Audit

McGladrey’s PCAOB Inspection Report Is Pretty Awful

The PCAOB continues tearing through audit firms like a Texas twister on a random Tuesday during tax season, as it unleashed its fury on McGladrey yesterday. How bad was it? Well, Deloitte can certainly feel better about itself. The Board reported deficiencies in nine of the nineteen (~47%) audits inspected. Deloitte, if you remember, had […]

The PCAOB Knows You’re Monkeying Around with Documents

The PCAOB's Director of Enforcement and Investigations, Claudius Modesti, is on to your little game. You know, the one where you get all shifty with your audit workpapers once the word spreads around your office that inspectors will giving your ticks and ties the stinkeye. Oh? Not familiar with anything of the kind, you say? This […]

Brits Want to Make Wrist Slaps for Big 4 Auditors Slightly More Uncomfortable

Britain's audit regulator, the Financial Reporting Council's accountancy and actuarial discipline board (AADB), has decided that even though its fine of £1.4 million of PwC in January was a record, it really didn't satisfy as a "credible deterrent." Accordingly, the AADB is floating some ideas on how to make the fines a little less "meh" […]

Busy Season Problems: Auditing During a Tornado

You may have heard that yesterday, "as many as a dozen" tornadoes sorta had their way with the Dallas-Fort Worth, destroying homes and damaging property. Thankfully there have been no deaths reported.  Usually when inclement weather threatens a city, there is some kind of advance notice. For all their short-comings, weather (wo)men typically get these severe […]

The Big 4’s Lobbying Efforts In Europe Make the Banks Look Like a Bunch of Amateurs

Proposed audit reforms in Europe, which include mandatory firm rotation and a ban on advisory services provided to audit clients, have been met with, shall we say, resistance: The Big Four are campaigning hard to stop many of the core changes from being approved by the European Parliament and EU states. Smaller auditors are urging lawmakers […]

FYI: Those Jones, Moore & Associates Audit Opinions Aren’t Worth Much

There probably aren't too many of them floating around out there, but if you happen to see one, see if you can get a second opinion: The SEC alleges that James Michael Murray raised more than $4.5 million from investors in his various funds including Market Neutral Trading LLC (MNT), a purported hedge fund that claimed […]

Auditor Denies That an Auditor Was Paid Too Much Money to Audit

Yes, even if it was Allen Stanford's auditor: CAS Hewlett, an accountant in the Caribbean nation of Antigua where Stanford operated a bank and numerous other business interests, received $4.6 million for auditing services, said Morris Hollander, a certified public accountant who testified as an expert witness. “Are amounts paid for auditing these companies in any way […]

The Center For Audit Quality Has Animated Auditors For Your Learning Pleasure

For your daily dose of YouTube-based comical entertainment, Prof Albrecht (via Bob Jensen) has shared a new video brought to us by the Center for Audit Quality which seeks to explain for the unwashed masses what auditors do. As Albrecht so eloquently points out, there is not a single mention of what happens when auditors […]

Ernst & Young Settles a $2 Million Slap on the Hand With the PCAOB

And no, before anyone asks, this has nothing to do with Lehman. According to the PCAOB, Ernst & Young settled with the Board yesterday related to three EY audits of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation to the tune of $2 million, the largest civil penalty levied by the PCAOB to date. Note that a settlement doesn't mean […]

The Oscars Pretty Much Sum Up Everything That Happens In Public Accounting

Who is excited about the Oscars? Certainly not me, I don't watch movies. But whatever, power to the people who do. Anyway, I came across an article discussing the possibility of Oscar ballots going electronic (you mean to tell me they haven't been up until now?) and found the description of PwC's duty of care […]

Now That They’ve Put the Biggest Fraud in India’s History Behind Them, PwC Thinks an Independent Audit Regulator Might Be a Good Idea

PwC India Chairman Deepak Kapoor is in Davos and must be engaging in some real brain busters. I mean, what savvy political mind could have passed along this little suggestion? "[W]e need to move with the times. A number of large countries such as the US and even some smaller ones like Sri Lanka have […]

Memo to Audit Firms: If Steven Thomas Sues You, That Means You Really Screwed Up

If you've been reading Going Concern for a while, you have probably heard the name Steven Thomas. If you're unfamiliar, he's a partner at the law firm of Thomas, Alexander & Forrester in Vencie, California and he's done quite all right for himself by suing auditors. Big auditors. He served as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in […]

Senator Carl Levin Wants Auditor Names

Back in October, the PCAOB officially proposed that audit partners be required to slap their name on the audit report of clients that register with the SEC. For those inside the profession, this proposal isn't exactly popular, as that would put a specific name and a specific face with audit failures.  In other words, no […]

Almost Everyone Thinks Mandatory Auditor Rotation is an Awful Idea

Back in August, the PCAOB issued a concept release on audit firm rotation and invited anyone who had the time and/or energy to comment on it (as did we). In the wonky little corners of the accounting blogosphere, there was strong opposition to rotation from Jim Peterson and Francine McKenna (although their reasons differ from your […]

Wanted: CPA Who Isn’t Hung Up on Things Like Money or “Meticulous Records” to Perform Financial Statement Audit

From the wild and wonderful world of Craigslist comes a small Las Vegas business who really needs a financial statement audit but doesn't quite have the money or the filing system to accommodate anyone who would insist on either: So anyone looking for extra work out there should get in touch ASAP. I'm sure this […]

As it Stands Right Now, Deloitte Was the Worst Big 4 Audit Firm in 2010

Yesterday, the regulatory love child of Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley, the PCAOB, issued its 2010 inspection report for Deloitte. Deloitte was the third Big 4 firm to have their report issued this year with PwC and KPMG being issued just before Thanksgiving. While the reports for both PwC and KPMG were of the "we're […]

You Can Officially Check “Updated COSO Internal Control – Integrated Framework” Off Your Wish List

Another Festivus miracle!  The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) – an organization providing thought leadership and guidance on internal control, enterprise risk management, and fraud deterrence – has released, for public comment, an updated Internal Control – Integrated Framework (Framework) intended to help organizations improve performance with greater agility, confidence and […]

Audit Reform Goodie Bag to Be Opened Tomorrow

Michel Barnier delayed things for a week – not his choice – but your anxiety should subside tomorrow:

Internal markets commissioner Barnier will present his audit reform proposals to European Parliament tomorrow, one week later than planned. […] Headline proposals include pure audit firms, mandatory joint audit and mandatory rotation, but critics claim the measures would not address Barnier’s proclaimed objectives.

Barnier’s audit reform unveiled tomorrow [Accountancy Age]

In Case the Tryptophan Doesn’t Work, Here Are the KPMG and PwC PCAOB Inspection Reports for Your Reading Pleasure

Actually, if you’re in to this sort of thing, it could make for some pretty interesting reading.


We pointed to a couple of reports this morning (and there are more) out there on the Board’s criticisms of the two firms, so we won’t repeat them here. The most notable thing seems to be each firm’s response to the report. KPMG went with the standard three-paragr��������������������er that promises that they’ll suck less at auditing in the future.

2011_KPMG_LLP_US


But as Floyd Norris pointed out, PwC’s Chairman and Senior Partner Bob Moritz as well as Assurance Leader Tim Ryan put their names on the firm’s response to the Board’s inspection that outlined what steps were being taken to improve the audit quality, which is a first. The firm also released this statement from BoMo, acknowledging the slight uptick in deficiencies:

PwC is built on our reputation for delivering quality. We also recognize that the role we play in the capital markets requires consistent, high-quality audit performance. We therefore are focused on the increase in the number of deficiencies in our audit performance reported in the 2010 PCAOB inspection over prior years. We are working to strengthen and sharpen the firm’s audit quality, including making investments designed to improve our performance over both the short- and long-term.

2011_PricewaterhouseCoopers_LLP

So you can all this – signatures, action plans, etc. – for what it’s worth but the messaging has certainly changed and it differentiates PwC from KPMG. Will have to wait and see if Deloitte or E&Y follow suit.

Senators Grassley and Reed Would Like to Make Every Bit of PCAOB Wrist Slapping Public

For some time now, quite a few people have been asking for PCAOB disciplinary proceedings to be made public. Since your beloved Board came into existence, the process of slapping around sketchy auditors has been secret much to the chagrin of those people that would like audit firms to take just a little bit [pointer and thumb about an inch apart] of responsibility when they royally screw things up. It’s all for the investors, you see. After some rib jabbing by Board Member Dan Goelzer and Chairman Jim Doty, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jack Reed (D-RI) have picked up the flag by introducing a bill that would make the proceedings public:

The bill would change a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that requires the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to keep disciplinary proceedings against auditing firms confidential.

Undoubtedly, this will rankle auditors who would prefer that all the skeletons stay firmly stuffed in closets. Of course what many people forget is that the secretive nature of the PCAOB disciplinary proceedings are the exception rather than the rule:

[Grassley and Reed] argued that the PCAOB’s closed proceedings run counter to the public enforcement proceedings of other regulators. Not only the SEC, but also the Labor Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and other government agencies use public proceedings, as does the self-regulating Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Nearly all administrative proceedings brought by the SEC against public companies, brokers, dealers, investment advisers and others are open, public proceedings.

The Reed-Grassley bill would make PCAOB hearings and all related notices, orders and motions, open and available to the public unless otherwise ordered by the board. The PCAOB procedure would then be similar to SEC Rules of Practice for similar matters, where hearings and related notices, orders, and motions are open and available to the public.

This all seems like a pretty good idea. I mean, what makes auditors so special? Exactly. They’re not. They just happened to go from self-regulated to regulated in a flash and had a few K Street types twist in some features to Sarbanes-Oxley that kept things under wraps.

The problem, as a few people have pointed out, is that the Board still isn’t really that tough on auditors. Sure, a few more people might suffer some public embarrassment (which we’re happy to point out), but will investors really be better off? That remains to be seen but at least we’ll all be able to revel in the good fun of mocking the offenders.

Senate Bill Would Make PCAOB Disciplinary Hearings Public [AT]

David Cay Johnston Has A Few Questions

Why do we let corporations pick their auditors? Why do we have only four big firms instead of a dozen, a score or more? Why doesn’t government do the audits, as the IRS does tax audits? Why is law enforcement handcuffed by inadequate budgets and rules that hinder investigations? Why are auditors allowed to quietly resign instead of being required to blow the whistle? Auditing needs a shakeup, fundamental restructuring and the accounting firms need a serious debate about their failings, practical and moral. [DCJ/Reuters]

Has an Auditor Ever Been Whacked For Snitching on Fraudsters?

I’ve gotten some crazy questions over the years but this one pretty much takes the cake. I’m not saying it’s stupid, nor am I saying it’s all that crazy, it’s just… well… out there, is all. Read on.

Dear Adrienne,

I’m a college student at the University of North Texas. Fraud has been a hot topic in my courses this month. We covered many scandals including Crazy Eddie, Barry Minkow, NextCard, Enron, and Bernie Madoff. This has got me thinking a lot about how I would react if I was in the shoes of the auditor. The students in my class always say to just report the fraud, however they never put themselves in the shoes of the fraudster to determine how the fraudster would act nor do they think about protecting the reputation o watched enough movies to know that if a fraudster finds out that somebody knows “too much,” then that person probably won’t make it home alive that night, unless they cooperate. I remember in that movie, “The Other Guys,” the auditing partner got killed because the fraudsters didn’t want him snitching out any information to authorities.

Another thing is that if it is found out that a partner is involved in fraud, this will ruin the firm’s reputation if this gets reported to the SEC. However, if the firm handles this internally, fire the partner, admit mistake, and let the public know that it doesn’t want anything to do with the partner, then perhaps only the partner would get in trouble and not the firm.

So exactly how are you suppose to act in situations of fraud? Of course AICPA tells us to first report it to your supervisor, then to the audit committee, and then the SEC. But still though, you got to get this out before someone kills you and you’ve got to handle it in a manner that best protects the reputation of the firm. Am I right? Also, have you ever heard of any auditors that were murdered because they knew too much? When you read about Enron or the Bernie Madoff scandal, there are talks about death threats, but you don’t necessarily hear about any murders involved. So it may be something that only happens in the movies.

Well, since you brought up Crazy Eddie, my first instinct was to pose this question to Crazy Eddie’s corrupt CPA, Sam Antar. Thankfully Sam obviously checks his Twitter account every five minutes and had some thoughts for me almost immediately.

“Yes, the potential is there. Depends on the client. Have that person contact me if worried,” he tweeted. Now isn’t that sweet? If anyone out there is feeling the heat, you know who to hit up.

His thought? It’s rare, if not impossible. Why would a fraudster whack the auditor? By the time the fraud is uncovered, it’s too late. The workpapers would likely document said fraud, so the fraudster would then be forced to whack the entire chain on up to the partner and who has time to do all that killing? “No logic in whacking outside auditor unless part of conspiracy,” Sam said.

That being said, does anyone remember Allen Stanford’s sketchy auditor C.A.S. Hewlett (“C.A.S.H.” get it?!)? He apparently kicked the bucket on January 1st (a real accountant would have kicked the bucket on December 31st, pfft), just a month before Stanford was charged with fraud (though he didn’t get arrested until June of that year). The circumstances surrounding his death were, uh, weird to say the least but I don’t think anyone is going to go so far as to say he got whacked.

Or how about Ken Lay? I mean, does anyone really believe he had a heart attack? There is even an entire website dedicated to exposing Ken Lay’s post-mortem life.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky, and I don’t expect you to know this since you haven’t made it out into the real world yet. What is an auditor’s job? Is it to uncover fraud? Or is it to verify with a minimum of certainty (a.k.a. “reasonable assurance”) that the financial information presented by a company is probably legit? If you answered the latter, you win. Forensic accountants dissect fraud, auditors simply check boxes. I’m sorry if this offends any of you hardcore auditors out there but in your hearts, even you guys know I’m right. Auditing is a joke, an intricate dance (read: performance) that exists more for entertainment than functionality. If you don’t agree with me, I’d be happy to name any number of companies that prove my point for me (let’s see… Enron, Worldcom, Overstock, Satyam, Olympus…).

