June 2009 - Posts
Happy Canada Day - 142 years young!
I didn't have much time to reflect on that or do much more than watch fireworks, since today was a relaxing catch-up day, after a hectic June, where I got hit by 612 spams - a fall from May's 768.
Busy season is a relative concept, based on how much of a crushing workload you're currently enjoying compared to other times of the year. Oddly enough I got to experience what's essentially busy season in what's usually the slow season for most people around here. But that's ok, now I get to enjoy a brief lull before the storm of 'real' busy season hits in the fall.
The other concept of "relativity" regarding busy season is that where you're busy depends not only on your job and department, but your hemisphere. It's winter in Australia now and from what I understand, the madness of busy season is in full swing there.
And yes, I don't understand how they thought "Fly Girls" would somehow make sense either. I guess that's the Canadian in me.
Toronto's on strike. Two of the city workers' unions are, anyway. And from one union only 5% of union membership turned out to vote on the long weeknd in May. Great timing on the part of union leadership to ensure that they'd get only the diehard "hell no, we won't work" crowd to come out.
The city no doubt knew this was a foregone conclusion given they invested thousands of dollars in "out of order" signs for public garbage cans. No wait, I take it back. Turns out garbage workers were already on strike for eight days and I hadn't noticed. Oh well, it's still bizarre to be putting up these signs.
No wait again, that article is from 2002. The strike just started.
Brilliant. I wonder if any lazy journalists will start plagairizing from the 2002 article anyway? We can only hope, for the laughter. Oddly enough the first thing CBC does is reference the 2002 strike talking about 2009.
Going back to those signs, I've already seen kids ripping off the cans to use for their own creative purposes.
I forgot to add the www.krupo.ca watermark on that photo, so let's all pretend it's there.
At least the city is providing more subidized art supplies.
Rumour has it that happy-to-have-a-job city staff are setting up a facebook protest group to indicate
The irony, of course, is that if all those happy staff actually had no lives and went to the remote Scarborough voting location in May to cast their ballots the strike wouldn't have happened in the first place, but more importantly - what is up with group leaders - on both sides - who insist on going to the brink and indulging in strikes and lockouts when they could just come up with a compromise which would save everyone a great deal of hassle and venom?
At least the city news bureau types will have something interesting to write about as garbage starts piling up on city streets and less ambulances are available to carry away casualties.
Oh, and if you're not from around here or just too lazy to look it up, here's the main bone of contention - the ability to "bank" sick days.
At the center of the contract dispute is an existing perk
that allows workers to bank unused sick days and cash them in
when they retire, a practice the city of Toronto wants to
abolish because it says it will cost it hundreds of millions in
payouts over the years. Workers are currently entitled to 18
sick days a year.
Actually check out the CBC article because listening to union reps posture is hilarious.
"At 9:30 this evening, the City of Toronto tabled a proposal that we
considered to be complete garbage," CUPE Local 416 president Rob
Ferguson said Sunday. "It was a vicious attack on our membership, an
The only garbage I see is the refuse piling up on the streets because you're expecting the middle of the worst recession in decades to be a good time to be attempting to win big in contract negotiations.
What I consider worst about this is the childish use of invective. "A vicious attack" is when paramilitaries come to your house, drag you outside, and shoot you in the back of the head in front of your wife and children. Try being a union official in Columbia. Then you have the right to make dramatic claims.
I have sympathies for unions facing genuine trouble.
If you're earning $50,000 a year to collect money from people in a booth all day, you have got to be kidding me.
The point made by Local 79's president is even better, in that it's at least less insulting to people's intelligence: "CUPE Local 79 president Ann Dembinski said the inside workers
represented by her union were striking because they were asked to make
concessions that other city workers — like police and firefighters —
didn't have to make."
Fair enough. And I suppose lifeguards risk their lives sometimes.
But, guess what? Police and firefighters risk their lives on a daily basis.
Aside from the elite band rockstars known as lifeguards and similar people who have to go out there and put their necks on the line, most of you don't.
So suck it up and smell the massive expansion in welfare rolls and other drains on the city's coffers.
If you want more money, find a job that's less secure than your sinecure for life.
Having said all this, how can you be creating and dumping this much garbage after just one day of the strike?
