Given that I haven't been posting much in the past four months, the fact that the site's still running on an old platform, and I've been very lazy about properly resizing images to smaller sizes, this doesn't surprise me at all. I cheered myself up, though, by checking large corporate sites and seeing that despite having professional teams doing their development, they score just as poorly in the mobile friendly tests.
And if it's any consolation to me, I see this site rendering really well on BlackBerry 10 devices, so at least the business world can access this well.
The further you get away from the UFE, the less you think about the gruelling sequence of exams taken to become a Chartered Accountant. Hearing about other tough exams is definitely a memory trigger that can bring back that experience. To become a London cabbie you have to pass “The Knowledge” which is arguably even harder than the UFE.
The NY Times has a great read the Challenge. So glad I’m not planning a career change!
I'm amused by junk mail sometimes. Especially when it comes from large reputable companies that don't know who I am, so they have to address their mail to "Resident."
Oh yes, what is it you're offering me? A service for $50 per month, subject to 9 pieces of fine print? Well let's read those!
To my amusement, there's actually 12 pieces of fine print, and they don't line up at all with the 9 on the big piece of marketing collateral. I'm not interested in actually buying the product, but like a good auditor, I've tried to tie to their "supporting evidence" and found that they screwed up. They used "marketing template A" and "legal template B", and it's a giant mess.
I do wonder if the poor lady the CBC spoke to about Bell Canada sending her a massive bill for a $309 when she expected to be paying $91.03 simply didn't read the fine print carefully as Bell seems to argue, or whether their fine print wasn't set up properly in the first place.
If you ever wondered why auditors want a copy of all your documents and contracts, that's why. It's no fun to work on guessing whether someone's interpretation was correct if you don't have some real hard evidence to follow up with.
The CBC article is infuriating because all it shows is the lady's final bill and disconnection warning, and none of the original setup documents. Yes, she's in a bad place. Is Bell's claim that she willingly fell into their tarpit of despair? We don't have any evidence to prove either case. A shame this didn't get hashed out more thoroughly: at least you get a lesson in how NOT to do several things. Setup telecommunciations agreements and sever them, for example.
Ontario's auditor general reviewed the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, and their audit report's been around for a while. Here's a link to the PDF.
It's a depressing read. I've heard many of the facts from the report in the media, which is no surprise given the report came out almost two years ago,
Two of the most glaring red flags surround the airport express train, The UP Express (I guess PU Express doesn't sound much better), and the Presto fare card - not to be confused with a streaming movie service.
For Presto, the people of Ontario have spent over $700 million re-inventing the wheel. The amount of money paid is scary. The auditors pointed out that instead of putting out a 'tender,' meaning a request for all competent developers to say how much they would charge to do the job, Metrolinx instead simply extended its contract with their vendor, leading to what looks like a glaring cost overrun.
But paying more is ok as long as you're getting good value, right?
Metrolinx has terms in its contract where it can get penalty payments back if service levels aren't high enough. Guess what? The auditor noticed that service failures kept happening and penalties weren't being collected. "smh" as the kids say.
As for the UP, that was supposed to be a private-sector project. Banks concluded it was so risky, they refused to lend money, so the government took over. The auditor is worried that Metrolinx has no idea what they're doing. Much more professional language is used to communicate that feeling, but it's pretty easy to pick up on that sentiment. There are basically two general ways to run that service: charge as much money as you can to milk people who don't mind paying for a 'luxury' service, or charge a reasonable fee and introduce subsidies to make up for any gaps in funding.
Finish shaking your head when you get to the Metronlix response: they seem to hell-bent on damning the torpedoes and going full speed ahead. Cost overruns? Not problem! The executive business crowd will pay $29 per trip because it's such good value and you get a check-in before you get on your train, and free wifi for your ride on the brown-green train cars.
The first response to the auditor can acknowledge the many problems that have been raised and how they're going to be fixed. Instead, there's a page of double-speak and bafflegab recognizing how important their mission is and how they're going to get things done. It got a little better afterwards in response to specific recommendations, but when the auditor says, "you're going to charge way too much money for this service," gets the response, we will "make adjustments based on customer feedback we receive," that doesn't insprie a lot of confidence. It sounds like the, "hey, let's do our crazy option ok? We'll do our crazy option. If people hate it, then we'll look into changing it."