What do you think the odds are that a first or second year auditor would even be able to detect fraud? Don’t you think the criminals behind it are at least clever enough to hide their wrongdoing from a bunch of fresh-faced kids with their SALY checklists? Look at the lengths Crazy Eddie went to – to success until their greed got the best of them and a chick ruined the whole scam. And that’s the thing, the auditors rarely uncover fraud, it’s usually the fraudsters themselves who end up exposing themselves though greed or just plain stupidity.

Whistleblowers don’t make friends but they don’t have to hire armed guards either. Like I said, by the time the fraud is exposed, it’s too late to start killing people to hide the truth.

And thanks to SOX, it is illegal to “discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass or in any manner discriminate against” whistleblowers, so a more likely scenario is that revelations of fraud will come from within the firm, not from the outside auditors who are pissed off to be doing inventory counts on New Year’s Day.

You watch too many movies, kiddo. Just check the list, collect the bank recs and call it a day.

Wanted: Full Set of Dentures for Auditor Watchdog

The dynamics at both the PCAOB and the Big Four are horrible. The incentive at the Big Four is to keep prices down to the point at which it’s impossible for a new entrant to break into their charmed group; after all, if it means they end up cutting corners, the worst that happens is that they get gummed by the toothless PCAOB. [Felix Salmon/Reuters]

The Big 4 and the Revolving Door

Last week the bane of Big 4 auditors existence, the PCAOB, broke their cherry on releasing Part II of an inspection report for a Big 4 firm. The honor went to Deloitte, who sufficiently blew off the Board’s recommendations for 12 months, which led to the release of Part II.

Bloomberg‘s Jonathan Weil, who usually sits back with popcorn while these things go down before chiming in, got to it today but with a twist that you probably weren’t expecting:


board members had recused themselves from participating in meetings or discussions this year concerning Deloitte, because of past or current ties to the firm, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

The board members — Lewis Ferguson, Jay Hanson and the board’s chairman, James Doty — were appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in January. Doty had been a partner at the law firm Baker Botts LLP, where Deloitte is a client. Ferguson was a partner at the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, which also represents Deloitte. Hanson, a former partner at the accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen LLP, has a daughter who works for Deloitte in its Phoenix office.

The board’s policy is to not disclose recusals, in spite of its mission to “further the public interest,” as if these are none of the public’s business. “Recusals are confidential,” Colleen Brennan, a board spokeswoman, said. Doty, Ferguson and Hanson declined to comment. A Deloitte spokesman, Jonathan Gandal, said: “The PCAOB itself does not comment on recusals, and as such it would be inappropriate for us to do so.”

It’s a pretty nice scoop by Jon and we’re all used to the silence from the PCAOB and Deloitte when someone gets the best of them but honestly, is anyone surprised? Does anyone care? The answer to the first question is “No.” The answer is the second question is “Maybe.”

With the exception of Mr. Hanson (family connection, we’ll give you that one), the recusals seem a little silly since neither Ferguson or Doty actually worked directly for Deloitte. Okay, so Baker Botts and Gibson Dunn have Deloitte has a client. Which Big Law firm doesn’t? It’d be pretty tough to find any DC lawyer who didn’t do some time at a firm that represented Deloitte. That goes for any Big 4 firm. They’ve all got deep pockets with lots of legal problems, of course they’re going to hire the best lawyers money can buy. Does that make guys like Ferguson and Doty unfit to make decisions with regard to that firm?

Well, for one year it does. Under the Board’s ethics code, Doty and Ferguson will be able to vote on matters involving Deloitte in January. Still, Weil doesn’t like the smell of it. And it doesn’t stop with the PCAOB:

[T]alk about being wired: The SEC’s chief accountant, James Kroeker, is a Deloitte alumnus. At the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which writes U.S. accounting rules, the wife of one board member, Russell Golden, is a Deloitte partner.

Look, we like Jon (even if he is a Colorado grad). But how do you find accounting policy makers who aren’t from the biggest, best connected firms that have the most resources? Should the Commission start appointing academics to develop policy? Eeek. Or maybe we’ll let the public make recommendations, “Yeah, my cousin’s a CPA out of Tulsa. Really knows his stuff. He’d be good.” Please.

Dan Goelzer’s seat is coming up and he’ll be replaced by a CPA. Weil hopes that the SEC will find “a qualified person without Big 4 allegiances” but with the revolving door spinning, he’d better hope for a wild card.

Goldman Sachs Envy Gains New Meaning at Big Four [Jonathan Weil/Bloomberg]

Brits To Give Big 4 the Full Monty

Britain’s top accountants are to have their own books scrutinised after the consumer watchdog referred the business of checking companies’ figures for a full-scale competition inquiry. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it had been concerned for some time that the audit market is highly concentrated with low levels of switching and substantial barriers to entry. The watchdog estimates that in 2010 the “big four” firms, PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young, earned 99% of audit fees paid by FTSE 100 companies, while between 2002 and 2010 only 2.3% of FTSE 100 firms changed their auditor. [UKPA]

PCAOB Publishes Part II of Deloitte’s 2008 Inspection Report, First Ever for a Big 4 Firm

They really, really, really don’t appreciate it when you blow off their recommendations. Here’s the statement from the Board:

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, in anticipation of questions about the publication of previously nonpublic portions of its May 19, 2008 inspection report on Deloitte & Touche LLP, issued the following statement today:

“The quality control remediation process is central to the Board’s efforts to cause firms to improve the quality of their audits and thereby better protect investors. The Board therefore takes very seriously the importance of firms making sufficient progress on quality control isn inspection report in the 12 months following the report. Particularly with the largest firms, which are inspected annually, the Board devotes considerable time and resources to critically evaluating whether the firm did in fact make sufficient progress in that period. The Board can and does make the relevant criticisms public when a firm has failed to do so.”

So to clarify, Deloitte had until May 19, 2009 to get their methods up to par but failed to do so. To put this into a little bit of context, Jim Doty was not yet the Chair of the PCAOB and Barry Salzberg was still the CEO of Deloitte’s U.S. firm. Does this mean that the PCAOB has been stepping up its game and this is the first instance of many to come? Hard to say but the audits that this inspection report cover are nearly five years old, so it’s debatable as to the value of Part II being made public now.

For Deloitte’s part, here’s current CEO Joe Echevarria’s statement:

“Deloitte is committed to the highest standards of audit quality and as newly elected CEO, it is my foremost priority. Our commitment extends from the top and cascades throughout our entire organization. We place great value on the PCAOB’s input and continue to work with the Board in support of our shared objectives. We recognize that audit quality is fundamental to protecting investors and ensuring the effective functioning of the capital markets.

“We have complete confidence in our professionals and the quality of our audits, and agree that there were and always will be areas where we can improve. In our drive for continuous improvement, we have been making a series of investments focused on strengthening and improving our practice, and will continue to do so to make Deloitte the standard for audit quality.”

In other words, a non-response response. However, it’s much more measured than Deloitte’s response to the initial release of the report. Their response letter spelled out their feelings quite clearly:

Professional judgments of reasonable and highly competent people may differ as to the nature and extent of necessary auditing procedures,conclusions reached and required documentation. We believe that reasonable judgments should not be second guessed and therefore disagree with a number of comments as indicated[.]

Deloitte’s letter is located Appendix C. You can read the full report, including all the details from Part II that were previously unpublished, on page 2.

PCAOB_2008_Deloitte

Muddy Waters CEO: There Are Some Big 4 Partners in China Conspiring to Defraud Investors

As you probably heard, the PCAOB officially put out a proposal earlier this week for audit partners to be named in the annual reports of public companies. It would also require “registered firms to disclose the name of the engagement partner for each audit report already requirethe form” and “disclosure in the audit report of other accounting firms and certain other participants that took part in the audit.”

While most Big 4 audit partners are probably feeling a little chapped by this whole proposal, there is at least one person going on record (by way of PCAOB comment letter) that feels that it doesn’t go far enough. That would be Carson Block, the CEO and founder of research firm Muddy Waters. In Block’s letter (in full on page 2) to the Board he writes that not only should the engagement partner be identified but that he or she should be putting their name on the audit opinion because “[it] will decrease investors’ future losses to fraud and gimmicky accounting by billions of dollars.”

That on it’s own is enough to get more than a few people riled up. But as we indicated, there are some conspiracy and fraud accusations as well:

Even the most reputable auditors in China seem to be in a race to the bottom. We believe that there are particularly egregious situations in which some Big Four partners in China offices have actually conspired with their clients to defraud investors. Further, it is a reasonable proposition that the conflict of interest inherent in the Chinese auditors’ business model also affects the quality of US company audits.

Now before your knickers in a twist, don’t forget that this is the guy who called Sino-Forest a “Ponzi Scheme for the 23rd Century” which more or less looks to be accurate. Further, if you consider all the trouble Big 4 firms have had with Chinese companies listed in the U.S. and elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to be that much of a stretch that some partners would just say fuck it and work with their clients to keep a lid on the shenanigans than go through the pain of actually doing their jobs.

Regardless, with these accusations the PCAOB may try to make another run at getting the Chinese to play ball.


Carson Block 102011

PCAOB Officially Proposes That Audit Firms Name Names

For some time now, the PCAOB has been talking about making audit partners famous (at least to investors that are paying attention) in ways that they aren’t too thrilled about. Earlier today the Board issued a proposal for comment that will do just that.

The proposed amendments would:

• require registered public accounting firms to disclose the name of the engagement partner in the audit report,
• amend the Board’s Annual Report Form to require registered firms to disclosgagement partner for each audit report already required to be reported on the form, and
•require disclosure in the audit report of other accounting firms and certain other participants that took part in the audit.

So if you can consider yourself an astute observer of auditing policy and regs, they’d love to hear your thoughts. However, it would be greatly appreciated if you didn’t take your cues from the FASB letters and kept things constructive.

All of the Board Members made statements, including PCAOB Chairman Jim Doty (full statement on page 2) who sees this latest proposal as good sense:

I fail to see why shareholders in BNP Paribas, listed on the Euronext Paris exchange, should be able to see the name of the engagement partner in the audit report, but shareholders in Citigroup, listed on the New York Stock Exchange should not. Indeed, the names of engagement partners for some European companies that are listed on the NYSE are disclosed in U.S. filings. Why are shareholders in France Telecom to be favored over shareholders in AT&T?

And then there’s Steven Harris’s statement (in full on page 3). Harris, who is known to speak frankly about auditors, finds the proposal okay enough but would really like to see the audit partners’ John Hancocks:

While I support an identification of the engagement partner, I continue to strongly support, and would have preferred, a requirement for the engagement partner to actually sign his or her name on the audit report. My views, which I stated when the Board last publicly discussed the issue in July 2009, have not changed. Very fundamentally, I believe that nothing focuses the mind quite like putting one’s individual signature on a document.

And for good measure, he threw in this:

Many find it ironic that auditing firms in the United States, whose business is providing assurance about the transparency provided by others, resist publicly providing their own financial statements. There is no apparent reason that the auditing firms that act as gatekeepers to our securities markets should not be as transparent to investors as the companies they audit.

If you agree with Mr. Harris and happen to have a copy of your firm’s financial statements, feel free to pass it along. Or if you’d rather not wait to make your thoughts known on the Board’s proposals, you may drop them in the comments below.

Doty Statement on Transparency Proposal

Harris Statement 10-11-11

Study: Investors Might Want to Tread Carefully Around Companies with High Audit Fees

[R]esearch finds auditing fees charged to companies to be significantly related to the their financial performance for as long as five years into the future: the higher the fees this year, the lower firms’ performance next year and beyond. In the words of the journal report by Jonathan D. Stanley of Auburn University, “Primary results indicate a significant inverse relation between audit fees and the one-year ahead change in clients’ operating performance… Further analysis reveals that the primary results extend to changes in operating performance observed up to five years after the fee is disclosed; are more pronounced for future negative versus positive chances; and [are] applicable to future changes in earnings unaccounted for by analysts’ forecasts.” Asked if these findings are likely to be of value to average investors, Prof. Stanley answers in one word: “Definitely.” [AAA]

CFTC Didn’t Think Too Much of McGladrey’s Audit of One World Capital Group

They were so unimpressed with it, in fact, that they are fining the firm $900,000 and partner David Shane $100,000 to settle up.


Mickey G’s issued an unqualified audit opinion for One World Capital Group’s 2006 financial statements and also stated that the company’s internal controls were just fine and dandy. Neither of these things turned out to be true. And when you read the CFTC’s press release, you really have to wonder if anyone was really auditing this company:

[T]he order finds that One World’s 2006 financial statements were materially misstated in various ways including: (1) the 2006 Statement of Financial Condition states that liabilities payable to all customers were over $6.9 million, when in fact information available in One World’s records showed that it may have owed at least $15 million just to forex customers alone, for whom One World served as the counterparty; and (2) the 2006 financial statements materially misstated the nature of One World’s business by failing to reflect that One World served as the counter party to its forex customers for over 90 percent of its business, according to the order.

In addition, McGladrey failed to report material inadequacies in One World’s accounting system and internal accounting controls, including the lack of a customer ledger, and an accounting system that did not properly identify the number of forex customers or the amount of customer liabilities, according to the order. These material inadequacies reasonably could, and did, lead to material misstatements in One World’s 2006 financial statements, the order finds.

No punch and cake for anyone after this fiasco.

[via CFTC]

Someone Is Curious About All Those KPMG Employees Working on General Electric’s Taxes

You may remember earlier this year when The New York Times broke a little story about General Electric’s tax savvy ways and the best tax law firm the universe had ever seen (aka the GE tax department).