Last week I wrote about a little billing fiasco on my last bill - the week was so busy I didn't end up calling back until today to find out if there was a solution.
There in fact was - Telus' IT guys did a good job of quickly repairing the issue which made incoming messages look like they were outgoing if they were from a certain website.
I vowed to try and milk this inconvenience for free perks, but the staff I dealt with were friendly and even sympathetic - talking about how they understand this is annoying. As a result, not only did I not feel much in the way of annoyance, I forgot about my grand plan to win additional perks.
I still might have remembered to ask if this started to turn into a hassle, but I was quickly transferred from the initial calltaker to an even wiser member of the team who quickly tracked down the correct incident ticket, made sure I would get the correct credit applied to my next bill, and apologized again for their gaffe.
So there you have it - anecdotal proof that having well trained, polite and competent staff ultimately saves your business money in the form of less credits spent on making up for your other mistakes.
The steak was a bit burnt, but the staff was so friendly and helpful in helping us find out way out of Georgetown that we almost forgot all about it - except for the photo taken for posterity.
If you're a Telus customer using twitter to get SMS updates, and you don't have an unlimited text messaging plan, get ready for a potentially nasty bill.
Although the USA has enjoyed this feature since the dawn of time,
for the past few months Canadians weren't able to receive updates from
twitter on their cell phones until the Canadian cell phone companies
and Twitter sorted things out amongst themselves.
Last month Telus caught up to the other major players and reintroduced incoming messages, which was wonderful.
just one catch - someone screwed up on the code in Telus' billing
software, and it started reading incoming messages from twitter as
Ironically I know the people who were behind the unvandalized original version of this ad campaign.
Read this painful account on HowardForums if you want to see what happens when you're the first person to get hit by the billing issue.
Thank goodness I wasn't the first person to report this - when I dialed *611 they were aware of the problem and vowed to fix things by starting an 'investigation.'
As any good IT auditor knows, that means a trouble ticket has been opened, along with no doubt hundreds of not thousands of other complaints which will appear from people like me. This will no doubt lead to a bit of overtime on the teams responsible for responding to these complaints, as well as the IT guys who have to fix the problem itself!
Once things are sorted out I'll get a credit on my bill for the excess text messaging charges, and the ticket will be closed.
It sucks when a company screws up on such a massive level but pretty much all the major cell phone companies unfortunately go through something like this from time to time so there's little you can do other than sit and wait. And get their Loyalty office to somehow compensate you for the headache that you go through having to dispute your bill to get it settled properly. I ran into one of my friends right after I saw this - he correctly declares this to be the pleasant upside to an unfortunate fiasco.
And of course, in the interim all cell phone updates via twitter are disabled on my account. It's nice to know what transittoronto is saying, but I can just wait until I get home to get the news instead.
And if they can't fix the billing issue in the near future, I look forward to a temporary free upgrade to unlimited text messaging. It'll be interesting to see how this pans out.
Did you get hit by this billing issue too? Click here to write a comment about your (mis-)adventure.
Training new people is huge in accounting firms. As you gain experience, you typically end up doing more teaching than raw accounting.
With that in mind, consider this questions, one of several I've received from my readers who have been sending me a series of interesting questions that are giving me a delightful backlog of topics to discuss..
In this case, we're asked about the difficulties you may encounter switching from one group, say the regular financial audit team, to the IT audit group in a given firm:
If, let's say, a first year financial audit staff is starting their second year in a firm and transfers into a second year IT audit staff position, wouldn't there be an almost insurmountable learning curve? The first year financial staff spent the entire first year in learning about financial auditing techniques, and now has to deal with tests on data conversions instead of auditing operating expenses!"
The good news is that no, this isn't an "almost insurmountable" learning curve. The bad news is that, yes, there will be a learning curve but how bad it is depends on a few things including:
- How closely the staff paid attention to those computer auditing lectures back in fourth year university.
- Whether they got to document some IT controls themselves while working in financial audit. Oddly enough, this too can happen.
- Their comfort level with IT - computers, software and the like.
- How smart they are in general - this is obvious, but bears stating: if you're generally clever you'll pick up IT audit quickly,
- The quality of the seniors, managers and partners who will be teaching them how to do their job.
I no doubt left out a few other relevant factors, but it doesn't matter - the fifth point is key: how you're taught affects how well you'll do your job when you're new to it.
