August 2009 - Posts
The number of spam e-mails hitting me continued their downward trend landing at 416, sliding even lower than last month's 437. Better spam filters at last? Wonderful.
I had several topics come to mind regarding how companies measure various metrics for success and failure, and of course they all slipped my mind, which points out a simple fact: I should really write down those errant ideas when they come to me instead of letting them drift off into the ether.
If it would be possible to get the electronic junk to disappear, and the glaciers to stay, we'd be set.
I'm over seven hours away from home right now, ready to start another exciting audit tomorrow.
Arriving about an hour before the hotel retaurant was due to close, I thought I was in luck - I could just wander downstairs and get something delicious.
Visions of delicious baked goods danced before me, but it was not to be.
In a small town on a Sunday night many places are likely to close early. Even in Toronto my local deli will usually shut its doors a good half hour before closing time if it's completely dead. I can't blame them - it's a smart decisions to send your staff home early if keeping them around will cost more than they'll give you in revenue.
And so it's almost cruel to find a delicious looking site like The Cooking Accountant on a night like this. Almost cruel, because there fortunately are a few places open that cater to late night arrivals, so I didn't have to subsist on chips and rice krispie squares for dinner.
The Cooking Accountant has an awesome image of a calculator and a whisk together as well as ideas on dishes you can quickly prepare when you're studying for accounting exams, or otherwise finding yourself pressed for time.
I'll have to avoid the site until I get home since I'm going to wish I could prepare food, but will have to resort to paying people to prepare food for me.
It's a tough life, but someone has to do it - unless there are some excellent mini-sized coffee maker dishes I should consider preparing, that being the only heating element in my room, aside form the laptop.
One could argue you could fry an egg on the edge of this laptop, given how much it tends to heat up, but corporate IT tends to frown on people doing that sort of thing.
Tick Marks has an article that's hard to believe - someone hired high school students to work on his audits. His name happened to be Michael Moore, but the guy punished by the SEC wasn't that Moore.
Not a big surprise. I've found the grave of Michael Moore in Victoria.
No, not that Moore either.
Then comes the story which made our jaws drop just a bit when shared with friends: "Accountant ‘treated like a prostitute’ sues City firm for £40 million."
The article states that, while working for PwC, the accountant claimed to be on the receiving end of racist and sexist comments, and she's suing for damages.
There's a curious claim in the article that she "claims that the discrimination prevented her becoming a PwC partner earning at least £500,000 a year plus bonuses."
I presume that this was phrased more delicately, in the sense that "she could have one day become a partner, had she not been subject to this treatment." Being 31 years old, partnership is not in the cards for someone that young at a Big Four firm. If you're incredibly good, you might score something like that in your mid 30's, but it's common for that to occur even later unless you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
In a case like this, everything outside the court is rampant speculation. Of course, that hasn't stopped the comments on the related article's discussion board from promptly tailspinning into the gutter.
Which case is worse? Moore's, at the moment, since the SEC has apparently proven it to be true, while the PwC discrimination case has just started it's second journey into the British legal system.
It should be interesting to see how that unfolds - a settlement to put things away quietly, or will PwC fight it?
It'll be interesting to see what kind of evidence is brought to light as a result if they don't settle!
I've finally added a link to the ACS forums, but given that it took me over the past three years to do that, I won't be hurt if you don't post there. But if you, great.
In the meantime, I'm seeing new forums popping up. Big 4 Bound was tired of relying on Red Flag Deals and just set one up too - you can find it here.
But until a critical mass shows up there, I don't see anything wrong with pointing at the giant crimson gorilla and its relevant discussions. A complete lack of time dissuaded me from wandering in earlier, and I don't plan on sifting through all the posts there - so feel free to point out relevant discussions. It's what we do around here.
Most relevant to people currently employed - and those wondering what future salary brackets are going to look like - is the rampant trench of speculation known as the salary increase discussion thread.
As many discussion boards as varieties of donuts at Lee's!
The RfD thread is in a holding pattern at the moment on general salary trends because many firms haven't
announced their annual raises yet. I'm sure it'll stay a hot topic for
the next month or so, though, particularly with the havoc from the
economy influencing firms' plans.
But it's also an interesting sounding board because it, once more, underlines how little people know about how the profession works, and I don't blame them, there's much more information to be shared.
And although there's much to be read in my archives, there's much more to share.
I should start writing faster. Or get guest contributors with smart things to say, that's probably not a bad idea - once an editor, always an editor I suppose!
Incidentally, there's also another elaborate board under construction which I'm waiting for permission to announce - and with that there'll be a complete set of exciting places for CAs and students aspiring to the role to spend their time learning how to be hardcore. That announcement should be coming out soon.
The post count on the left side here reveals that I've had a relatively busy summer, but now that I had some time to write some fresh posts and catch up on what everyone's writing about, I see several new interesting blogs popping up. I already mentioned Want to Be in my last post. We'll get to some interesting news from Chicago concerning Deloitte but first, some introductions are in order.