The report�������������������� href=”https://goingconcern.com/2011/03/jon-stewart-reacts-to-ges-tax-savviness/”>a few people to get bent out of shape because the Times said GE was enjoying $14.2 billion in profit while “claim[ing] a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.” What that “benefit” really entailed was a mystery but many people jumped to the conclusion that it was a “refund” and ProPublica (possibly a little peeved that they got scooped) tried to set the record straight on the Times story.

Despite all the back and forth, everyone was pissed at GE. The company lost a Twitter joust with Henry Blodget and then a bogus press release went out claiming the company was returning the “refund” of $3.2 billion and the Associated Press ran it. Slightly awkward.

Francine McKenna also did a write-up on KPMG’s role in this little soap opera, as the firm has been the auditor for GE since Bill Taft was maxing out the White House bathtub.

The latest twist comes from a tip we received earlier about a “Preservation Notice” sent to all KPMG employees yesterday from the firm’s Office of General Counsel (“OGC”).

URGENT TARGETED PRESERVATION NOTICE: GENERAL ELECTRIC’S LOAN STAFF ARRANGEMENTS
Please be advised that until further notice from KPMG LLP’s (KPMG or firm) Office of General Counsel (OGC), you are hereby directed to take all steps necessary to preserve and protect any and all documents created or received from January 1, 2008 through the date of this Notice relating or referring to the loaning, assignment or secondment of tax or other professionals to General Electric Company and its direct and indirect subsidiaries, affiliates and divisions (collectively “General Electric’s Loan Staff Arrangements”).

As Klynvedlians know, these preservation notices come out so often that you barely even notice them. When you do notice them is when the partner in charge of your team informs you about it before it hits your inbox. What follows is basically the biggest CYA exercise you’ve ever seen. They roll in giant dumpsters and every last scrap of paper you’ve ever written on gets throw in and eventually it gets shipped off to OGC. Your life doesn’t really change all that much other than you’re not allowed to delete another email EVER. At least that’s how I remember it.

ANYWAY, this notice seems a little different. Why exactly? Here’s a excerpt from McKenna’s post:

In defiance of [Sarbanes-Oxley] provisions, KPMG – GE’s auditor – provides “loaned staff” or staff augmentation to GE’s tax department each year. These “temps” perform tasks that would be otherwise the responsibility of GE staff. Sources tell me KPMG employees working in GE tax have GE email addresses, are supervised by GE managers – there is no KPMG manager or partner on premises – and have access to GE employee facilities. They use GE computers because the software required for their tasks is GE proprietary software.

This type of “secondment” to an audit client is never allowed. KPMG should know better.

YEESH. So any documents going back to January of 2008 that relate or refer to someone being assigned under this allegedly dubious arrangement must be preserved. You don’t have to be John Veihmeyer to know that’s a METRIC ASSTON of documentation. It’s not that GE’s tax needs are seasonal; they’re more like “perpetual” or “infinity times infinity.” A company with the best tax law firm already in house that also has an arrangement with a their auditor to throw a few more people at the problem indicates that they are working on this shit 24/7. For KPMG, it amounts to a nice little revenue stream and it keeps lots tax staff busy throughout the year.

But what caused the notice? That’s the question. Our tipster speculated that the PCAOB and SEC might be up to something but per standard operating procedure, neither will confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation or inquiry. KPMG spokesman George Ledwith did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Like we stated previously, these preservation notices are a dime a dozen but because this one deals with General Electric and presumably their tax compliance it qualifies as outside the norm. If you’re in the know or know of someone in the know or have anything else to add, email us or comment below.

Audit Partners Are About to Get Famous

But probably not in ways they would prefer:

In a recently updated standard-setting agenda, PCAOB Chief Auditor Marty Baumann says the board is working on the proposal to address concerns about audit transparency. The board published a concept release in July 2009 that asked for feedback on whether the engagement partner should be required to sign the audit report. Based on feedback to that release and subsequent discussions with the board’s advisory groups, the PCAOB is preparing a new requirement for audit firms to say in their audit reports which engagement partner at the firm supervised the audit and who from outside the audit firm participated in the audit.

PCAOB Plans Rulemaking on Identifying Auditors [CW]

Who Has Thoughts on Mandatory Auditor Rotation?

Because the PCAOB is giving you until December 14th to make your views known.

“One cannot talk about audit quality without discussing independence, skepticism and objectivity. Any serious discussion of these qualities must take into account the fundamental conflict of the audit client paying the auditor,” said PCAOB Chairman James R. Doty.

“The reason to consider auditor term limits is that they may reduce the pressure auditors face to develop and protect long-term client relationships to the detriment of investors and our capital markets,” Chairman Doty added.

Don’t fret anti-rotaters, the Board did invite everyone to weigh in on the idea that they “should consider a rotation requirement only for audit tenures of more than 10 years or only for the largest issuer audits.”

[PCAOB]

(VIDEO) The CBH Raleigh Interns Present: Insanity!

Ever see those annoying exercise infomercials in the middle of the night that promise ripped abs and a tight core, all while screaming at you to get your fat ass off the couch and get started for just 12 easy payments of $99.95?

Well a few Cherry, Bekaert & Holland interns in the Raleigh office decided to make a video that pimps out the greatest fitness plan of all-time – a summer audit internship – with that same high energy madness. We have to admit we didn’t have high hopes until we actually watched it and let’s just say these interns did not disappoint.

When we asked a CBH spokesperson if these amazing interns will be joining the team come fall, we were told “Full time offers? These are obviously all super-accountants, so I’d be afraid to see what they’d do to us if we didn’t. However, I hear HR is still looking at their before pictures.”

Amazing results!

PCAOB Member Steven Harris Shares Some Thoughts on Auditors

For anyone that missed it earlier, the PCAOB issued a concept release today putting out some ideas for changes to the auditor’s report. The members of the Board also took the opportunity to say a few words and Mr. Harris saw an opportunity to point some things out:

The events of the last few years have been a case study of the inability of auditors to provide investors with any meaningful signal about increases in financial reporting risks when management assessments or estimates change dramatically, or when debates over significant accounting issues become difficult or contentious.

And he added the following for good measure:

Out of the ten largest bankruptcies during the financial crisis, only two had going concern opinions. During the year leading up to their bankruptcy filings, the market capitalization of the eight companies without going concern opinions declined from a collective $75.5 billion in the year prior to their respective bankruptcy filings to a collective market capitalization of just under $700 million at the time of their filing – a 99% loss in investor value.

[via PCAOB]

Here Are the PCAOB’s Ideas for Changes to the Auditor’s Report

Now before you get all worked up about these, the Board is inviting everyone to throw out comments before September 30th, make other suggestions and participate in a roundtable during the third quarter in case you are inclined to heckle them for making your life more difficult. Anyway, here’s what they’ve got:

• An auditor’s discussion and analysis;
• Required and expanded use of emphasis paragraphs;
• Auditor assurance on other information outside the financial statements; and,
• Clarification of language in the standard auditor’s report.

These are just suggestions mind you, so if you’ve got something better in mind, feel free to share below.

Fact Sheet

Broker-Dealers, Prepare Thyselves for More Intrusive Audits

SEC commissioners will vote today on proposed changes to broker-dealer auditing and reporting rules at a meeting in Washington. As with the 2009 rules, which tightened oversight of advisers’ custody of client assets after Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme was exposed, the new changes increase oversight of the minority of about 300 broker-dealers who hold customers’ cash.

The proposals — which would be opened for a 60-day comment period — would require that a broker-dealer’s internal controls be checked by a registered public accounting firm and would let regulators examine the broker-dealer’s audits. Broker-dealers would have to file quarterly reports describing whether they have access to client money and how any access is controlled. [Bloomberg]

KPMG, Center for Audit Quality Weren’t Too Keen on PCAOB Inspection Documents Being Subpoenaed

Last week, we told you about Jonathan Weil’s latest scoop exposing a PCAOB issuer in an inspection report. The issuer in question was Motorola and it, once again, featured KPMG as the auditor on the receiving end of the Board’s criticism. It was also noted that PCAOB Chair Jim Doty mentioned this particular case (without naming names) in his speech at USC the previous week when he described “one large firm tam was aware that a significant contract was not signed until the early hours of the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, the audit partner allowed the company to book the transaction in the third quarter, which allowed the company to meet its earnings target.”

J Dubs put this all together in a nice little package, citing court documents from a class-action lawsuit in Chicago. What isn’t mentioned in Weil’s column but is spelled out in other court documents that we’ve reviewed is that KPMG and the Center of Audit Quality fought the release of the documents related to the PCAOB’s inspection report because they’re afraid that more lawsuits could result if issuers’ identities are made public.

The CAQ submitted an amicus curiae brief (in full on the next page) stating:

The supervisory model of regulation created by Sarbanes-Oxley and implemented by the PCAOB has thus far worked well and has improved the quality and reliability of audits of public companies. It has worked to the satisfaction of both the Board and the regulated community.

Since the PCAOB’s own Investor Advisory Group issued a report entitled “The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark … Again,” one might say that the Center’s final point is debatable.

Yet, the CAQ argued that if the PCAOB inspection documents were released, “the [Sarbanes-Oxley] Act’s carefully supervisory model will be adversely affected.” That is, the confidentiality afforded to the communication between auditors and the PCAOB would be compromised and would allow Board information into the ‘hands of litigating lawyers.’ The CAQ declined to comment for this post, saying that they did not “have anything to add to the amicus brief.”

In her ruling denying KPMG’s motion (in full, on page 3) to squash the subpoena of the PCAOB documents, Judge Amy St. Eve cited KPMG’s argument that sounds very similar to the CAQ’s:

KPMG argues that “if litigants can compel production of materials related to the PCAOB’s confidential inspection process notwithstanding section 105(b)(5)(A), open and constructive engagement between the PCAOB and accounting firms could be chilled by the threat of increased civil litigation, and the statutory framework carefully crafted by Congress to improve the quality of public company audits could be frustrated.”

So basically auditors are afraid that if their super-special-secret discussions with the PCAOB are out there for all the world to see, they’ll get sued more often. But hasn’t suing audit firms already reached critical mass? Can they really fear more litigation? The only thing that keeps audit firms from being on the same level of litigation risk as tobacco companies is that they aren’t killing people.

Weil and those that agree with him argue that the PCAOB owes it to investors to name names in their inspection reports. To continue keeping issuers confidential protects them from legitimate criticism for shoddy accounting and perpetuating equally shoddy audits. Of course, if you’re an investor and that doesn’t bother you, then maybe you’re okay with auditors trying to stop the release of more information related to their work. Work that cost the investors in Motorola $244 million from 2000 to 2010.

caqamicusbrief

Minute Order 1

Another KPMG Client Gets ID’d in a PCAOB Inspection Report

Back in March, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil called attention to a PCAOB report that was pretty harsh on KPMG-Bermuda’s audit of Alterra Capital Holdings. At the time he wrote the column, KPMG, the PCAOB and Alterra weren’t talking but then Alterra filed a 8-K admitting that they were the filer in question.

Today Weil lets the cat out of the bag again and yes it’s another KPMG client, Motorola:lockquote>Four years ago, inspectors for the auditing industry’s chief watchdog discovered that KPMG LLP had let Motorola Inc. record revenue during the third quarter of 2006 from a transaction with Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), even though the final contract wasn’t signed until the early hours of the fourth quarter. That’s no small technicality. Without the deal, Motorola would have missed its third-quarter earnings target.

The regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, later criticized KPMG for letting Motorola book the revenue when it did. Although KPMG had discussed the transaction’s timing with both Motorola and Qualcomm, the board said the firm “failed to obtain persuasive evidence of an arrangement for revenue-recognition purposes in the third quarter.” In other words, KPMG had no good reason to believe the deal shouldn’t have been recorded in the fourth quarter.

This may sound familiar to some of you that read PCAOB Chairman James Doty’s speech from last week when he said this:

PCAOB inspectors found at one large firm that an engagement team was aware that a significant contract was not signed until the early hours of the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, the audit partner allowed the company to book the transaction in the third quarter, which allowed the company to meet its earnings target. Although the firm discussed the timing of the transaction with the customer, it failed to obtain persuasive evidence of an arrangement for revenue recognition purposes in the third quarter. The company had been an audit client of the firm for close to 50 years.

Weil writes, “KPMG has been Motorola’s auditor since 1959; it had been Motorola’s auditor for 47 years at the time of the Qualcomm deal.” So, yeah. How did he piece this one together? Elementary, my dear auditors:

Motorola’s identity was disclosed in public records last month as part of a class-action shareholder lawsuit against the company in a federal district court in Chicago. The plaintiffs in the case, led by the Macomb County Employees’ Retirement System in Michigan, filed a transcript of a September 2010 deposition of a KPMG auditor, David Pratt, who testified that Issuer C was Motorola. KPMG isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit.

Pratt also identified the Motorola customers cited in the board’s inspection report. It’s his deposition that allows me to describe the report’s findings using real names.

The oversight board said a significant portion of the company’s earnings for the 2006 third quarter came from two licensing agreements that were recorded during the last three days of the quarter. One was the Qualcomm deal that wasn’t signed until the fourth quarter. The board also cited other deficiencies in KPMG’s review of Motorola’s accounting for the transactions.

As is their wont, KPMG isn’t talking. Motorola isn’t talking (but maybe there’s another 8-K in our future?). The PCAOB, bound by the law -which, some say, is debatable – isn’t talking. My guess is that Jon Weil will continue to talk…er…write columns shining the lights on shoddy audits until the Board breaks its silence.

Dirty Secrets Fester in 50-Year Relationships [Jonathan Weil/Bloomberg]

You Can Add ‘Hospital Staff’ to the List of Positions That Can Do the Job of a Deloitte Auditor

A hospital in Winnipeg is suing Deloitte after an ATM scam went undiscovered for over ten years. Luckily some vigilant RN, janitor or cafeteria worker (it’s not clear from the article) noticed something amiss and alerted the proper authorities.

