• Accounting News Roundup: Robots and Spare Planes | 10.19.17

    By | October 19, 2017

    Robots

    How’s this for a creepy lede:

    One of Statoil ASA’s newest employees, Roberta, spends her days in the energy firm’s treasury department searching for missing payment information and sending out reminders.

    Her boss, Tor Stian Kjøllesdal, said Roberta’s heavy workload would improve overall efficiency in the group.

    Roberta doesn’t have a last name, a face, or arms. She is the first piece of robotic software to work in the Norwegian company’s treasury department, part of Statoil’s push toward automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, said Mr. Kjøllesdal, acting head of internal treasury.

    I can’t help but picture Roberta figuring out how to use a 3D printer to transform herself from intangible software to a full-fledged physical robot accountant. Then she’ll give herself a last name and surpass Tor so she can run the internal treasury more efficiently.

    I’ve started to notice a pattern in these “Here come the accounting robots” stories. There a number of sobering quotes: “It does not make sense to pay a human to do that,” says one guy; “Cheaper is one half of the equation, but it’s got to be better as well,” a woman says; “We are working on it,” says another. But then it wraps with vague reassurance for the humans:

    German software giant SAP SE is relying on human employees to make decisions on risk structure, debt-and-equity mix and hedging strategies, said head of treasury Steffen Diel.

    Yeah, but won’t the robots learn how to do that, too? “The job descriptions of our employees will change,” says a guy. Okay, sure, but what will they change to? Hopefully not: “Retire replicants.”

    Executive perks

    Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the General Electric’s new CEO, John Flannery, is busy making changes. They include axing one of his predecessor’s bizarre travel practices:

    For much of Jeff Immelt’s 16-year run atop one of the world’s largest conglomerates, an empty business jet followed his GE-owned plane on some trips to destinations around the world, according to people familiar with the matter. The two jets sometimes parked far apart so they wouldn’t attract attention, and flight crews were told to not openly discuss the empty plane, the people said.

    The second plane was a spare in case Mr. Immelt’s jet had mechanical problems. A GE spokeswoman said that “two planes were used on limited occasions for business-critical or security purposes.” Mr. Immelt didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    When Mr. Flannery took over on Aug. 1, one of his first belt-tightening moves was to ground GE’s entire fleet of six business jets, and that’s just the beginning.

    Company cars, a lavish retreat, and “thousands of corporate-level job[s]” are on the chopping block. Not mentioned in the Journal, however, are the multiple adjusted EPS figures that the company is fond of. And you might say, “How is a non-GAAP metric an executive perk?” The Bloomberg article that reported on the “confusing accounting” may have the answer:

    GE uses adjusted figures to highlight items that “can be controlled by management” and reflect continuing operations, the Boston-based company said in a statement.

    Makes sense. Like most companies, GE’s top performers will create the best numbers they can. Imagination at work, people!

    Related-ish: SEC is once again ‘guiding’ companies on their use of non-GAAP numbers

    Previously, on Going Concern…

    Greg Kyte’s Exposure Drafts cartoon addressed good mentors with bad utilization. In Open Items, someone is feeling self-conscious about starting at a second-tier firm instead of a Big 4. Also, Accountants…or Excel Monkeys.

    In other news:

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