After all, you're learning things that few people in the world even know exist as work.
Some people specialize in providing assistance to others.
Do you get more guidance as a first year rather than second year staff? Not necessarily.
Smart supervisors will tailor the amount of guidance and teaching they are going to provide to the capabilities of their staff.
The staff can help by volunteering information about their own skills early on, speaking up if it's the first time they've ever done a job or interrupting if the acronyms and jargon being tossed around are unfamiliar.
The advantage first year staff have is that they have learned one of the key tricks - looking at last year's file - but as good as that sounds, a strong teacher should not assume the staff already did the same kind of work before, and they should definitely not just say "look at last year's file and figure out." The reasons for this are well known: last year's file might not that be that good to begin with possibly because you inherited from another office or preparer, and mindlessly parroting someone else's work does not lead to the same learning experience as actually understanding what you're doing, including gaining knowledge of the deeper purpose of the work.
Last year's file is a good study aid - if you're looking at a complicated process, it helps to see if the evidence you received this year is similar in general format to what was obtained previously, but you want to understand how your work fits in the "big picture" - this control governs payments to those people, to allow that operation to get processed to completion, for example.
The moment the instructor realizes that the new staff has never done a given type of project before, teaching details about a small task should go on hold while the pair back up and take a look at what the purpose of the project is.
If you're testing the tiny details of a spreadsheet to confirm that a multi-million dollar project that affects billion dollar financial statements was performed successfully, it's good to point out exactly what those tiny details are in support of. Staff will generally be more interested in the work they're doing and knowing the overall context of where the work is coming from makes it easier to develop professional judgement when it comes to interpreting the significance of what's uncovered in the course of the audit.
If you think you could've been a good teacher but realized you'd rather do some accounting courses and maybe get paid more, then consider becoming a CA (that's #3 in the series).
Let me know how you teach your staff to be rockstars by clicking here to leave a comment.
Hot on the heels of my discussion of when people choose to leave, comes news from LYF - he has resigned from his current firm and has done so with style.
Go read all about it. It's a very good breakdown explaining how to pick the timing, how to plan the departure - starting 4 months in advance is advised, and factors to keep in mind, including the potential requirement to pay back exam fees the firm may have paid on your behalf.
I like the idea pointed out to get the new employer to cover such fees for you, along with a smart breakdown on how to share the news.
And I most of all like how it allows him to enjoy a summer-long vacation.
Well played, and good luck at your next job and during the summer adventures!
Check out this excellent summary of an adventure in hacking.
You can perhaps call it anti-hacking, given the nature of the victimized target in this case - a so-called "security website" charging money for security exploits, but which featured rather poor security.
Remember to keep backups of your data stored somewhere completely seperate from the computer hosting your website or other key production system to avoid experiencing too many tears.
Too many CAs? Isn't that like saying "oh no, that's too many roast potatoes?" Absolute madness, clearly.
Another interesting point I caught in the interview with Anonymous Partner discussed yesterday, was the claim that we're heading towards a glut of CAs,
which seems to contradict the demographic data staring us in the face.
"You simply cannot ignore economics. There is supply and demand. The
supply of CA’s will keep getting higher at this rate, and demand will
lag behind. This means that we have to start seeing a much larger
demand for CA’s or we will have much lower supply."
stands out since it runs counter to the claims that with the wave of
baby boomers retiring, we face, if anything, a shortage of CAs. Add
that to the institutes fretting about not enough students enrolling for
their apprenticeship programs, and this all becomes a bit of a mess to
think about. Of course, at the moment all I have is competing claims
dancing around my head - but the glut of baby boomers on fast forward
towards retirement is a fact I've read in the past. I'll have to find
some data on how many people are enrolling as CA students to determine
if there's any merit behind this claim.
Of course, many people
have complained that the CA firms control the input of new CAs by
restricting the number of new hires they take in, so you would think
that this is something the industry can, as a whole, manage. Unless
there's a brilliant scheme to lower average pay by increasing the
supply of CAs.
Given how overworked many solid professionals,
are, however, having more people joining this line of work doesn't
strike me as an especially bad thing, if you believe that people in this line of work are generally overworked to begin with.