Police arrested a long-time hospital employee last year after she allegedly skimmed $1.5 million from automated teller machine (ATM) deposits between 2000 and 2010.

According to a lawsuit filed last week, the fraud was uncovered by hospital staff, not the auditor. The lawsuit accuses Deloitte & Touche of preparing financial statements not in accordance with “generally accepted accounting principles” and “materially misleading” the hospital about its financial position.

“MHC says that D & T owed it a duty in contract and owed it a duty of care not to act negligently or make negligent misrepresentations to MHC and to ensure that cash and liquid assets as reported in the financial statements were not materially misstated.”

According to the lawsuit, a former finance clerk deposited Worker’s Compensation Board cheques into the hospital operated ATM, understated the amount and pocketed the difference.

All this trouble and no one was even taken hostage. Not good, Green Dot.

Misericordia Health Centre files suit against auditor [Winnipeg Sun]

PCAOB Chairman James Doty Is Concerned That Some Auditors Either Don’t Care or Are Completely Ignorant About the Notion of Independence

As you may have heard, PCAOB Chairman Jim Doty gave a speech at the University of Southern California yesterday where he discussed among other things, the possibility of mandatory auditor rotation and changing the standard auditor’s report. The prospect of these two changes aren’t exactly something auditors are stoked about but some people are of the opinion that a) auditors like to get a little too chummy with their clients which leads to b) not taking the “independence” thing too seriously and c) the auditor’s report, in its current form, its pretty much worthless.

You can read Doty’s entire speech over at the PCAOB website where touches on all of these but here’s one example around independence that probably qualifies for, in Doty’s words, “[an] approach [to] the audit with an inappropriate mindset”

[An] audit partner’s self-assessment claimed that he “overcame long-standing barriers against non-audit services at [two audit clients] with a series of well-planned meetings and supporting presentations with the Audit Committee Chair, the full Audit Committee, the CEO and the CFO at both companies.”

In response, his reviewing partner noted that he was –

highly alert to cross service line opportunities and has successfully penetrated both of his accounts where few services had been
provided in the past. The results of these efforts were a number of proposals and wins but the efforts will likely impact FY 11 in [a] more significant way.

Anyway, there are other stories of bad auditor behavior, so check the whole speech if you feel so inclined. And while Chairman Doty admitted that “We don’t see these problems in all the files we look at,” it causes he and others to wonder if “these audit partners are unaware of, or simply unconcerned about, the independence rule that should make such considerations irrelevant to their compensation, and why a firm would allow such unawareness or unconcern to continue unabated.”

So flagrantly bending the rules to the point where they might as well be breaking or stupidity? Neither is too flattering.

Auditor Resignation Du Jour: Deloitte Didn’t Appreciate Their Audit Files Being Held Hostage

And yes the perpetrator, Longtop Financial Technologies, is a Chinese company.

As we mentioned, Deloitte had some decent reasons for kicking LFT to curb, among them:

(1) the recently identified falsity of the Company’s financial records in relation to cash at bank and loan balances (and possibly in sales revenue); (2) the deliberate interference by certain members of Longtop management in DTT’s audit process; and (3) the unlawful detention of DTT’s audit files. DTT further stated that DTT was no longer able to rely on management’s representations in relation to prior period financial reports, that continued reliance should no longer be placed on DTT’s audit reports on the previous financial statements, and DTT declined to be associated with any of the Company’s financial communications in 2010 and 2011.

And because it seems to be the standard narrative in stories such as these, Longtop’s CFO has resigned and “The Audit Committee has also initiated a search for a new auditor.” Although were not sure if there’s a firm out there that will pick up a client who has engaged in hostage taking.

[via Longtop Financial Technologies]

Center for Audit Quality Concerned That No One, Outside of a Few Auditors, Knows What Auditors Actually Do

The CAQ’s continuing dialogue with individual investors indicates that many in the marketplace do not fully understand the scope of the audit process and the responsibilities placed on public company auditors. The In-Depth Guide to Public Company Auditing will help to bridge that information gap. The new Guide describes how a public company audit firm decides to accept a new audit engagement, how it assesses the risk that the financial statements contain material misstatements as part of determining the audit’s scope, and then how the auditors perform and report their findings – all in plain English. [Cindy Fornelli/CAQ, Guide]

Today in Chinese Company Auditor Resignations: KPMG Doesn’t Appreciate Being Ignored

The House of Klynveld resigned as the auditor Shanghai-based ShengdaTech, Inc. effective April 29th after less than three years. According to the 8-K filed yesterday, KPMG was none too impressed with management blowing off their concerns:

KPMG previously informed the Company’s Audit Committee of certain concerns arising during its incomplete audits of the Company’s consolidated financial statements as of and for the year ended December 31, 2010, and the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2010. These concerns included serious discrepancies and unexplained issues relating to, among others: (i) the Company’s bank balances; (ii) transactions with major suppliers; (iii) VAT invoices and payments; (iv) sales and payments for sales by third parties; (v) sales to the Company’s second largest customer; (vi) discrepancies between KPMG’s direct calls to customers and confirmations returned by mail; and (vii) concerns raised by directly confirming customer sales and accounts receivables.

In a letter dated April 19, 2011, KPMG informed the board of directors of the Company that in KPMG’s view the Company’s senior management has not taken, and the board of directors has not caused senior management to take, timely and appropriate remedial actions with respect to these discrepancies and/or issues, and KPMG stated that the continued lack of resolution of the issues would materially impact the financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2010 and possibly prior periods.

And as you might expect, this resulted in KPMG taking its audit reports and going home:

On April 29, 2011, we were also informed by KPMG, our former independent accounting firm, that disclosures should be made and action should be taken to prevent future reliance on their previously issued audit reports related to the consolidated balance sheets of ShengdaTech, Inc. and its subsidiaries as of December 31, 2008 and 2009, and the related consolidated statements of income, shareholders’ equity and comprehensive income, and cash flows for the years then ended and the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2008 and 2009.

8-K [SEC via ShengdaTech]

PCAOB Permanently Bans Utah Accounting Firm, Ex-Managing Partner From Auditing Public Companies

The PCAOB has just made a serious example out of Bountiful (yes, it’s a town), Utah-based Chisholm, Bierwolf, Nilson & Morrill by banning the firm permanently from auditing public companies after “numerous violations of professional standards, including failure to detect fraud.” The Board also barred former managing partner Todd Chisholm for life and partner Troy Nilson for five years.

Curious about what kind of shoddy work the firm performed to get such a slap? Us too. Luckily the Salt Lake Trib has an example:

One of the companies that the firm audited was Powder River Petroleum International Inc., an Oklahoma corporation with offices in Alberta, Canada.

Until it was placed into receivership in 2008, Powder River’s public filings reported that it acquired, developed and resold interests in oil and gas properties. The company resold interest in oil and gas leases to investors in Asia, but reported those investments as income despite also promising investors a return of 9 percent until their principal was recouped, the board said.

That resulted in the company, traded over-the-counter, overstating its revenue by up to 2,417 percent, its pretax income up to 441 percent and assets up to 48 percent.

I called the PCOAB to see if this was the most severe ban every given to a firm and a CPA but couldn’t get an immediate answer. The five year ban also seems pretty severe. Doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch since the Board has only issued 36 disciplinary actions since 2005. I’ll update the post when I get some definitive answers. UPDATE: We’ve been informed that “it’s among the most severe” penalties issued.

It’s also worth noting that two of the firm’s clients – Hendrx Corp. and Jade Art Group – had substantial Chinese operations which wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t for this, “Chisholm, who does not speak or understand Chinese, relied on Firm assistants with Chinese language skills to identify audit issues, communicate with management and third-parties, and analyze documents provided by the issuer.”

Maybe those “assistants” were audit wizards, maybe they weren’t but either way, Mr Chisholm might be looking to change careers.

Chisholm

Center for Audit Quality Thrilled That SEC Study Recommends Auditors Continue Auditing

I am pleased that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant’s thoughtful study recommends retention of Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes Oxley Act for companies whose market capitalization is between $75 and $250 million. Section 404(b) requires independent auditors to attest to management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal controls over financial reporting […]. The study concluded that costs of Section 404(b) compliance have declined and financial reporting is more reliable when the auditor is involved with ICFR assessments. Importantly, the study found that investors generally view the auditor‘s attestation on ICFR as beneficial. [Cindy Fornelli/CAQ]

Alterra Blows Off Proxy Advisors; Recommends Shareholders Reappoint KPMG as Auditor

After all the hubbub over the PCAOB inspection report that was brought to light by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil, including two recommendations by proxy advisors Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., Alterra Capital Holdings has recommended to its shareholders that they vote “FOR” the ratification of KPMG as the company’s independent auditor.


From thc.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1141719/000093041311002842/c65254_defa14a.htm”>SEC Filing dated April 19th (all emphasis is original):

TO THE SHAREHOLDERS

We are writing to bring your attention to a disagreement between Alterra Capital Holdings Limited (the “Company”), on the one hand, and each of ISS Proxy Advisory Services and Glass Lewis (each, a “Proxy Advisor”), on the other hand, with respect to the recommendation by each of the Proxy Advisors to vote “against” the Company’s proposal to ratify the appointment of KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s independent auditors for fiscal year 2011 and authorize the Company’s board of directors (the “Board”) to set the remuneration of the independent auditors at the Company’s Annual General Meeting of Shareholders scheduled to be held on May 2, 2011. The Proxy Advisors’ recommendations are primarily related to a report issued by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the “PCAOB”) regarding the Company’s auditors, KPMG Bermuda. The PCAOB is a nonprofit corporation established by the U.S. Congress to oversee the audits of public companies. One of the principal roles of the PCAOB is to perform inspections of the audit files of accounting firms that conduct public company audits. Each audit firm is selected by the PCAOB for inspection at least once in every three years.

In November 2009, the PCAOB reviewed KPMG Bermuda’s 2008 audit files of a public company client located in Bermuda in connection with a routine periodic inspection. In March 2011, the PCAOB publicly issued its findings in a report dated January 28, 2011 (the “PCAOB Report”). Although the PCAOB Report did not identify the public company by name, an article posted on Bloomberg News on March 30, 2011 alleged that the public company client at issue was the Company (formerly Max Capital Group Ltd.). The Company confirmed that it was the client referenced in the PCAOB’s Report in a Current Report on Form 8-K dated March 31, 2011.

The Proxy Advisors’ recommendations also cite concerns that certain of the Company’s directors and officers previously worked at KPMG.

For the reasons set forth below, the Board disagrees with the Proxy Advisors’ recommendations to vote “against” the Company’s independent auditor proposal. The Board unanimously recommends that you vote “FOR” the ratification of KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s independent auditor.

Since this decision by the Board might not sit well with a few people, they’ve carefully laid out the case as to why sticking with the House Klynveld is the right thing to do. They are as follows:

1. The PCAOB Report did not question the Company’s valuations that are reflected in its financial statements.

2. The PCAOB Report did not impact KPMG Bermuda’s unqualified opinions on the Company’s financial statements in 2008, 2009 and 2010; there was and is no restatement issue.

3. The PCAOB made similar findings regarding all four major accounting firms.

4. The Audit and Risk Management Committee was aware of the PCAOB review and made an informed decision in recommending KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s Independent Auditor for 2011.

5. KPMG Bermuda is independent from the Company.

6. The Audit and Risk Management Committee will reassess KPMG Bermuda’s qualifications and suitability in 2012.

Just a few thoughts on some of these:

• It’s not the job of the PCAOB to question the Alterra’s valuations. That’s what KPMG was supposed to do. The PCAOB said KPMG did a lousy job of getting enough evidence to support those valuations.

• Just because there wasn’t a restatement doesn’t mean the auditors did their jobs correctly.

• Admitting that “all four major accounting firms” had similar findings says a lot about what the Board thinks of auditors.

• Is point #5 supposed to be a reminder for the shareholders that have no business acumen whatsoever?

• Point #6 could be better stated as “Our Board is getting good at jumping through hoops. See you next year.”

Any other thoughts? Leave them below.

Glass Lewis Recommends That Alterra Shareholders Drop KPMG-Bermuda as Auditor

Remember Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd? They’re were exposed by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil last month as the KPMG-Bermuda audit client that was selected by the PCAOB for inspection. The audit didn’t go so hot as the inspectors found “the firm did not obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to support its opinion on the issuer’s financial statements.” To put this in context, Weil explained that available-for-sale securities were the largest asset on Alterra’s balance sheet and it accounted for “half of the company’s $7.3 billion of total assets as of Dec. 31, 2008, and a little more than half of its $9.9 billion of total assets at the end of last year.”


In wake of this little revelation, research firm Glass Lewis & Co. has recommended to Alterra Capital Holdings that they kick KPMG-Bermuda to curb (after nine glorious years), according to a copy of the “Proxy Paper” sent to Going Concern. The report rehashes the whole story and then concludes with this:

Despite the lack of any restatements of previous financial statements, we believe that shareholders should be concerned about the reappointment of KPMG following the lapses uncovered by the PCAOB. Therefore, we believe that shareholders should hold the audit committee responsible for reappointing the same audit firm.

Glass Lewis also wanted to make shareholders “aware” of the fact that Alterra’s Audit Committee Chair, CFO and CAO are all KPMG alumni but stopped short of citing it as a reason to oppose KPMG at the meeting on May 2. According to the report, Glass Lewis had recommended that Alterra retain KPMG as auditor prior to the last shareholder’s meeting which the shareholders did by an overwhelming margin with nearly 91 million votes voting “For,” 182k voting “Against” and 32k abstained.

PCAOB Chairman Doty Shares Some Confusing Statements Made by Auditors

Yesterday, prior to today’s excitement regarding Satyam and PwC, PCAOB Chairman James Doty spoke at the The Council of Institutional Investors 2011 Spring Meeting and he had some interesting things to say about the audit profession, specifically that auditors don’t always remember that “protecting investors” ≠ “client service”:

Time and time again, we’ve seen services that might be valuable to management reduce the auditor’s objectivity, and thus reduce the value of the audit to investors. While management may need the services, they just don’t have to get them from the auditor.