Winding Down Nuit Blanche Toronto 2007
Just in time for recruiting season comes Big 4 Bound who has some excellent insights into students' minds that recruiters should be aware of.
On very different track there's Jenny Cao, who's pursuing CA classes and Biotech at the same time. Wow. If she manages to post with any frequency while going through UW hell it'll be all the more impressive.
Finally, Narrowing the GAAP is another fun place - the resume tips are a good place to start if you're applying for jobs. The Big 4 Lingo post, on the other hand, is an excellent article to read and save for future reference if you're about to start your first job with any accounting firm in the next month or so.
It's great to see more sites popping up, many, or should I say most, of them Canadian, building something resembling an online community. It's a big leap from when the entire online universe of CA students, and university students considering their CA consisted of basically Neil and myself bouncing ideas off each other and whoever was kind enough to respond.
Particular worth reading from the sagacious class of writers is Francine's post concerning Deloitte's raises, or lack thereof, this year. As usual, the comment thread is jam-packed with commentary from those affect by the turmoil. Dennis' dedicated commentary on the same topic is also worth reading.
Worse than the poor environment for raises - which sounds like something that'll be a problem for most people this year - is the way the secret e-mail published in that article describes how the surviving staff - those who didn't get laid off already - will be treated.
In a word?
I don't think they mentioned yet another hit the Deloitte people are taking: the much-loved fitness benefits? Cut back in some regions.
Oh well, working all those mandatory 50 hour weeks for half a year won't leave a much time for exercise anyway.
I forsee severe turnover at Deloitte in the near future.
I have to commend The Accountant running I Want to be a CA for the recent articles, featuring a series of new and guest writers adding new perspectives, including that of a university professor.
Particularly interesting, if you want to see what the ground floor of an internal audit operation looks like, is the post by one US based IA intern called Big Tuna.
The searing photo from Hapa Izakaya simply jumped out at me after I read that article.
Big Tuna writes about the downside, mainly, of working in an internal audit group:
"If you don't have much of an imagination, enjoy working by yourself a
lot, don't mind monotonous work, have attention to detail, enjoys
following instructions, don't mind doing work that seems pointless (in
your mind), and wants a steady paycheck"
The article provides examples of painfully tedious "ticking and tying" exercises, where the young intern essentially makes sure all the paperwork is in order. It's not very fun, but in some companies, someone has to do it.
Are all IA jobs like this? Certainly not.
The "fun" IA jobs go to more experienced people, who either have several years of audit under their belts, or have spent a significant amount of time working at the company in question before moving to the IA group.
These are the assignments where problems are identified, and the IA team functions like a crack squad of business detectives, not necessarily looking for something that "went wrong", but finding where something could go wrong, and how the problems can be addressed.
Big Tuna also points out that if you crave travel and variety, IA isn't the way to go. If you end up at a small company with just one facility, then this is of course true.
If you're geared up for some globe trotting, on the other hand, keep in mind that many larger companies have offices throughout the world - and it doesn't make sense to keep their IA people stuck in a single building if they have a few dozen facilities or more to oversee. Travel is definitely an option - but your destinations will be limited to those places where your company does business, so it doesn't hurt to ask "hey, where are your offices located" before accepting an IA position.
"Arctic Disputed Zone"?
Not so much.
The summer of road trip adventures and weddings continues - a week ago sending ACS to a wedding in Waterloo, with a stop on the way at Kitchener's Golden Hearth Baking Company. I've been out there many times for audits, but this weekend had nothing to do with auditing anyone, unless witnessing people get married is a form of auditing.
Damnit, this work nevers escapes me. Oh well, at least we make it fun. And delicious, as I explain below.
Although the wedding was a fun way to fill up on said deliciousness, it only
lasted one night, so I loaded up on some of the wonderful baked goods
for Sunday by stopping there on the way.
Read a little about them, courtesy of their own website:
"They have been at it ever since. The bakery makes everything from
scratch including the croissants. They use only the finest quality
local and organic ingredients. They do not use preservatives or
artificial ingredients. They bake the old fashioned way with butter,
fresh milled flour, farm eggs and cane sugar. Many of the breads are
naturally leavened and are dependent on a rye based starter that Tim
developed from scratch. The bread process takes over 12 hours from
start to finish."
Reading that about their food makes the nourishment I got from them feel retroactively even more delicious.
I haven't been doing much in the way of "reviews" or gushing pitches about many eateries lately, but after hearing about the cover photo on my last post made certain people hungry for sushi, I felt obligated to do a little salute to wonderful bakeries before gracefully making a segue into talk about the adventures young auditors' business travel.
Whether you work in a large company's internal audit department or at an accounting firm, if you're sent out of town, you're given some sort of budget. The most generous places will give you a 'general guideline' but cut you some slack if you exceed the targets once in a while. Other places - and I imagine this is the majority - give you a predefined target, and if you go over it, any excess claim is denied.
The two most popular methods of 'controlling' how travelling audit staff spend money on food is to give them a per diem - basically a cash allowance for each day you're on the road - or letting you expense the actual amount of costs incurred.
