November 20, 2018

Accounting News Roundup: Robots and Spare Planes | 10.19.17

accounting news private jet


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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Accounting News Roundup | 01.21.10

How to find the “best and brightest” [CPA Success]
This may be a better topic for the friendly HR professional but figuring out who these future accounting rock stars are before they show up on their first day is “more art than science”, as Tom Hood notes.
Popular to some old-school thought, GPA does not always indicate who’s going to dominate in the real world and “soft skills” — besides being a terrible term — are in more demand than ever.
Help The The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago Help Haiti [Re: The Auditors]
The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago is having a drive today and since Francine’s friend is the CFO, we’ll be glad pass around the news:

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Guillermo Becerra, is the CFO of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. I asked him how I could help him, and the Red Cross, during what must be an incredibly busy time post-Haiti earthquake.

“The Chicagoland community will come together on Thursday, January 21 to give to the American Red Cross as we help the people of Haiti recover from the catastrophic earthquake that devastated their country last week.
The Chicago Helps Haiti media relief drive begins at 5 a.m. and lasts until 11 p.m. Nearly every TV and radio station in our area will be promoting this fundraising effort throughout the day. You can help too, by giving via phone or online, and sharing your thoughts here, on Facebook or Twitter, and by asking others to give.
To give from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. CALL 1 (877) 565-5000 or visit

Plus, we’re guessing that if you give, your 2009 tax return isn’t much of a concern.
If Your Password Is 123456, Just Make It HackMe [NYT]
The Times is concerned that you have a shitty password which puts you at a huge risk of being hacked by someone sitting in their parents’ basement.

Imperva found that nearly 1 percent of the 32 million people it studied had used “123456” as a password. The second-most-popular password was “12345.” Others in the top 20 included “qwerty,” “abc123” and “princess.”

You know who you are, ye with stupid passwords. Also, don’t even think of changing it to “654321” because that drops in at #19.

Accounting News Roundup: Haiti Relief Passes Senate; Accounting Job Surge? CPAs Basically Control People’s Lives | 01.22.10

Senate votes for faster tax breaks for Haiti gifts [WaPo]
As expected, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday that allows taxpayers to deduct donations made for Haiti relief efforts. You have until the end of February to donate so that it may be included on your 2009 return.

Maybe it’s bad legislation but we’ve been over that.

CPA Jobs Set for Surge. But When? [CPA Trendlines]
That’s the question, isn’t it? Rick Telberg, who has done a great job of tracking the Bureau of Labor Statistics on accountants, points out that while the latest BLS forecasts a 22% increase (279,400 jobs) by 2018, there’s no indication that it’s happening now:

[M]any tax, accounting and finance professionals are still slogging through the Great Recession. The Association for Financial Professionals, for instance, reported that about one in four respondents say their organizations will contract in 2010. At the same time, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of private companies found 43 percent of CEOs and CFOs still budgeting no expansion over the next 12 months to 18 months. The data just seem to reinforce economic uncertainties and a weak outlook.

The BLS is looking past the past the recession for the jump in opportunities but just when the hell will that be? Just because the economy isn’t contracting currently, doesn’t mean it won’t in the future and this “recovery” has been tepid at best.

Theismann to CPAs: You Are the Conscience of America [Web CPA]
Joe Theismann gets it. He knows that without all of you out there in CPA land, your clients don’t stand a chance. They’d be finished. Finished!

“You’re the conscience of America,” Theismann told conference-goers. “You are the survivors in tough times. With accountants, I’m not looking for someone to file taxes and do my financials. I can do that myself online. In your position you can basically control people’s lives.”

So get out there and control somebody’s life. Joe Theismann is expecting it.