Audit firms call this “client service,” and it makes things terribly confusing. When the hard questions of supporting management’s financial presentation arise, the engagement partner is often enlisted as an advocate to argue management’s case to the technical experts in the national office of the audit firm. The mortgaging of audit objectivity can even begin at the outset of the relationship, with the pitch to get the client.

Consider the way these formulations of the audit engagement that we’ve uncovered through our inspections process might prejudice quality:

• “Simply stated we want management to view us as a trusted partner that can assist with the resolution of issues and structuring of transactions.”

• We will “support the desired outcome where the audit team may be confronted with an issue that merits consultation with our National Office.”

• Our audit decisions are “made by the global engagement partner with no second guessing or National Office reversals.”

Huh. Doty doesn’t name names but you could easily interpret those statements as one made by a client advocate, not a white knight for investors. He continues:

Or, to demonstrate how confusing the value proposition could be even to those auditors who try to articulate it:

• We will provide you “with the best, value-added audit service in the most cost effective and least disruptive manner by eliminating non-value added procedures.”

(What is a “non-value added procedure”? Whose value do you think the claim refers to? If a procedure is valuable to investors but doesn’t add value to management, will it be scrapped?)

In other words, “we promise that we won’t be pests” and “value” will be a game-time decision. And finally:

Or, consider this as a possible audit engagement formula for misunderstanding down the road:

• We will deliver a “reduced footprint in the organization, lessening audit fatigue.”

(What is “audit fatigue”? Does accommodating it add value to investors? How should investors feel about a “reduced footprint”?)

Yes, what is “audit fatigue”? Is that what happens to second and third-year senior associates every February/March? Or is this better articulated by “we know audits are annoying and our hope is that we won’t annoy you too much.”?

Taking this (the whole speech is worth a read) and everything else that happened today into account, it will be interesting to hear what Mr Doty has to say at tomorrow’s hearing.

Looking Ahead: Auditor Oversight [PCAOB]
Also see: Watchdogs caught nuzzling and wagging tails; auditor sales pitches exposed [WaPo]

(UDPATE) KPMG-Bermuda’s PCAOB Inspection Gets a Little Unwanted Attention

Most of you are acutely aware that PCAOB inspection reports, while chock full of interesting tidbits, are a little anti-climactic since we never learn who the auditees are. Oh sure, we can speculate until our heart’s content but the PCAOB says they took a vow of silence after 43 struck his signature on Sarbanes-Oxley.

The secrecy is frustrating (read: bor-ing) so it was especially cool to see Jonathan Weil let the cat out of the bag on at least one Big 4 client:

Two weeks ago,Accounting Oversight Board released its triennial inspection report on the Hamilton, Bermuda-based affiliate of KPMG, the Big Four accounting firm. And it was an ugly one. In one of the audits performed by KPMG- Bermuda, the board said its inspection staff had identified an audit deficiency so significant that it appeared “the firm did not obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to support its opinion on the issuer’s financial statements.”

This being the hopelessly timid PCAOB, however, the report didn’t say whose audit KPMG-Bermuda had blown. That’s because the agency, as a matter of policy, refuses to name companies where its inspectors have found botched audits. It just goes to show that the PCAOB’s first priority isn’t “to protect the interests of investors,” as the board’s motto goes. Rather, it is to protect the dirty little secrets of the accounting firms and their corporate audit clients.

That’s why it gives me great pleasure to be able to break the following bit of news: The unnamed company cited in KPMG- Bermuda’s inspection report was Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd. (ALTE), a Hamilton-based insurance company with a $2.3 billion stock- market value, which used to be known as Max Capital Group Ltd.

Using his detective skills, Weil pieced together the number clients KPMG Bermuda had inspected, the timing of said inspections and the details of the audit deficiency (“the failure to perform sufficient procedures to test the estimated fair value of certain available-for-sale securities”) to come up with Alterra. Of course no one – the PCAOB, KPMG Bermuda or Alterra – would comment/confirm for Weil’s column but you probably knew that was coming. Nevertheless, JW gets into the how bad of an audit this really was:

It’s when you look at Alterra’s financial statements that the magnitude of KPMG-Bermuda’s screw-up becomes apparent. Available-for-sale securities are the single biggest line item on Alterra’s balance sheet. They represented almost half of the company’s $7.3 billion of total assets as of Dec. 31, 2008, and a little more than half of its $9.9 billion of total assets at the end of last year.

This sort of screw-up, some might argue, falls somewhere in the range of “horrendously bad” and “really fucking bad” and Weil wonders if Alterra shareholders will have the stones to throw the bums out at the shareholders meeting on May 2. We can’t say where any of the shareholders stand on the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the audit report, so maybe this revelation is NBD to them. But if that is the case, it seems to make an even stronger case for the irrelevancy of auditors.

Weil’s larger point is that the PCAOB continues to hide behind their policies that are supposed to protect investors but in reality come off as talking points, not so unlike the firms they regulate. The PCAOB says they’re working on that but we’ll have to wait until summer to find out how crazy things get and whether it will be enough to shove auditors back into some respectability.

Dirty Little Secret Outed in Bermuda Blunder [Jonathan Weil/Bloomberg]

UPDATE:
Alterra cops to it with an 8-K that was filed about 90 minutes ago:

Alterra is aware of a recently issued report by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the “PCAOB”) related to the PCAOB’s review of KPMG Bermuda’s 2008 audit files of a public company client located Bermuda, as well as an article posted on Bloomberg that indicates that the public company client is Alterra (formerly Max Capital Group Ltd.). Alterra confirms that it is the client referenced in the PCAOB’s report.

The PCAOB report findings question the sufficiency of procedures performed by KPMG Bermuda in its audit of Alterra’s estimated fair value of certain available-for-sale securities as promulgated by generally accepted audit standards (“GAAS”). The PCAOB report questioned whether the audit procedures used by KPMG Bermuda in 2008 to verify such values were sufficient. The PCAOB report does not question the appropriateness of the values that Alterra attributed to assets available-for-sale in 2008.

Alterra notes that the PCAOB made substantially similar findings in a number of inspections of 2008 and 2009 audits performed by the larger accounting firms and, since 2008, we understand the firms have issued additional guidance to clarify the work to be completed on the audit of fair value investments.

KPMG Bermuda has represented to Alterra and its Audit Committee that it believes it properly and appropriately followed GAAS as defined at the time of the audit. KPMG Bermuda confirmed in its response to the PCAOB report that “none of the matters identified by the PCAOB required the reissuance of any of our previously issued reports.” Alterra reaffirms its belief that the asset values ascribed to its available-for-sale securities in 2008 and subsequent periods remain appropriate.

KPMG Bermuda issued an unqualified opinion for Alterra’s year end financial statements for each of 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Brits Call Big 4 Auditors ‘Disconcertingly Complacent’ During Financial Crisis

Not exactly what you would call a compliment. And while they were at it, the House of Lords would like the Office of Fair Trading to investigate why the “Big 4” isn’t a “Global 6” or “Universal 8” or “Dirty Dozen” or something similar.

Of course auditors have claimed that did everything they were legally obligated to do and the HoL admits that’s kindasorta true but not really:

Its report said: “We do not accept the defence that bank auditors did all that was required of them. In the light of what we now know, that defence appears disconcertingly complacent.” It added: “It may be that the Big Four carried out their duties properly in the strictly legal sense, but we have to conclude that, in the wider sense, they did not do so.” Bank auditors and regulators had been guilty of a “dereliction of duty” by not sharing more information with each other on an informal basis before the crisis, the committee claimed. Auditors were either “culpably unaware of the mounting dangers” at banks or they were at fault for not sharing any concerns with supervisors, it added. Either way, auditor complacency had been a “significant contributory factor” in the banking meltdown, the committee said.

So in “the wider sense,” auditors best step up their game. Go forth.

Auditors criticised for role in financial crisis [FT]

#auditorproud

McGladrey Team’s Request for Confirmation Rubbed Someone the Wrong Way

So this happened.

Best Confirm Ever

Orient Paper’s Auditor Left Out That Part About Not Being Licensed

Details-shmetails.

In an 8-K regulatory filing and in a press release, Orient Paper said it was unaware of the problem until recently. Called the Davis Accounting Group, the Cedar City, Utah-based audit firm was supposed to be licensed by its home state, but its license lapsed in September 2008 and was formally revoked as of November last year. “During the time when Davis Accounting was retained by the Company, Davis Accounting represented that it was in good standing,” Orient Paper said in its press release.

Other than that, everything is kosh. Deloitte even said so. BDO Hong Kong is doing the restatements so everyone can pretend this never happened.

Orient Paper: Ex-Auditor Forces 2008 Re-Audit [TS]

Who’s Ready for Changes to the Auditor’s Report?

“We heard from investors that they want more information in the auditor’s report. Investor dissatisfaction with the current auditor’s reporting model should concern other constituents as well, including preparers, auditors and regulators,” said PCAOB Chairman James R. Doty. “Today’s report from our own staff, based on their discussions with a broad audience, will be vital to the Board’s effort to develop a meaningful proposal for change in a concept release. Our intention is to expose such a release as early as this summer.” [PCAOB]

Chinese Companies Want the Big 4 Magic

“Companies are under pressure from investors to get the best auditor they can,” said Paul Gillis, an accounting professor at Peking University in Beijing. More than 200 Chinese companies are listed on U.S. exchanges, and hundreds more trade on over-the-counter bulletin boards. In the last five months, at least 15 have upgraded to a Big Four auditor — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers or KPMG — from a smaller firm, according to an analysis from Audit Analytics. [Reuters]

Authors of Spam Emails Are Now Posing as Auditors

As if the profession’s reputation wasn’t already bad enough.

From: “davidlolf@hotmail.com”
Sent: Wed, March 9, 2011 2:49:04 AM
Subject:

Good Day

I am Mr. David Lolf the Director in chrage of the Auditing section in Malaysia. Am sorry if this message comes to you as a surprise.

I have decided to contact you on a project that will be very beneficial to both of us . During our auditing in this Bank, I came across some amount of fund laying in wait here, and when i carried out my investigation, I discovered that it was an Overdraft that was perfected by the formal Auditor whom I took over the Office from, He was unable to move out this huge sum of money due to the Urgency that was attached to his dismissal from the Office.

And the said Fund is $16.2 Million United States Dollars.I am in search of a reliable person who can put a claim on this fund, so that it will be transferred to his/her account for both of us to use it for Investment purpose, right now I have successfully moved the Fund to an escrow Bonded Account in one of the Local Bank here In Malaysia.

Upon your acceptance to carry on this task more information will be made known to you. Please you have been advised to keep “top-secreat” as I am still in service and intend to retire from service after I conclude this Deal with you. I will fly down to your country or any place we shall agreed on for subsequent negotiation regarding the investment and benefits immediately this Fund has being tarnsferred into your designated Bank Account. , I look forward to receive your urgent reply via email davidlolf@gmail.com

Yours Faitfully
Mr.David Lolf
+60163206804.

Naturally, we’re hatching a plan to respond to Mr Lolf but in the meantime we thought we’d share his peculiar capitalization technique as well as present the chance at a windfall for those of you who are little more risk-inclined.

Is Taking Cash Out of the Hands of Young Auditors a Good Idea?

As global cash transactions have become increasingly complex, both the familiarity and training of accountants in the cash area may have actually declined. Most young adults no longer keep check books, and consequently, no longer perform the reconciliation process on their personal accounts. Instead, they simply check available balances either online or at an automatic teller machine, and adjust their spending habits accordingly. [SmartPros]

And Now, the Auditor’s Version of ‘No Sleep ’till Brooklyn’

Recently we came across a version of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” for auditors. The battle over who actually coined this ode to opining was up for grabs but now it’s been brought to our attention that throwback tunes are also being rewritten to express the plight of auditors.


Surely there’s a divergence of opinion – right down generational lines – on which rewrite is better but working in “fat finger” and “Friends think I do tax ’cause of the ‘CPA’ ” scores big points in our book.

To the tune of “No Sleep ’til Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys

(chorus) No sleep ’til – Filing

Hand on the tenkey – never a fat finger
Got work to do, I hope this client don’t linger
My job ain’t a job – it’s a damn good time
Gonna get this tied-out to the dime
On location – cursing damnation
Why’re my client contacts always on vacation?
Eight of us crammed around this audit table
I do what I do best because I’m willing and able
Ain’t no fakin’ – audit fees I’m rakin’ in
Goin’ coast to coast vouching money you’re makin’
While you’re at the job working nine to five
I’m still at the office when you arrive

(bridge) No sleep ’til –

Another spill, another thrill
Another freaking fire drill
Caffiene gum – another SUM
I wish this Diet Coke had some rum
Now where’s my contact? – he always disappears
This is the guidance, why can’t he just adhere?
Been so long since I’ve seen my fam’
I wish my computer had more RAM
We’re thrashing financials like it’s going out of style
Getting paid along the way cause it’s worth your while
Quarter after four – IA’s out the door
I’m chained to my computer for six hours more
We got a drawer with a lock to hold our files
Aside from the ones all over our table in piles

(repeat bridge)

(repeat chorus)

Ain’t seen the light since we started this audit
All we need is in this room- we got it
Born and bred to document all day
Friends think I do tax ’cause of the “CPA”
That’s not right but I don’t care
‘Cause whenever I explain it they just stare.
Got coffee, cola, chips and candy
I’ve gained ten pounds ain’t it just dandy?
Step off homes – get out of my way
‘Cause our signed opinion is the final say
Waking up before I get to sleep
Cause I’ll be rocking this party eight days a week

No sleep till filing ….
No sleep till filing …
No sleep till filing …
No sleep till filing…
No sleep till filing…

And just in case you’ve got no idea what this should sound like:

Some Companies Willing to Drop a Big 4 Auditor Like a Bad Habit…For Another Big 4 Auditor

Auditor musical chairs isn’t something that happens too often but Reuters reports that more and more U.S. companies are looking to save a little extra scratch on their audit fees:

Bucking a long-standing preference by most companies to stick with the same auditor for years, some companies are putting their audit work out for competitive bids to win better deals on fees, or to get fresh teams looking at their books. “It’s a change in the competitive landscape among the audit firms where they have the ability and desire to take on more clients,” said Mark Grothe, an analyst at consulting firm Glass Lewis. Public companies also seem to be more willing to switch auditors, as long as one of the “Big Four” firms will be doing the work, he said.