The per diem option is, I imagine, the most popular since you don't have to keep track of your receipts, and some people try and eat as little as possible and as cheap as possible to save the cash as pocket money.
Of course, if you were to be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency, they would consider any cash you receive that isn't actually spent on your travels a taxable benefit, so the most conservative approach, to minimize tax risk, is to require that staff turn in receipts for all their expenses to be reimbursed.
If your receipts were ever to be exposed to the public would anyone care? Well it depends on who you work for. We'll get back to that.
The CRA audit is an admittedly extreme scenario, but then the CRA has previously gone after people's frequent flier points and asked them to declare them as taxable income. Fortunately that little bit of madness has reportedly been put to an end, but until the policy was changed, anybody using a credit card for business and personal purposes could've been a target. Note that if you're buying things for other people at work, the CRA may still use the previous policy to target you, so don't be greedy - otherwise you'll be in someone's crosshairs.
So are there any smart tips to take from all this? Definitely.
Big City Cupcakes in Vancouver - oh yes, I bought these, and no, I didn't expense them. This was a personal trip, for adventures in om nom nom nom.
Buying cheaper food from a bakery will allow you to enjoy a fancier dinner.
"Did someone say fancy?"
Oh wait, this could lead to trouble.
Although it's ironic to hear that the consultant at the cross-hairs of
the eHealth scandal was hounded for expensing Tim Horton's, and her
defense was that she did so in lieu of a fancier meal.
Interestingly, the reporter didn't pose the follow-up, "really, did you have no fancy meals whatsoever?"
But then, it didn't matter, as the mission was accomplished: it would somehow be less sensationalistic to attack someone for expensing equal in cost to 5% of their daily pay, as opposed to expensing something worth roughly 0.5% of their daily pay. Reporters love contrasts, and if they can compare the cost to some other arbitrary number that makes what you do look embarassing, they'll do it. Note that I didn't say "compare it to some other relevant number." Any arbitrary number works, as long as it embarasses you.
Which means you're screwed if you're working on anything that people feel like attacking you about.
So if you're working for a government agency, particularly on a very expensive contract, the new vogue is to avoid expensing anything you wouldn't want to see the Sun, Star or Globe reporting about.
Is this a practical solution which will eliminate all future scandals?
If someone has a political axe to grind, they'll find a new way of pointing out what they don't like about a given operation, or they'll pick some completely random and tangential and make that the symbolic hammer with which to beat you senselessly.
What's the best thing for government agencies to do? Get their job done, and get it done right, clearly, leaving as few symbolic hammers lying around and available for bludgeonings as possible.
What about auditors travelling here and there? On a completely practical level, any young or old auditor should keep in mind the general principle, which I imagine is true for the expense reporting policies of all normal companies: the purpose for being able to expense your costs is to leave you in a "neutral" position, compared to staying home normally.
Obviously this is impossible to achieve in absolute terms: at home you can cook for yourself, or share a meal with your family, while on the road cooking is rarely an option unless you're living in a rented apartment of some sort. So yes, you get to enjoy relatively more expensive restaurants - which may be a perk if you normally cook at home but would rather not - but the spirit of "neutrality" is still preserved.
Looking at it differently, yes, you get to enjoy a new venue and new sights, but yes, you're also being inconvenienced by staying away from your friends and family for the duration of your trip.
Flying in from Florida for a meeting in what's apparently your home town? Arguably not in keeping with the general principle. But sometimes major companies will fly you home from a vacation if there's an emergency and they need you in particular. I've seen it happen. People's vacations get mildly or absolutely ruined, but they get some work done, and save up said vacation days for another adventure.
If you're able to treat these small challenges to a normal personal life, you may still want to become a CA. If you think you even see a greater upside to it all than anything, then you should definitely consider it.
Good ways to keep staff happy include supplying them with massive quantities of high quality sushi, but there are other ways.
Working as a young CA - or as a CA student - you'll get used to fielding the impossible and getting it done without breaking a sweat.
Work: "We need you to do a two week job in 3 days."
You: "Can I get a 4 person team?"
Work: "You'll have one person helping."
You: "Close enough, bring it."
After slogging through whatever task you were assigned, you finish it, on time to boot, although perhaps with a little less sleep banked up than you would've preferred.
For all that hard work, a good manager will thank you.
A great manager will not only do that, but will remind you to shut off your computer and enjoy the rest of the weekend, or whatever free time you in theory could start spending on more work.
Yes, there'll be more things to do - clearing review notes and taking on the "next steps" of the project - but it's the very act of explicitly instructing a potential workaholic to put everything down and relax that is not only crucial, but is an excellent way to build good morale on any team of overachievers.
I'm finally back from vacation while city staff continue to clean up after their labour action. Posting was sporadic lately due to real life intruding, and the next week is going to be quite busy.
In AuditLand the current crop of interns are going to be winding down their summer terms and the brave crop of 2009 fall hires will be showing up in an accounting firm office near you in a matter of mere weeks.
Enjoy summer while you can, and dodge the spam - last month's count was
437 which tells me that either the filters are getting better, or I
wasn't the only person both on holiday and too usy to write.