IwanttobeaCA has a very interesting interview with a retired KPMG partner
which features many candid comments on the nature of the Chartered
Accountant designation and how things have changed over the years in
It also includes some smart tips for students trying to get hired -
talk to the junior staff at recruiting events instead of trying to
impress the big shots in attendance. With a small mob of people
crowding around the top representatives, they're unlikely to remember
you in particular, but the younger people from the firm you're
interested in working for not only may have a better chance of
remembering you, but you're more likely to make a positive connection
with them. And the recruiting teams do ask those younger staff to
identify who were the standout candidates.
There's one aspect of the interview which I found absolutely
troubling, though. It was the nonchalant attitude towards "eating
You ate time to meet budgets. And now you're dead anyway. Congratulations.
Eating hours means working and not reporting the number of hours incurred on a job to make the work look less difficult and time consuming than it really is.
From the interview:
Q: So let's talk working in Big 4. What are your thoughts on eating time?
(laughter) Eating time is an unspoken tradition. No one wants you to
eat time, but if you eat it, they are happy. (more laughter)
this is more a problem in the senior, manager levels who are looking to
impress. The bottom line is important to partners, especially junior
partners. I won’t lie to you. Any partner who tells you otherwise is
flat out lying through their teeth.
There is no way around this problem. If I say I don’t want you to eat time, you’ll say I’m lying. How can I be unhappy with a bigger cut of the profit? If I tell you to
eat time, cause I’ll write you a good review, you’ll think I’m a greedy
SOB. So how can I possibly look good? Either way I lose.
Partners want the all star managers to be partners. If you’re not an
all star manager, eating time is one way to make that appearance. I
won’t talk about the ethics or so behind that. It’s climbing the
corporate ladder. You earn your stripes in a difficult way in any
Well it's not "unspoken" anymore for his former firm, courtesy of the retired partner "John" who asked to speak anonymously for his interview.
If there's anything I've witnessed during my relatively short career, it's that I've received consistent and firm instructions to be honest with timesheets. They say that there are cultural differences among firms, and this is probably a key example of actions you would expect a whisteblower line to help with.
Now, you'll notice that, even under the veil of anonymity, the partner was careful not to say he's ever instructed someone to do this, but the way his response is presented makes you question why he didn't actually come out condeming the practice, instead shrugging it off with the pat "You earn your stripes in a difficult way in any
organization" response. That makes it sound like his firm condones the practice, which is simply horrible, because it can lead to the creation of a Doom Spiral.
Meet the Doom Spiral
Year one: the team goes over budget, but only charges the budget amount.
Year two: a new team comes in, looks at last year's budget, and the hours charged. Hey, it matches. Nothing else has changed, that must mean the budget was accurate. The team then encounters a job that can't be done in the budgeted time. A naive person will think that the "year two" team isn't as good as "year one". Either the quality of the work suffers as "year two" tries to get the job done in the artificially compressed timeframe, or their budget gets killed. If the firm's culture is still bad, though, then they'll embrace the "year one" team's approach of eating time.
Year three: Well if in "year one" and "year two" they managed to hit the budget, this year we can decrease the budget since we already know the job and can be more efficient.
This, is the Doom Spiral. If you eat time, you're contributing to it.
If you're in a firm where this is common practice, that's awful - dealing with it won't be easy. If your firm is more upstanding, then stand up to the error and don't allow people to bully you around.
Whenever you're challenging an incorrectly prepared budget, you must be ready for resistance with:
- a detailed account of where you spent your time
- reasons why the original budget is unrealistic (the first bullet should help greatly)
- an itemized list of areas of "out of scope" work that contributed to the overages. Depending on the job you're on you may not want to touch any work that'll put you over budget until you get explicit approval to do so.
If you can't defend the reason for killing a budget with hours that exceed what you were initially given, yes, you won't look good. But I speak from personal experience by saying that it is both possible not to mention laudable to challenge unrealistic budgets.
You're not doing anyone a favour by eating time. In many if not most engagements, clients are charged a flat fee based on the original contract (unless you find some of that sweet "out of scope" work), so going over budget doesn't directly hit the client. Instead, it hits the internal cost structure of your firm. Well if they're not managing their internal cost structure effectively by indulging in poor budgeting practices, wouldn't it be better to help them realize this sooner rather than let the spiral towards doom.