The article cites Apple (dropped KPMG for E&Y) and Tysons (kicked E&Y to the curb in favor of PwC) as two prominent examples. We’re also aware that Credit Suisse is slowly transitioning a good portion of the audits performed by KPMG to PwC, according to sources familiar with the situation. Companies of this size willing to change their auditors demonstrates that some companies aren’t too concerned with the learning curve that may face their new auditors. In fact, some CFOs are more than okay with it, including Linster Fox of Shuffle Master who claims, “There’s no degradation in service — the service is actually higher.”

PwC’s Tim Ryan, however, doesn’t buy the idea that fees are the driving force behind the auditor switcheroo, “When a company does go through a change, it is almost always driven by something other than fees,” he told Reuters. Instead, a change is more likely to happen when, for example, a major fraud gets missed or there’s a difference of opinion on a crucial issue OR the CEO is a finicky character OR some other mysterious reason unbeknownst to all of us.

Regardless, the real concern is that all this auditor swapping puts a lot of pressure on fees:

Fee pressure has been intense worldwide, but especially in the United States, according to the International Accounting Bulletin, which tracks global audit fees. “The U.S. is a very competitive market, easily the largest audit market in the world, and the Big Four have competition from a much larger pool of firms,” said IAB editor Arvind Hickman. “Last year we received reports of fees being cut between 5 and 15 percent on average on audit work, and there were extreme cases where fees were being cut up to 40 percent,” he said. Fee pressure appears to be easing somewhat, “but there will still be fee pressure this year and we don’t predict it will go away any time soon,” he said.

This has Big 4 firms undercutting regional competitors and is no doubt, partly responsible for the parking lot at the Senior Manager level in some markets. With this level of competition and, as a result, a slowly decreasing portion of the Big 4 revenue stream, it doesn’t necessarily mean a career as an auditor is a dead end but it sure doesn’t help.

Auditor shopping helps U.S. companies cut fees [Reuters]

China MediaExpress CEO Responds to Fraud Allegations by Falling Back on ‘Reputable and Well-Known Auditors’

For anyone out there concerned about Chinese companies who have less-than solid accounting practices, you can rest easy, as Gary Weiss reported in his TheStreet.com column yesterday:

All you have to do is believe in the infallibility of Big Four auditors!


Case in point, China MediaExpress Holdings is the latest company who hasn’t convinced everyone that their numbers are kosher, so their CEO, Zheng Cheng, went on the offensive:

Responding to allegations that the company is a “fraud and reported revenue is exaggerated by tens of millions of dollars,” China Media’s CEO Zheng Cheng said in a letter to shareholders: “The company is strong and doing well. Its revenues and cash position have been audited by reputable and well-known auditors who have confirmed both.” [Emphasis is GW’s.]

Those ‘reputable and well-known auditors’ just happen to be Deloitte, thankyouverymuch. Don’t think for a minute that we were dealing with Frazer Frost or some other firm that has had problems.

With China Small-Caps, It’s Shorts vs. Auditors [The Street]

Apparently This Video Is a Hit with Big 4 Auditors in Asia

A tipster from Manila sent us this video telling us “[it has] got us laughing over here.” And based on what we see, it seems that being an auditor in the East isn’t really that different from being an auditor in the West. That said, if you detest subtitles or Disney you should probably just move along.

Apparently There’s a Food Chain for Satyam Blamestorming

The head of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India seems to feel as though 2009’s massive Satyam failure was not, in fact, a failure of the auditors but levels before the auditors and then the auditors. “There were promoter shareholders, executive directors and directors, and the auditors were the last rung. On the other side, there were independent directors, one of whom was a dean of the Indian School of Business, but nobody questions the role of independent directors.”


Amarjit Chopra feels corporate governance (or should that be complete lack of…) is to blame, not the PwC auditors who somehow missed the following:

• $1.09 billion in artificially inflated cash and bank balances (psst, baby auditors, that’s called a material amount)

• $81.59 million in accrued interest that was accrued out of thin air and never existed

• An understated liability of $266.91 million

• An overstated debtors’ position of $575.27 million that was more like $106.33 million (oops)

Maybe PwC should have waited for Chopra’s comments. Had they done so, they wouldn’t have already come out and admitted they missed a few issues on the September 30, 2008 Satyam balance sheet:

The former [Satyam] chairman has stated that the financial statements of the company have been inaccurate for successive years. The contents of the said letter, even if partially accurate, may have a material effect (which is currently unknown and cannot be quantified without thorough investigations) on the veracity of the company’s financial statements presented to us during the audit period. Consequently, our opinions on the financial statements may be rendered inaccurate and unreliable.

So if that’s the case, someone remind me why we even have auditors then? Sure financial statements belong to management but aren’t auditors there to give everything a good once-over to ensure giant fraud is not staring them directly between the eyes? You’d think at least one of those brilliant Indian first years would have realized that cash was a tad high once they started doing the work.

Nightmare Audit Rooms Have Their Consequences

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight — everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

With no place to work in the office of the housing authority of a major city, the audit team was provided tables and chairs in the hallway of a renovated apartment building that connected the swinging front door with the elevators. In the middle of winter in a city located on a bay, the wind swept into the hallway driving temperatures to near freezing. Clothed in parkas, scarves, wool hats and gloves, the audit team struggled through the engagement.

Auditing rural hospitals, CPA firm personnel were ordinarily assigned to a patient room for workspace since there was no room for them in the hospital office. This year there were no patient rooms available so they were assigned to the morgue! Steel tables and high stools were their accommodations. Formaldehyde, dead bodies draped in sheets and the medical examiner’s buzz saw greeted them each day.


The auditors of a plumbing contractor were assigned a dark, damp room in the basement for workspace. The room was two flights of stairs and several hundred yards from the accounting office.

Two auditors were assigned workspace at a desk adjacent to and facing the controller. The controller smoked, they didn’t.

I could relate more true stories on and I suspect you could add your experiences to this list of inadequate fieldwork workspace. Here are some obvious questions:

1. Did any of these scenarios increase time charges on the engagements?
2. Who had responsibility to correct or prevent these circumstances?
3. When should corrective action be taken?
4. What actions should have been taken?

Question 1: Of course time charges were increased! The auditors of the housing authority said the audit required almost twice the amount of time it should have. The hospital auditors lost numerous hours going for fresh air and to the restroom to vomit! Going back and forth to the accounting office wasted enormous amounts of time, although the team did lose weight. Not only was the health of the non-smokers impaired, they wasted time leaving the room to discuss audit issues and securing all working papers and electronic equipment every time they left the room.

Question 2: The in-charge accountants on these engagements had responsibility to run the fieldwork but their “stick” wasn’t big enough to get the managements to change their workspace. It was the engagement leaders’ responsibility to speak with managements to correct the situations.

Question 3: If the workspace could not be improved internally, a nearby motel room, a recreation vehicle parked outside a client’s facility or an electronic air filer could be remedies. The cost of these alternatives is likely far less than the unbillable wasted time.

Question 4: This is a planning activity! Proper workspace should be arranged by the engagement leader before the fieldwork begins. Engagement profits can be increased considerably by using foresight and arranging for proper workspace!

Thankless Audit Client: Tui Travel Edition

Tui Travel is “an international leisure travel group” (which is fancy-speak for a travel agent) out of the UK. KPMG has been audited the books for awhile but this year they found a booboo that resulted in a £117 million write off. At the time the company copped to the error, although you don’t get the impression they were grateful.


From today’s report in the Guardian:

Just two months ago, Tui chief executive Peter Long said: “KPMG identified some system weaknesses and ledgers that had not been reconciled … Yes, they identified some of these control weaknesses which had then manifested themselves into the issues subsequently identified through a detailed investigation.”

Nothing unusual really, these things happen, clients usually grin and bear it but not our “international leisure travel group.”

KPMG said its relationship with “certain [Tui Travel] directors became increasingly strained” following “extensive discussions with the directors”. Among the areas where KPMG had raised concerns, the letter added, were the implications arising from the restated accounts and “their disclosure and accounting treatment in the financial statements”. Relations had reached such a low ebb, KPMG concluded, that “we are not confident that in the future we could carry out an audit of the company to the appropriate standard, but others may be able to do so.”

So it kinda sounds like their annoyance with the whole thing slowly boiled over into flat-out bitterness, leading to some increasingly unpleasant conversations. Sure, the directors in question would start out acting cool about it, “You know [chuckling], you really didn’t do us any favors there.” But eventually it became, “Boy, you’ve really outdone yourself, this time.” And finally, “For crissakes! You couldn’t leave it alone, couldja? [extremely patient KPMG partner explaining on the other end] What?!? [increasingly steamed, drumming fingers] We don’t care if it’s your job; we don’t like being embarrassed. [Pause, eyeroll] Stewards of generally accepted accounting principles?!? What does that even mean? [brief pause] Whatever, you can plan on us being uncooperative going forward.”

Or something like that.

Tui drops KPMG after it found £117m hole in accounts [Guardian]

It’s Not Impossible To Make Money on Small Audits

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight–everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

Most small firm practitioners can offer lots of answers as to why it is difficult to profit from small audits. Ever-changing professional standards, increasing quality control requirements, using standard “one-size-fits-all” audit documentation and increasing legal liability are a few of the common answers. The problem is that knowing the answer doesn’t solve the problem!

Maybe we need to change the question to solve the problem. A better question may be, “What changes do we need to make in our audit practices to profit from small audits?” Answer this question correctly and we solve a major problem!

Here are changes in audit practices some smaller CPA firms are considering:


• Developing the technical and leadership abilities of engagement leaders is at the top of the list. Recognizing this takes time and money, small firms are making increasing investments in training and consultations to expand the knowledge resource base of their leaders and the firm. Making sure leaders are technically current in all professional standards affecting auditing engagements is a first step. Teaching leaders to pass their knowledge on to all assistants is the second.

• Designing firm policies and procedures within existing professional standards that provide reasonable assurance audited financial statements are not misstated. While we’d like to achieve absolute assurance the financial statements are not misstated, we have to assume some risk they may contain misstatements. In short, we have to give up some of our traditional approaches to audits in exchange for uniquely tailored audit strategies designed to gather the minimum amount of evidence necessary to verify relevant financial statement assertions. Gathering the minimum required evidence in the most efficient ways results in maximum profits!

• Creating proprietary audit documentation packages by eliminating or modifying documentation purchased from major publishers. Extensive audit documentation is not a substitute for the knowledge of staff personnel! We cannot afford to complete practice aids and other documentation containing everything we need to know on every engagement, particularly on small audits. Many small firms are realizing they can modify their quality control documents to permit engagement leaders to tailor documentation on every audit. Using major publisher’s practice aids for reference is the most any firm should do on small audits. When we know the requirements of professional standards, it isn’t difficult to tailor or create basic practice aids to guide small audit performance.

These are just a few of the small audit changes CPA firms must consider to increase profits. I’ve designed my Small Audit Series of live and on-demand webcasts to provide holistic solutions that will enable practitioners to make more money on small audits. You can obtain over 300 pages of instructional text materials and illustrative practice aids designed for CPE credit on the left sidebar of our website, www.cpafirmsupport.com. Don’t be left behind! Small audits can generate BIG profits!

Duoyuan Printing Is All Kinds of Screwed Up After Firing Deloitte

By “all kinds of screwed up” we mean “screwed 17 ways to Sunday”. After firing Deloitte last week, two top DY executives (CEO Christopher Holbert and CFO William Suh) have bailed, DYP shares are in the tank (down 47% as of publication) and, oh, they’re going to need to find a new audit committee chairman as their last one, James Zhang, ran for the hills.

Before running, however, he sent this really nice note explaining his motivations:

To: The Board of Duo Yuan Printing(DY).

6th Sept, 2010.

Dear Mr. Chairman and the follow directors of the Board:

Subject: My resignation as Company Audit Committee (AC) Chairman and Independent Director with immediate effect.

It has been almost one year since DY listed in the NYSE. I have to say that working closely with the Chairman, CEO and CFO of the company has been a great pleasure for me.

From Roughly one month ago, I got the phone call from Frank Li, the Audit Partner of Deloitte (DT) to express concerns to the Audit Committee over several financial irregularities and management control weakness. After hearing the full story, I immediately called an AC meeting and upon receiving unanimous approval from the AC as a well as support from the Chairman, the AC immediately engaged Latham Watkins, the US Law Firm, to handle the independent investigation not only to report back to the AC, but also as a part of the audit process requested by DT to give an opinion to the 2010 DY company financials. As our Chairman put it in the board Meeting just now that maybe due to the cross culture differences between US style work and maybe because of the second tier management don’t fully understand the US listing requirements, the investigation has not progressed in the last month. This delay could potentially render the company not filing its annual financial statements on time to the SEC.

In the past week, the Management has suggested to change the auditors of the company from DT to Frazer Frost (FF) who was the company prior auditors. This proposal has just been resolved in the full board meeting and Full AC meeting with voting taking place of 4 against 3 in favor and 2 against 1 in favor.