My poor city.
Longtime readers know this place came about because I returned home from audit orientation and explained that I was at "Accounting School," which is the easiest way to translate Big Four onboarding training sessions to a five-year old.
In response, she said, "you were at a counting school?" And this site came into existence.
I'm attending a special course devoted to internal audits right now. It's been a good day where we discussed synonyms for "audit finding". Like observation.
The Ford brothers.
If you're going to talk about how to dress in an accounting firm's office, you'll end up talking about how all accountants dress, whether they work in tax, audit, or in an actual "business" that does things other than deliver audits and other "value added services."
I'm going to share one tip for guys: always tuck in your shirt.
Is it summer and you feel like letting it hang loose? Don't.
If you're working in North American cities, the loose carefree untucked polo shirt unfortunately doesn't work.
For much more extensive snark, particularly in the comments, Going Concern had a classic article on the topic - read on.
That's an easy question.
The answer is no.
Eugenie Bouchard's father thought he could create a partnership where the money he spent on training his daughter could be used to generate a tax loss. Unfortunately tax law in Canada doesn't allow you to enter into a contract with your 9-year-old daughter. To quote the article,
"The investors in the partnership had intended to make their
contributions in exchange for 10 per cent of Ms. Bouchard’s future
tennis earnings, up to the amount they contributed, plus a 10-per-cent
rate of return per year. But as the court ruling noted, Ms. Bouchard was
never a party to the partnership despite being the source of its income
– as a nine-year-old, she could not reasonably have consented to
signing away part of her future earnings. Instead, Tennis Mania’s
business model relied on her goodwill to honour its terms. In the eyes
of the law, that wasn’t enough."
It's an interesting idea, but not something that actually works.
It's delightfully shocking to see the gap between people who are putting forth an intelligent and well-written argument, and those who would fail on any exam. The intelligent example is on the Toronto Realty Blog regarding buying or renting a property.
In some situations - especially a short-term contract in a city you're merely visiting - it's a good idea to rent a home, since the transaction costs from buying and selling property will likely eat up any gain you might be lucky enough to enjoy if prices are shooting up.
On the longer horizon, there are many factors to consider - and buying and renting both have pros and cons. The foolish argument comes from a Remax agent, Jamie Johnston per the comments on the first blog, who froths angrily at the idea that renting will work for you economically. My favorite part is where the author argues that even FALLING prices are good for property owners. Seriously, here's the quote:
"The biggest risk one can make is not investing in real estate! If real estate prices increase, those who do did not buy are clearly the losers. But the naysayers will still ask: what happens if real estate drops in value? If they do, then both the Renter and the Buyer win. So how does the Buyer win? When real estate prices fall, the more expensive properties fall further. So while the property you own is worth less, the property you want to upgrade to is also worth less and the price gap narrows. The best time to upgrade your property is usually when prices are falling, not when they are rising."
My shock comes from the argument that falling prices are a Good Thing for the owner of a property, compared to a renter. There's a complete logical breakdown in that sentence. You're essentially hoping that other people will lose more money on their investment than they did? And you're ignoring the fact that the renter hasn't lost anything - the money they saved up instead of placing it all in a large downpayment is still there, if they invested it conservatively or, if you will, wisely.
There's math presented that I didn't bother citing, which doesn't seem to account for the interest that could've been earned on the down-payment either. And on a larger property that can amount to a sizeable difference. If you're going to use that money for leveraged investing too, yes you're taking on risk - as you would with real estate - but you may diversify it into different asset classes.
Buying is an excellent move for many people - especially in propserous markets where the appreciation of property exceeds depreciation rates and other cost, and the peace of mind isn't something people put a dollar value on necessarily, but it's a Good Thing as well. Economically is not always the perfect or even most desirable choice - just ask many Americans who find themselves underwater!
Don't allow a cheerleader to let you rush blindly into a scenario where the option makes no sense.
Thanks to this month's Heartbleed bug shutdown, Canadians get an extra 5 days to file their taxes - the revised deadline for 2014 is May 5 as the CRA announced.
