that.
It's kind of difficult for someone to lambast you when you reveal that, although in some region the situation may be different, being a company with over 100,000 employees in almost every part of the world, you're likely to see things handled differently.
I told some more stories about public knowledge events - and, in the interest of helping the other person save face, explained how yes, you'll always find something you don't like in very large organizations. Ironically, this person hadn't even heard of Satyam - I clearly wasn't dealing with someone who was following Big 4 news, I realized!
It's funny - when I was first asked where I worked I thought about using a more anonymous answer some of my more cautious friends use when talking to strangers. But when you do that, you avoid opportunities - to inadvertently turn yourself into a "brand ambassador" and end up experiencing more interested stories. And it was especially odd that I happened to be involved and aware of the various programs that helped calm down the other person. It helps to be involved and read the weekly newsletters.
But if you insist on staying more anonymous, you can just just switch to the topic to talking about things like how Bjork is going to save Iceland's economy.
Since November 6, most undergraduate students at Toronto's York University have been suffering from a strike that has shut down the university. CUPE, the union involved, represents both Teaching Assistants (read: horribly underpaid grad students) and part-time professors. Presumably if no professors were in this union the university could have just kept on going without its TAs.
As the photo above suggests, I didn't go to York for my undergrad - but all Ontario CA students spend the month of June there at the School of Accountancy, where this photo was taken. It's a mix of small seminar-sized courses with 30 people or less, and a few larger lectures where SOA-wide announcements are made to all - generally right before or after the practice tests.
For CA students, I'm curious to know what effect this strike will have.on the SOA - will it still be at York University this year? Or if classes resume and get pushed back into the summer, will the venue of that august institution get shifted to another university that will actually be in summer mode - with presumably more empty classrooms?
I'm sure the staff responsible for booking facilities at Ryerson and the University of Toronto are salivating at the prospect of a lucrative new June source of income.
I would be a good little reporter and actually ask the ICAO to declare what their plan is, but without a resolution to the strike in place, I'm guessing the above theory is as good as any and no firm plans have been made until things simmer down.
Status of the strike itself: selected comments
I've learned to avoid reading the often silly and inflammatory comments on the Star's website when I want to avoid watching petty grudge matches, but the articles on the strike are worth checking out. You get to see the union mentality and that of people fed up with these strikes.
Good times. Oh wait, here's another good comment.
I sympathize with the plight of a TA to the extent that I would never want to be in their position - trying to support myself on their pay alone. "
And it's true - being located at the extreme fringe of Toronto's city limits, if you don't have a car the commute to the campus is killer - as a result the parking authority jab is well justified. These suggestions are fun to read and poke for fun - here comes a truly brilliant suggestion from a University of Windsor alumnus.
A quick and lazy search for articles about the strike didn't turn up any support, but if that's true, it's hilarious.
I hope that wasn't written by an English major. The following, on the other hand, was clearly written by someone who is a romantic idealist - and would be smacked silly with a sack of doorknobs if they tried to say it in a room full of angry students missing out on their education:
There's more than one person who calls it the "York University Corporation", as if calling it "corporate" means the administratin is "evil" and they're "fighting the man." Good luck with that angle.
Ouch, that's a little more harsh than what I was thinking.
The more I read about this sad state of affairs, the more this sounds like the PTA Disbands, the classic Simpsons episode. Bashing the academic integrity of the institution (I think the exhaust leak is linked to the low test scores), and otherwise just giving the university a bad name - it sounds more and more like Springfield Elementary.
Homer: Lousy teachers, trying to palm off our kids on us!
Lisa: But, Dad, by striking, they're trying to effect a change in
management so that they can be happier and more productive.
Homer: Lisa, if you don't like your job, you don't strike: you just go
in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American
Students at York's own Osgoode law school have a stronger administration
looking out for their interests, which didn't 'palm off' the students on their parents: they went back to school halfway into
the strike. The MBA program, naturally, is also unaffected. Big money brings better service.
When will the rest of the university recover? And are we setting ourselves up for a world of hurt in 2010?
Layoffs are a popular topic - whether you're at KPMG, Deloitte, E&Y or PwC, or any of the other smaller regional or local CA firms, you want to know whether your job is safe.
Although some firms are improving communications with their employees, in many cases people often don't know what's going on until the last minute - so Francine's blog serves as, among other things, a clearing house for news, primarily for the USA.
In Canada layoffs have been creeping up everywhere, as the recession takes hold, but at a slower pace and lower overall rate than in the US, similar to how the recession has been relatively less severe, so far.
Whether your job is safe depends much on who your firm audits, and whether you have lost clients in the area that you're working in - and I mean that both in the sense of local city, and industry specialization as well. If your client ceased to exist due to bankruptcy or buyouts, hopefully you can pull of a transfer to a more successful arm of your firm - or have a chance to find yourself a new job before things really go downhill.
Even if you felt like things were going well, news of everything going wrong isn't good for most people's confidence.
Fortunately it's not all doom and gloom - being a CA with experience is good - you feel like you have job security even during economic downturns.
Just like fully experienced cabinet makers.