As the AC chairman and independent Director of the company, I respect the company democratic decision process as stipulated by the company Memorandum and Articles of Association. However, as a qualified UK Chartered Accountant and a trained Professional, I have brought to the attention of the board the following potential risks related to the change of auditors. These risks can be summarized as follows:

1. FF has not yet signed engagement letter with the company which is a risk to the company.

2. Change of auditors during the investigation process could potentially lead to further investigation from the SEC.

3. To change from a Big4 audit firm to a non-Big4 could have very negative impact in the investment community in terms of corporate governance thus lead to potential share price drop and subsequent US class law suit.

4. Even the Company US counsel has indicated in the meeting against change of auditors at this particular time frame.

Keep it classy, JZ, and good luck wherever you end up after this disaster of a company.

(UPDATE) Dick Bové: The KPMG Citi Team Is ‘An Exceptional Acceptable Group of Auditors’

And you know he’s not messin’ because that’s what he told Charlie Gasparino and God knows you best not lie to the Fox Business Network’s ace reporter. Sure Bové didn’t actually say “KPMG” (hell, he’s probably never heard the name) but he’s giving credit to auditors which is about as unheard of as Tiger Woods using Trojans with hookers.

Bové may have mentioned some other things about Mike Mayo, Citi, Deferred Tax Assets so on and so forth but we’re sure you’re not worried about that.


Btw, if you need to get caught up on just who Dick Bové is, go here. Courtesy of FBN:

On Citi’s apparent cold shoulder towards analyst Mike Mayo:
“It’s totally wrong. Mike Mayo is a brilliant analyst. He’s been in this business for a long period of time and does a superb job of following the industry. To say he can’t come in and speak to the company in my view is absolutely and totally incorrect.”

On whether Mike Mayo’s accusations against Citigroup’s risk management lapses are accurate:
“Absolutely. In September of 2008, Citigroup was effectively bankrupt. The reason why it was bankrupt was the reason that Mike cites. It was that the risk management procedures had completely broken down and it was not effectively managing its portfolio. Mike is right on that comment.”

On why we should believe Citi on its accounting reports:
“We don’t have to take Citigroup’s answer to Mike Mayo. We can take a look at the fact that this company is audited by an exceptional group of auditors. They are regulated by a large number of bank regulators…and they actually are being audited for their tax issues right now by the IRS. All three of these groups agree with the public statements of Citigroup concerning DTAs.”

“What is the basis for saying that these three groups which have seen the numbers don’t know what they are talking about, whereas people that have not seen the numbers, do know what they are talking about.”

On whether Citi has been given a clean bill of health by the SEC, IRS and the Fed:
“We do have an audited financial statement which is not questioning the DTAs. We do have bank regulators who could have memorandums of understating with Citigroup if they believed there was a problem. Citi is estimated to earn by Mike Mayo $9 billion this year. Next year he estimates the company to show a 33 percent increase in earnings to $12 billion. If there is a DTA problem, why is there a belief that the company can jump its earnings by 33 percent from 2010 to 2011?”

We’ve been assured by the wonderful people at Fox that we will have video of this momentous (and perhaps unprecedented) occasion just as soon as it’s available.

UPDATE: AS WE SUSPECTED! Not only was the initial report mis-transcribed, check out Dick’s reaction to Gasparino’s question, “It’s KPMG I believe, correct?” around the 2:37 mark:

Pretty obvious that the dude has never heard of KPMG in his life.

The Way Things Are Going, Eventually No One Will Have to Comply with Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404

As we trudge toward a Senate vote on he financial reform bill, one issue that is of utmost interest to those in the accounting/audit biz is that of small businesses complying with Section 404(b) of Sarbanes-Oxley.

As it stands, only a small number of non-accelerated filers are voluntarily in compliance with 404. Those not jumping at the voluntarily complying with 404 have enjoyed the repeated delays by the SEC since the legislation was passed in 2002.

But if reform bill passes in its current form, all companies with market caps of less than $75 million will be exempt from complying with the requirement to have an audit of their internal control system. And even those companies that went to the trouble of voluntary compliance, might not continue doing so:

Dan Crow is one of the few small-company CFOs with an auditor’s stamp on his internal controls. Getting it wasn’t as time-consuming or as costly as it would have been several years ago, when large public companies first began complying with one of the most onerous requirements of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, known as Section 404.

Still, Crow, who oversees finance for retailer Hastings Entertainment, doesn’t rule out dropping the extra review next year if Congress decides to permanently exempt small public companies from needing an auditor’s sign-off on their internal controls — as it seems poised to do. The Senate is expected to vote this week on the final version of the financial regulatory reform bill, which would exempt companies with market caps less than $75 million from complying with Section 404(b), the rule in question. (The House has already passed the bill.)

But that’s not all! Because 404(b) is clearly “red tape” (a popular rallying cry in an election year) that provides no benefits whatsoever and just crushes the spirit of small business (the backbone of America, we might add!) Congress has called for a study of “how the ‘burden’ of 404(b) compliance for companies with market capitalization between $75 million and $250 million could be reduced, and whether an exemption for them could increase the number of initial public offerings in the United States,” in the bill.

Christ, where does it end? Let’s just study the whole damn thing over while we’re at it. Apparently the entire Congressional body has completely ignored the benefits of Sarbanes-Oxley; never mind that costs of gone down significantly in the past eight years, making compliance less financially painful.

And not to mention that smaller companies are at greater risk for fraud and accounting manipulation. Look at the roster of companies on Sam Antar’s website and you’ll note that many of them have market caps of $1 billion or less. If these companies can’t resist the temptation to get shifty with financial reporting in order to meet (or not) the short-term focus of Wall Street, it’s difficult to reason that even smaller public companies won’t succumb to it.

To 404(b), or Not to 404(b)? [CFO]

What’s the Next Move in This PCAOB Situation?

Jonathan Weil over at Bloomberg has a new column up today and he is less enthusiastic about the Supreme Court decision in FEF v. PCAOB than say, everyone else.

JW is mostly wondering why we should keep having an “independent” PCAOB inside the SEC since the board members will now be at the mercy of the towing the political line inside the Commission, “While the court

FERF Survey: Audit Fees Down, Big 4 Still Dominate Public Company Filers

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

It looks like audit fees are stabilizing.

The 150 publicly-held companies responding to a recent survey paid an average of $4.8 million in audit fees in 2009, down 2.4 percent from the total shelled out by these respondents the prior fiscal year.

The 197 privately-held companies responding to the survey paid an average of $291,200, roughly even with the prior year.

Drilling further down, the survey found that total audit fees for 83 large accelerated filers-those with market capitalizations over $700 million–averaged $7.8 million, 3.6 percent less than what they paid the prior year. What’s more, this average of $7.8 million was possibly skewed to the high side this year due to the total audit fees reported by the 19 respondents from companies with more than $25 billion in annual revenues.


On the other hand, the average audit fees paid by the 22 non-accelerated filers were $579,900, 3.3 percent more than what they paid in the prior year.

These are some of the highlights of a newly-released annual report from Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), the research affiliate of Financial Executives International. It stresses that the averages reported in this year’s Audit Fee Survey are not comparable to those reported in the 2009 survey because this year’s respondents are not necessarily the same as last year’s respondents. In fact, FEI stresses that this year’s average was skewed slightly higher due to representation from more companies with revenues of $25 billion or more.

The survey also found that the total number of audit hours averaged 21,458 for all public companies, and-not surprisingly–was directly proportional to both the size of the company and to the number of legal entities comprising the company. Of the 19 respondents from companies with more than $25 billion in annual revenues, the total hours averaged 108,571.

The average hourly audit rate was $218 for all public companies–$186 for nonaccelerated filers and $220 for the large accelerated filers. Surprisingly, the survey found that the lowest hourly rate ($110) and the highest hourly rate ($400) were both reported by large accelerated filers. It said the $110 rate was reported by a large multi-national consumer goods distributor and the $400 rate was reported by a large multi-national financial services firm.

Other interesting findings:

• 88 percent of public company respondents used Big 4 audit firms compared to 36 percent of private companies.

• After the Big 4, Grant Thornton was mentioned by four respondents and BDO and McGladrey were both mentioned once.

• 21 of the 197 private companies plan to switch auditors, compared to only 7 of the 150 public company respondents. Service issues and fees were key reasons for both groups.

• Just 16 of the 150 public companies indicated that their auditors broke out the cost of the Section 404 attestation.

Crowe Horwath Audit Partner Uses “The Tax Department Is on Another Floor” Defense

Auditors and audit firms have few options when it comes to defense strategy when they are sued for missing a fraud. If fraud occurs and an auditor partner claims to know everything that one should about his/her client, then the partner was probably in on it. That’s a little tricky.

However, if fraud occurs and the partner claims that he/she had no knowledge of any unscrupulous activity, then that means the audit sage is really just a two-bit glad-hander that couldn’t tell a debit from a credit.


And that appears to be the case of William Brizendine, a Crowe Horwath partner, who is claiming that he didn’t know about the relationship between executives of Peoples Bank of Northern Kentucky and Bill Erpenbeck who were engaged in scheme that artificially inflated the purchase price of model homes. Brizendine claims that he couldn’t possibly known that his client was involved with such a shifty character A) the bank’s execs didn’t tell him until after the shit hit the fan and B) this Erpenbeck character’s name only came up on the tax returns and why on Earth as an audit partner, would he look at those?

The bank’s lead attorney, Ron Parry, tried to establish that Brizendine was in a unique position to expose the fraud before it became large enough to take down the bank. Parry said auditors had to be aware of the business relationship because they also did the taxes of the company Finnan and Menne created with Erpenbeck.

[…]

Brizendine claimed he didn’t know of the relationship because he was just involved in the auditing of the bank and that JAMS tax returns were done by the tax department on another floor of the company’s offices.

Parry was able to show, however, that JAMS tax documents were sometimes sent directly to Brizendine. Brizendine claimed he never looked at those documents since his department didn’t prepare taxes.

Brizendine also admitted on the stand that he was the person who brought in the contract to do JAMS taxes.

It’s Ridiculous to Think That Enterprise Financial Dismissed KPMG Because of the Restatements

KPMG has been kicked to the curb by Enterprise Financial according to an 8-K that was filed on Friday by the company. The ubiquitous claim of “no disagreements with [insert firm]” was there along with a mention of a material weakness that was related to the restatements issued for both 2008 and 2007 but that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the dismissal of the auditors:

In connection with the identification of the loan participation accounting error described in Item 7, Management Discussion & Analysis and in Item 8, Note 2 of the consolidated financial statements and elsewhere in the Form 10K dated March 16, 2010, the Company also determined that a material weakness in its internal controls over financial reporting existed during the periods affected by the error, including as of December 31, 2008. The Company’s management concluded that the material weakness was the Company’s lack of a formal process to periodically review existing contracts and agreements with continuing accounting significance. To remediate this material weakness, during the fourth quarter of 2009 the Company implemented a formal process to review all contracts and agreements with continuing accounting significance on an annual basis. As a result of the review conducted in the fourth quarter, management did not identify any other errors in its previous accounting for such contracts or agreements. Management believes that this new process has remediated the material weakness in the Company’s internal control over financial reporting.

So in other words, “Yeah, maybe we should have been looking at these contracts but we weren’t and so some material misstatements slid through. We’ve slapped some duct tape on it and it’ll be fine from here on it. End of story.”

The esteemed pleasure of auditing Enterprise now belongs to Deloitte who has now snagged three clients from KPMG this year (by our count) – picking up Jefferies and Select Comfort back in March.

Enterprise Bank parent dismisses KPMG [St. Louis Business Journal]

KPMG Resigns as TierOne Bank Auditor

In a bizarre piece of auditing news released late on a Sunday night, KPMG has verbally resigned as Nebraska-based TierOne Bank’s independent auditor, withdrawn its audit opinion for 2008 and taken back its review of TierOne’s financials for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

Well damn, we’re fairly sure it couldn’t get any worse than that for TierOne, could it?


Citing risk of material misstatement, KPMG has also warned the audit committee that TierOne’s financials are not to be relied upon by investors. Even Overstock.com doesn’t get that kind of treatment.

Last month the Office of Thrift Supervision – TierOne’s primary regulator – gave it until April 30th to merge with or sell its assets to a healthier financial institution so we’re going to go out on a limb here by assuming that they aren’t going to have good news come Friday and KPMG is just doing the responsible thing by backing away from the mess with a week left.

Here’s What Happens When You Lie to Your Auditors

There’s been a fair amount kvetching, Monday-morning QBing, and just plain hating on auditors lately. Most of it deserved. That said, there are still laws on the books that say you can’t dismiss them entirely and tell them bald-faced lies whenever you want.

Bruce Karatz was the CEO of KB Homes and he was convicted for, among other things, lying to Ernst & Young:

Karatz was involved in a backdating scheme in which he awarded himself and other execs millions of dollars in stock-based compensation, a jury found. Background on Karatz is here and here.

The 64-year-old faces 80 years in prison after being convicted of four felony counts including wire fraud and lying to his company’s auditor, Ernst & Young, about the matter, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. He was acquitted on 16 other counts.

Jesus, 80 years? We’re no expert on sentencing guidelines but using simple arithmetic, that’s 20 years per count. We’re all for justice but that’s some serious FPMITA prison time. And the way judges have been handing out sentences lately, we wouldn’t expect leniency.

After Backdating Setbacks, Feds Chop Former KB CEO Karatz [Law Blog]

Three Examples of “Significant Unusual Transactions” that Should Get Auditors’ Attention

The PCAOB issued a friendly reminder yesterday to auditors that sometimes unusual transactions can be cause for alarm and should send the risk red flags flying. Unfortunately, the friendly reminder did not actually mention anything about what “unusual transactions” are but regardless, you better be on the lookout for them.

“The PCAOB’s message to auditors, in this challenging economic environment, has consistently emphasized attention to audit risk and adherence to existing audit requirements,” said Martin F. Baumann, Chief Auditor and Director of Professional Standards.