Despite what most people think, not all accountants do the same kind of work - I'm not a full-time tax accountant, though this was another season where I spent some quality time at the free CA tax clinics. The majority of the clinics run in March so if you qualify for them, plan ahead next year to take advantage of a really useful service. Much better than spending $60 when things are tight when that could go towards food or shelter!
Two general principles you should keep in mind:
- Society works well if there are rules in place, there's a cost to this.
- People respond to incentives.
To run a society, you need a basic level of taxation to enforce the Rule of Law.
In addition to your basic Rule of Law, there are activities that your community will decide are favourable or unfavourable. Polluting the air, we can generally agree, is a Bad Thing. Educating the children, by the same token, is a good thing.
Charge a tax on activities that cause pollution, apply that to education and enforcement of law. Add on a basic level of taxation to close the gap between what your pollution tax collects and what you need to break even.
Reality is of course several orders of magnitude more complex, but if you get into any more detail, you're making it too complicated.
Get things done properly, and move on. Let the "experts" deal with the details.
If you're wasting money on frills like entitltements for politicans, though, you're Doing it Wrong.
If you visit CAmagazine.com - at least between now and the end of 2013 - you'll be greeted with this cheerful message:
Welcome to CPA Canada!
The CICA and CMA Canada joined together January 1, 2013, to
create CPA Canada as the national organization to support unification of
the Canadian accounting profession under the CPA banner.
Our integrated CPA Canada website will launch in January 2014.
Until that time, all our existing resources, services and information
are available through the CICA and CMA Canada legacy sites.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone: the first order of business after any sort of merger or takeover is to start the massive rebranding effort.
The Editor-in-chief, Okey Chigbo, spoke to the upcoming changes. I do hope he continues in his role sitting awkwardly in that chair, as the magazine does a fairly decent job despite being an 'industry journal' covering what a common outsider would dismiss as "a magazine for accountants?!" The erstwhile competition exist in the form of CMA magazine, a publication I haven't really been paying any attention to.
I was about to brush off CMA magazine, being a CA and all, as a publication only running 6 issues a year, compared to the much more robust 10 issues a year that CA Magazine has been running off, but then I stopped and gaped: CMA magazine has the inestimably Mara Gulens in charge! If you're not a total nerd, I'll forgive you for not recognizing her as the past editor of Toronto Computes!, a publication from that heady era where the best way to share information about computers was still in print. She did an excellent job in very difficult times. I recall how under her reign the passage of BBSes as a mainstream-ish "thing" happened, along with the slow but gradual transition to the "current" era of online everything. I mean, google her and you find an ancient job posting advising applicants to fax their resumes in. Sensational!
All this nostalgic talk is, if you think about it, entirely appropriate given that two publications with well over a century of history between them are about to merge into something new starting this January. Both publications have wonderful editors so I hope the accountants in charge will find a good home for both of them. The skills and experiences they bring will, not to be too dramatic about it, hopefully not disappear.
I recall many instances where a colleague, client or other external auditor provided me with a PDF. And the partner I was working with would ask for one of the tables in that PDF, except they'd want to change a grand total of two or three words. Maybe the year, whatever. Unfortunately, PDF files are like a piece of paper. If you want to quickly swap out a word, it's like assembling a ransom note with words cut out from different magazines. Cumbersome, ugly, and perhaps even a little creepy.
Adobe provides some very rudimentary solutions, but more specialized tools are generally called for. One such solution is a handy program called Able2Extract PDF Converter 8. I'll stick to calling it Able2Extract, though A2E or PDF-Undo sounds equally tempting!
ACS reviews Able2Extract
I planned on doing more reviews when setting up the scope of ACS. Never really got around to that, along with many other topics that should get covered one day.
Able2Extract opens quickly, and guides you to its open dialog to find the PDF you want to start working on. I'd like the ability to drag and drop a PDF file into the main window but it doesn't look like that's an option.
If you've already opened a PDF in the past, the file history does give you access to your last four PDFs.
Once the file is open, you have the option to extract your PDF into a Word or Excel file, as well as PowerPoint, Publisher, OpenOffice, HTML, AutoCAD or into an Image. The last option seems redundant, given that you could easily copy and paste into Paint, but the option to select different resolutions, sizes and formats (BMP, JPG, PNG, GIF and TIFF) is handy. There's even a GIF animation option I simply had to play with.