I still have friends talking to recruiters and starting new jobs, as a
qualified CA seems to always be in demand, somewhere. It's a bit
riskier to start a new job if you're uncertain about how your new
employer will do, but if you think your current position isn't all that
secure, perhaps the increased job security risk is marginal or
Particularly since the Big Four in Canada are engaging in two activities as a result of the 2008-2009 financial implosion: plain vanilla layoffs, and "forced vacations."
If you were already planning on taking vacation during that time period, it's not a big deal, of course.
But if you were hoping to coast through the holidays catching up on work - only to be told, "no, you must stay home, and you must use up vacation time you were planning to use later", that sucks. The way forced vacation works, unless clients expect to see you or has a deadline you must meet for them, you're told not to work - and instead put your backlog of "things to do" on the side, stockpiling them to be worked on after the mandatory vacation period is over.
There's no need to navel gaze obsessively about the Big 4 - lots of
companies are in varying degrees of trouble these days and are doing
this too. Some see less work, and are turning to layoffs immediately. Others are trying to
stave off the onset of layoffs by forcing their staff to take vacation.
While it's nothing new for many industries - where you're instructed to
use up all or a portion of your annual vacation allotment over, say,
the Christmas break - the "forced vacation" scenario hasn't happened in
recent memory among the Big Four.
You may disagree over which scenario is preferable, but I prefer to feel the sharp cut of a knife than suffer a death by a thousand working-paper cuts, though.
It's sad when people are forced to leave, but once the blood-letting is done, you move on with life. And unless you're in a very stressful stage in life, it's common to end up happier once you're working in a new company.
Forced vacations just feel icky, to use a highly technical term.
Interestingly, some firms have been very open internally about how they're dealing with the crisis, by sending out announcements to explain whether more layoffs are expected and when, while others are keeping people in the dark, leading to more malaise.
Count your blessings if you work at a company where management is open and at least comes out and tells everyone what to expect.
But if you don't experience this openness, why not?
Don't just leave that as a rhetorical question - go ahead and ask!
Perhaps not while things are dicey - use common sense - but when the appropriate forum presents itself down the road, if you felt like things weren't handled properly speak up and say why. Just don't be too surprised if people may actually listen to you.
I write that with the glaring assumption that you work with people who pride themselves on running a professional company and want to continually improve how they do things.
If you're instead employed in a Dickensian workhouse this is foolish talk you should best ignore.
But again, if you're working in a Dickensian workhouse - um, why is that? Surely you can do better.
Happy New Year!
Starting off 2009 and saying goodbye to all that has gone by causes many to embrace looking forward to what's coming up, or to write up a retrospective. Since I've been asked about why my writing frequency varies, I figured why not add up the totals on the side of this page and identify the trends? After all, even Google is looking back at the statistics on their blog too.
How often I write depends on both a combination of how much inspiration and spare time I have. If I have plenty of both, I write more, not surprisingly. And while I wrote yesterday about the typical auditor's busy season, you can't assume it's the same period of time for everyone, in the same company and in the same country. It's easy to get hit with a heavy assignment that eats up all your spare time during an unexpected time of the year.
This blog got off the ground in the fall of 2005, and started to gather steam as I continued to prepare for the UFE - using it as an excuse to study harder and write about what I was learning. Follow the old posts to see the site's old home - where I realize my writing style, and overall focus, was a whole lot more different than it is now. I don't embed videos with anywhere near the same frequency - leaving that fun to Videosift instead, unless something particularly interesting pops up worth sharing here.
Anyway, on to the statistics: I posted almost 300 entries in 2006, split among the old site and The Steeple.
In 2007 and 2008, on the other hand, I wrote 124 and 119 posts, respectively. That makes sense, considering I finished with my exams by then.
But I continued to officially mentor writers for the following exams. Since the exam keeps changing dramatically over time - and other people need a chance to be official mentors - I won't be officially mentoring my friends at work, but I seem to have a way to keep helping people over time. So I probably won't let the whole process completely fall off the radar.
Although I wrote less posts, they tended to be on topic more often than previously - not always on topic, but the tone seemed to evolve nicely over time. Since I have my CA and CISA designations now, I'm also sliding smoothly from the place of being purely a "student" of accounting to embracing the "instructor" responsibilities more with increasing frequency.
Of course, you can't learn everything in just a few years - living the role of the "student" never disappears completely. This isn't news to anyone who tries to teach something to others - every time you teach someone a given skill or piece of knowledge, you're really learning it all over again. And given the developments you have to follow in this line of work, even if you're not teaching someone else, the learning still never stops, keeping the job interesting.
In addition to there being additional levels of complexity to master on whatever topics you specialize in, the rules for accounting keep changing. The upcoming adoption of IFRS - the International Financial Reporting Standards accounting standards - is an excellent example for those working in Canada or the United States.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I probably won't run out of somewhat 'on-topic' things to discuss anytime soon.
My spam tracking also continues: I got pinged 808 times, a climb up from the 594 pieces of spam that hit me in November, but on par with the 897 that hit me in October. There was a major spam server shutdown in the middle of November, though, which no doubt goes a long way towards explaining that temporary drop.