I had already converted PDFs that were one or two pages, and those completed within seconds. I wanted to try something that could make the program choke, so I did something silly for the GIF animation feature test: rather than take an amusing series of images from a TV show or viral video, as one might normally do, I dug around and found the first ever Costco cookbook sitting in one of my computer's slush folders - I have no idea where that came from, but it's a thing, and it's a 276 page document, perfect for torturing a program like Able2Extract. to get cracking while my timer started. With the PDF weighing in at 112MB, this should be well within Able2Extract's capabilities. It got to 35% complete in 5 minutes, I got nervous thinking it had stalled, and then the progress bar continued on its merry way, proving that PDF extraction software is much like the proverbial kettle. Stop staring at it, because that only makes it nervous and impedes boiling. Or extraction.
13 minutes and 40 seconds later, the GIF appeared, and was auto-opened on my computer's graphic viewer. Impressively, the GIF was half the size of the PDF, coming in at 55 MB.
The program downsampled the images in the cookbook, which explained how
space got saved, but everything was perfectly legible and the 276 frame
"animation" worked perfectly. Yes, I actually sat there and watched 276
slides of cookbook fly by. And I did this shortly before Thanksgiving
dinner, so I got downright hungry in the process.
I reran a new conversion, this time giving Able2Extract the somewhat more sane task of converting that same PDF into a Word document instead of creating an animated GIF. The output was more useful, but the conversion still took a while. I initially expected the conversion to be faster, then realized this would not be the case as the progress meter was only a third of the way through at the 8 minute mark. The extended conversion time suddenly made sense, however, when I considered the much more elaborate formatting work the program had to engage in to take all the images, tables and text boxes that comprise the cookbook, to convert it all into a Word file.
Sadly, the conversion ran 24 minutes and then warned me it ran out of memory. I was, mind you, running a battery of other applications at the same time. No matter, the program halted the conversion process gracefully rather than locking up itself or the computer. I decided to give it another shot at the project, and rebooted my system.
I rebooted, ran again. Sadly, the process halted, seemingly at the same point - the error code and line detail was identical. I've crunched through messy PDF files using Adobe's proprietary tools in the past and those exercises have gone for 30 minutes to an hour as well, so the program did as much as it could - to pull off a conversion in "one shot" I'd clearly have to upgrade the RAM on my computer. The fact that there were no crashes were a testament to Able2Extract's coders, though it's a shame it wasn't able to pull off a trick like caching enough data on the hard drive to avoid running out of memory. I could've completed this task by scanning two "halves" of the file - and you're entirely able to select a sub-section of a PDF - and I did just that with a few of the first pages to confirm my theory. A small disappointment here, but not the end of the world.
Having put Able2Extract through a stress test I toyed with some of the other conversion features. The ability to convert a PDF to HTML was an interesting one, as I took a PDF of a resume and had it spit out as a webpage. The output looked very professional, even better than I expected.
The program did what I expected with small tasks, and partially succeeded at the large. There were a few other small things to nitpick which I'll get to, but no absolute show-stoppers.
Installation and Help documentation
Installing the program was exactly as straightforward as it should be. Run the Install program, pick your directory, off you go. Able2Extract kept it simple, and it worked just fine. Good job there.
I scanned through the Help files in the program. The files are saved locally and open in your browser. The documentation's very easy to read and the company is very friendly in its responses to frequently asked questions. My favourite was the response to "fatal internal error #16," a problem I didn't personally experience: "This error is very rare and should never occur. If you are receiving
this error, please send us an email with the file attached ...". Throughout the documentation the company is quick to offer a response if you have a bizarre PDF file that won't open. I don't harbour a lot of half-gig sized PDF files, but they claim they've tested their software to open mammoth beasts and Able2Extract should be able to pull it off, assuming your computer has enough power to do it.
What I'd like to see
The program offers a very straightforward conversion process, holding the user's hand through the steps needed to convert a PDF. You can select the entire PDF or just highlight parts of it. The instructions in the "Quick start tips" feature correctly tell you to left click the portion of the PDF you're interested in, but the introductory help boxes have a small error, telling you to "hold down the right button." Not a big problem, but a small documentation error that can lead to confusion with users unwilling to click the "other" button to get a response.
I wrote at length about the challenge you face when trying to force the program to swallow a huge file in a single shot. If you have 2 GB of RAM, you in theory have four times the minimum required. I'd advise running at least 4 GB if you want to deal with PDF files that are larger than 100MB efficiently - the recommended specifications page from the developers would be better served by mentioning "recommended" in addition to the minimum required specs!
The program pulls off some fascinating tricks with embedded graphics. You will not get a precise rendering when the authors of a PDF have used sneay tricks, like the watermark embedded in Groupon coupons, but Able2Extract is clever enough to render those as graphics you can then drag away, to reveal the underlying text. When text is comingled with a graphic, you may or may not get the words within that graphic extracted. I played with an order confirmation from NCIX.com and the plain text was extracted without a problem, but text embedded in graphics was treated like a graphic. As the program does not feature an OCR engine that'll decode text that's in graphical format. This is a perennial challenge for all sorts of programs, but given that Microsoft OneNote does an amazing job of doing an OCR function, it would've been good to see more OCR capabilities here as well.
Quibbles aside, particularly on the trouble it faced in its stress test, Able2Extract showed itself to be a good program that delivers on its promises and boasts several handy features to do things I hadn't even considered doing like HTML output. It's a worthwhile purchase if you deal with any volume of PDFs that you need to have their contents extracted, and have a sufficiently stronger computer to cope with larger files.
The program has a free 7-day trial, and it's available for Windows, Mac and Linux, so it's definitely worth trying if you have a ridiculous document in PDF format that you need to extract some information from.
Investintech provided me with a free copy of the program to prepare this review.
The reasons aren't particularly important, but I'm going to acknowledge the fact that there's been an exceedingly long break between postings here. As a reminder, the original "scope" of this site, to use CA-speak, was to track notes and force myself to think more about the UFE. That milestone after three days of writing, and got validation along with an awesome victory poem from a friend along the way. I've meandered away from that core scope with various observations on the profession and whatever else seemed interesting at the time, but it's good to realize that there always is a 'home topic' to return to over time.
And the bonus good news out of all this is that my study buddy did end up passing later on a repeat attempt.
So did pretty much all my other friends and mentees through the process. We're getting close to a decade since the process started for us, but everyone found their way around or through the challenges thrown up by the exam.
Now I find myself coaching co-ops who are more than a decade younger than me - ouch, I know - who'll face new hurdles with all new pillars of competency assessment. Although the terminology will keep evolving, the general idea will stay the same. Aim for perfect, inevitably screw something up, and fix your answer up so it's good enough for a pass.
Next page »
My stalwart contacts pointed me to a video you can see here (click the link if the embed below doesn't cooperate, it's being fussy with me) showing the new CEO of Ernst & Young Mark Weinberger extolling the virtues of, well, I'd say the Quality in Everything (They) Do, but that tagline's dead and buried. On a very superficial level, note that the official external short name is "EY", dropping the venerable ampersand and getting the firm in line with PwC and KPMG which haven't really been big on that, as well as Deloitte which has been the Big Green Dot but not D&T for most of the past history.
The video is trippy in that it shows the vision of a Global Big 4 Accounting Firm but steers wildly clear of the majority of the tough slogging that the Chartered Accountants, CPAs, CMAs, and CGAs battle through on a daily basis. I had to rewatch the video and register the thoughts that impact along the way.
The first fifteen seconds is a happy little montage with stock footage of Mark with headlines announcing his appointment to the top job. This is actually a pretty savvy move so you don’t simply go, “who is this random guy,” though he’s quick to burnish his credentials by explaining he left the firm three times, noting he “joined four times,” to really develop those political connections which are all so handy in a world where accounting regulations are like manna from heaven for accountants when mandated by governments. Be sure to freeze the frame 28 seconds in where his accomplishments are listed along with a series of stars which I gather indicate the order in which he did each gained each of those Life Achievements. I really hope an airhorn went off similar to the achievement siren in Team Fortress 2 (opens in new window) when he hit those points.
This follows by a series of jobs he held for Clinton and Bush and a rundown on all the meetings he keeps holding with politicians, to make sure politics match what the business world would like to see. This leads to an act break at 1:30 where he mentions a Vision through 2020 for EY to no doubt increase business and continue to make oodles of cash. No matter which large firm you work in, you’ll at some point encounter the lovingly crafted Five Year Plan. Some will be set to run 7 years, but that’ll usually be so that can point to a nice Big Round Number. Think only individuals care about big milestones like turning 30 or 50? No, firms love those round numbers too. Sorry, did I digress? Well he’s talking about being globally integrated and all sorts of other lovely corporate speak which probably fills you with no real knowledge because you’re busy being distracted by images of Asian cityscapes, possibly Singapore, which subtly tell you all you need to know about the future of the global economy. Hi-tech infrastructure also pops up, finally alluding to the Massive Fortune 500 corporations that are in fact linked with EY’s type of work, although doing it in the most subtle way possible.
There’s some gobsmacking but clever messaging at the 2:08 mark. First, he mentions how “through every Advisory project we help companies get more efficient to hire more people and build their local communities.” I’m going to have to pause on three thoughts there.
Every Advisory project.
Companies get more efficient.
Hire more people.
I had fantastic professors who told my classmates and me that layoffs should be the last thought on any intelligent person’s mind. There’s a tremendous human cost when jobs are lost and you’d better do you’re damned best to find a Good Solution that doesn’t involve the loss of jobs. If a company goes out of business, or is on track to do so, that’s the last ditch line of operation that may occur, not your first move.
So with that logic in mind, I admire where he’s coming from, by focusing on creating new jobs and hiring more people. But he couples this with the idea that every project the company takes on helps with this. That sounds like a very ambitious assertion, to put it lightly. It’s one thing to make a bold vision statement, it’s another thing to make bold claims that an auditor would raise their eyebrow on in a most Vulcan manner. This may, of course, explain the new logo – there’s surely enough shock going around after a messy year where a lot of North American offices endured a nasty string of quiet layoffs. With that in mind, please pardon my skepticism on the idea that the consulting gigs the firm engages in always have hiring more people as an end product.
The next thought he dances through is the matter of “revenue tax engagements,” which makes sense given his tax law background, talking about how they help companies comply with complex rules around the world. It’s funny to hear that. On the one hand, tax regulations are actually relatively straightforward in some countries if you’re not trying to do something “interesting.” There are many reasons why you need to hire high priced consultants. Perhaps you’re operating in a country with super byzantine rules. Then again, maybe you want to find a way to structure your operations so that you earn accounting profit in a country with very low tax rates, and incur very high costs to wipe out your accounting profit in high tax rate countries. There’s nothing illegal if you’re complying with each country’s tax laws, but that doesn’t mean local governments don’t get extremely angry, or at least pretend to be extremely angry to avoid being voted out of office, such as in the UK where Amazon, Starbucks and others have been subject to Tax Shaming. Anyway this is a happy introduction pointing to the future, so let’s not get hung up on that.
Throughout all these wonderful clips of exotic international locales one thought comes home: where are the actual accounting minions? Asian fruit markets and harbour ferries look cool, but have little to nothing to do with the work EY does. Which is kind of hilarious because he drops, “Building a better working world” in a roguish little way before introducing it as the official new corporate tagline, replacing the old “Quality in everything we do,” tagline. Not a single Excel Spreadsheet or Powerpoint slide deck being lovingly crafted. A pity, for anyone who wishes to give a shout out to the peons in the trenches.
We’re then told at 3:03 that this is “an incredibly important time in the world economy,” and I’m sure there are reasons to support that important statement. And I’m still waiting to hear them when the focus jumps to the importance of the organization and the ‘relevance it provides.’ I don’t see how the Third World classroom footage ties back to the firm’s operations, but hey, let’s do quick jump cuts before anyone can really digest any of the corporate catchphrases and happy “We’re saving the world” messaging in a critical manner.
I love the fact that he was also in Scranton, PA, which is home of the American version of The Office. One day, with any luck, there’ll be a wonderful parody video with Mark playing Gervais’ role.