Since Practice Alert No. 5 (makes it sound kind of hot, don’t it?) warns of the risk of material misstatement inherent to unusual transactions without mentioning what those transactions could be, we came up with three unusual transactions to which the PCAOB could possibly be referring. It isn’t called guidance for nothing, you’re on your own when it comes to determining what qualifies as unusual, little auditors. Hopefully this helps.

• Large and frequent A/P entries to an entity known only as “Candy” (substitute “Bubbles”, “Kitty”, or “Roxy” as appropriate) This is why you have professional judgment so use it, we’re pretty sure even if you haven’t been to a strip club you know what strippers look like on the books and records.

• If you find yourself in a warehouse on December 31st counting an inventory full of dirty bombs, AK-47s, plutonium rods, chances are your entity is engaged in “unusual transactions.” Bonus points for extra unusual if you’re counting that crap and your entity is a church. Red flag, dear auditor, red flag!

• Recurring transactions for “crack” are definitely unusual. You don’t need us to tell you that’s a giant red flag, unless you are auditing under the influence yourself and concerned mostly with where the entity’s CFO hides his stash. Remember also that crack is pretty cheap on the street so repeated transactions will likely fall outside the scope of materiality though a raging crack habit will be material in the aggregate. Adjust scope accordingly.

PCAOB Issues Staff Audit Practice Alert on Auditor Considerations of Significant Unusual Transactions [PCAOB]

Accounting News Roundup: Charlie Rangel Has a Primary Challenger; Does Your Salary Define You?; PCAOB Wants Auditors to Consider Big Weird Transactions | 04.08.10

Rangel Challenged by a Historic Foe [WSJ]
Someone finally realized that Charlie Rangel’s constituents in New York’s 15th District have maybe had enough of Chuck and his “pay taxes as I wrote them, not as I pay them” ways. Rangs will be challenged in the primary by New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, according to the Journal. Not only does Mr Powell have an upper hand in the ad campaign department but there’s a bit of history here.


Powell Number III, sire of IV, was defeated by ChaRang back in 1970 amid his own ethical trubs. ACP 4th Edition insisted to that this had nothing to do with sweet, sweet revenge, “It has nothing to do with revenge or anything like that. Anyone with that record in public service would be interested in higher office.”

It won’t be easy for ACP4 however. He was flicked away by Rangs in a primary challenge back in 1994 and was recently convicted of “driving while impaired,” which actually seems worse than hogging rent-controlled apartments, since that could result in, you know, someone getting killed.

My Paycheck, My Self? [FINS]
Does your salary define you as a human being? Or, at the very least, does it feel that way? Master pay czar Ken Feinberg had to snoop around some people that pull down some hefty scratch and he found out that the human psyche can easily be affected by their pay stub.

PCAOB Issues Staff Audit Practice Alert on Auditor Considerations of Significant Unusual Transactions [PCAOB]
Don’t worry about the plain old vanilla transactions auditors, the PCAOB needs you to be on the lookout for significant unusual transactions. What that entails, we don’t really know but we’ll assume that means any transaction, and the PCAOB means any transaction, that looks remotely out of the ordinary, has a funny name (that may or may not include a “105”), requires smokey-filled room approval etc., definitely give it a second look. Or a third.

The PCAOB Proposes Ideas on How Auditors Can Better Communicate with Other Human Beings

Last week the PCAOB announced that it was getting serious about audit committee communication after it was revealed that Ernst & Young kinda sorta didn’t think the Repo 105 sitch was worth brining up to the Lehman Brothers audit committee. Granted, Dick Fuld is pretty scary dude and has probably eaten plenty of Big 4 partners for breakfast in his day but avoiding the awkward convo this time around almost resulted in everyone fighting over stale hot dog buns in the street.


Oh sure, the PCAOB has been kicking this around for awhile but something needed to happen to get their motors going and it appears that the LEH/E&Y fallout has done the trick. We might be completely wrong on this but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the PCAOB has lost faith in auditors to do their jobs and will continue to inundate them with rules until they get an “Uncle.”

How about that statement? It’s the typical press release whathaveyou including quotes from the bigshots:

“The proposed standard on audit committee communications is intended to enhance the relevance and effectiveness of the communications between an auditor and audit committee throughout the course of an engagement,” said PCAOB Acting Chairman Daniel L. Goelzer.

“The proposed standard contains appropriate requirements to achieve effective, two-way communication between the auditor and the audit committee, which we believe would improve audit quality,” said Chief Auditor, Martin F. Baumann.

So if we take Goelzer and Baumann at their word, audit committee communication has been pretty ineffective up to this point? That’s good to know.

And here’s the gist of the required communication:

• Communication of an overview of the audit strategy, including a discussion of significant risks, the use of the internal audit function; and the roles, responsibilities, and location of firms participating in the audit;

• Communication regarding critical accounting polices, practices, and estimates;

• Communication regarding the auditor’s evaluation of a company’s ability to continue as a going concern; and,

• Evaluation by the auditor of the adequacy of the two-way communications.

So there’s your checklist people. Sorry to ask but were these items not being discussed previously? One could assume that since these items are on the list, they weren’t always being discussed in practice. Does standard audit committee communication revolve around Gossip Girl? Tiger Woods’ mistresses?

This really appears to be an example of the PCAOB taking away auditors’ “professional judgment” and making them “professional inquisitors.” Further, as Jim Peterson has pointed out, checking off required communication will do nothing to protect auditors from liability in the future, “there is no legal defense or ‘safe harbor’ in American law based on proof of compliance with professional standards – box ticked or otherwise.”

In other words, make all the professional requirements you want, auditors are still going to get sued and claiming “But we checked the box!” will not work as a defense. So the rationale must have been checklists are fun and easy to follow? Sigh. You’ve got until May 27th to get your thoughts in on this thing before it gets rubber stamped. Get on it.

Press Release [PCAOB]

PwC Had Enough with Old Republic’s Sketchy Accounting

Accounting firms take a lot of grief for bending over backwards for their clients. They’re in the client service business after all and keeping them as happy as possible is priority numero uno (despite what you might hear). Considering this factoid, when an accounting firm decides to cut a client loose for a “disagreement” over an accounting practice, we feel that’s a pretty good reason for any future accounting firm to think long and hard before taking on said client (case in point: KPMG taking the Overstock.com audit).


PricewaterhouseCoopers notified Old Republic International Corp. on March 19th that they would be “declining to stand for re-election as Old Republic’s independent registered public accounting firm for 2010.” That’s nice SEC filing language for “We’re so grossed out by you that we refuse to audit you any more.”

The two firms disagreed about the accounting treatment of “certain mortgage guaranty reinsurance commutation transactions with captive reinsurers owned by lending institutions.” That description alone makes us nauseous. The gist from Old Republic’s 8-K filing:

Old Republic had concluded that, in accordance with traditional reinsurance accounting practices, funds received ($82.5 million) in excess of amounts owed to it by the captive reinsurers should be deferred and recognized in the income statements of the future periods during which the related claim costs were expected to occur. PwC believed that generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”) required that the $82.5 million be recognized immediately as income from a contract termination.

So you have “traditional accounting practices” versus almighty GAAP. The tradish accounting wasn’t good enough for PwC, so they brought the probelme to the attention of the audit committee. The AC ultimately decided…wait…that management was correct. Shocked? Us too. The disagreement was brought to light back in November and in a press release when the company said that the transactions in question “which resulted in little consequential effect on the pretax loss.”

Apparently PwC wouldn’t let it go and the Company called in the SEC to get their $0.02 on the matter. Lo and behold, the Commission sided with PwC. After a lot profanity-laced belly aching (that’s what we imagine, anyway) and sleepless nights for both OR’s accounting department and the PwC audit team (that’s not debatable), Old Republic filed the delayed 10-Q last month with restated financial statements.

After what was surely 5 or so months of pure hell, PwC figured that this was an awkward enough situation that a break up was warranted. This was probably the perfect opportunity for PwC to get out of this engagement. They figured Old Republic wasn’t going to change their less-than GAAP-y ways, the audit committee is obviously no help, and God knows you don’t want to get the SEC involved every single time there’s a disagreement. If you were to ask us, its seems like a pretty logical reaction.

Now the only question is, which audit firm picks up Old Republic? PwC will certainly have some interesting things to share with the firm that decides they’re up for this particular headache.

PricewaterhouseCoopers drops Old Republic [Chicago Breaking News/CT]
8-K [SEC.gov]

After Constant Lehman/Ernst & Young Press Coverage, the PCAOB Is Ready to Get Serious About Audit Committee Communication

So maybe you heard about Ernst & Young and how they kinda, sorta didn’t bring up the shady accounting going on over at Lehman Brothers to the audit committee until a Matthew Lee, your fired whistleblower du jour, brought it up. Some people have suggested that if E&Y had made a single peep about this prior to, say, 2008, maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion (okay, we’d probably still be having it).


The controversy over this incommunicado has now jolted the PCAOB into action as the they have announced an open meeting for Monday at 9:30 am sharp. Basically, they want to feel everyone out on a standard for required communication for auditors with the audit committees.

As Emily Chasan of Reuters notes, “The PCAOB has considered issuing rules on this issue for the past several years to formalize ways that auditors are expected to communicate with the audit committee of the company they are auditing,” but in classic reactionary fashion, nothing has been done up to this point. Now that we’ve had bankruptcy reports, recycled stories in the press, E&Y hating back the haters, and everything else in this shitstorm, the PCAOB is ready to talk about this.

So, if you’ve got no plans on Monday morning and happen to be in DC, head over to hear the discussion and throw in your $0.02. In the meantime, we’d love to hear some of your suggestions for mandatory talking points from the serious (e.g. accounting treatment that makes the partner even slightly queasy) to the über-ridiculous (e.g. biggest whore on the audit team).

CPAs Spanked by SEC for Porn Site Audit

Let it be known that if you are peddling porn and engaged in online pimping, you do not want the SEC on your back.

WebCPA reports that Stephen Corso of Las Vegas and Brian Rabinovitz of Oak Park, CA got the SEC smack down in a Nevada federal court for filing materially false and misleading financial statements from 1999 – 2002 (that’s quite a backlog) and that audit staff – under the boys’ supervision – omitted important info and violated the sanctity of auditor independence during audits of Exotics.com


While the enforcement doesn’t go into specifics, we’re happy to. Exotics.com bills itself as the world’s premiere source for – wait for it – beautiful female adult entertainers. Not to be outdone, Exotics also boasts a veritable cornucopia of escort options including “BDSM & fetish providers, exotic dancers, strippers, sensual and erotic massage specialists, TSTV and other adult entertainment.” It’s that “other that really scares me. Self-billed as the Quicker Pecker Upper (kid you not), the site headline right around the time the SEC brought the heat was “Better than Wives, Girlfriends, and Porn” – and apparently above performing audits according to GAAS?

So, who wants to wildly speculate as to how audit staff violated auditor independence?

Here’s the 2005 release from our friends at the SEC:

[T]he accountants fraudulently participated in audits of Exotics-Nevada’s year-end financial statements and in a review of its quarterly financial statements and failed to conduct those engagements in accordance with GAAS, as required. The Commission also alleges in its complaint that, among other things, the accountants prepared or created many of Exotics-Nevada’s books and records and then audited the financial statements they created. According to the complaint, they also caused their firms to issue false audit reports which, together with the underlying financial statements, were incorporated in Exotics-Nevada’s public filings with the Commission.

Now listen, little auditors, you don’t shit where you live and you don’t audit your own statements. Audit sampling? I could see how it would be hard to resist in this particular instance.

CPAs Disciplined for Porn Site Accounting Fraud [Web CPA]
SEC Complaint

Crowe Horwath Was the Big Audit Client Winner in 2009; E&Y, Deloitte Big Losers

We might be a little late to the party on this but it just recently came across our desk and since trying to get a post up today is akin to turning water into wine, we’re running with it. And, frankly, if a large portion of you regularly read the “Public Accounting Report” we’ll be blown (BLOWN!) away.

The determination of the ranking isn’t entirely clear to us so we’ll just go for some superficial analysis on Crowe Horwath (#1 on the list) and the Big 4:

Crowe Horwath #1 – Net gain of 24 clients; net gain in audited revenue of approximately $4 billion; net gain in assets audited of $18.4 billion; net revenue to the firm of $11 million.

PwC #2 – Net loss of 8 clients; net gain in audited revenue of $34.9 billion; net gain in assets audited of $2.68 billion; net revenue to the firm of $8.4 million.

KPMG #5 – Net loss of 1 client; net gain in audited revenue of over $12.9 billion; net loss in assets audited of $61.4 billion; net loss in revenue to the firm of $19.5 million.

Ernst & Young #9 – Net loss of 30 clients; net gain in audited revenue of $5.3 billion; net loss in assets audited of $53.8 billion; net loss in revenue to the firm of $36.7 million.

Deloitte #10 – Net loss of 7 clients; net loss in audited revenue of over $90.5 billion; net loss in assets audited of $718 billion; net loss in revenue to the firm of $74.7 million.


Crowe Horwath’s net gain of 24 clients is easily the highest of the firms presented and they’re the only firm that has increases in all the categories presented. Kinda makes you wonder why they had such a steady stream of layoffs in 2009. We’re open to suggestions and wild-ass theories on this topic.

On the losing end, Deloitte’s loss of huge clients due to the financial apocalypse has been noted by our contributor Francine McKenna and is noted by the PAR:

The firm landed the most wins of any of the Big Four firms for 2009, 46, garnering 3.5% of the overall SEC audit wins for the year. Overall, the Big Four won 7.5% of the auditor changes reported during the first three months of 2005. What relegated the firm to last place in the standings was two huge loses: UAL, to E&Y, and Merril Lynch’s acquisition by Bank of America.

All that added up to nearly $75 million in lost audit fee revenue for Deloitte. In terms of the number clients lost, E&Y managed to cruise to that title with net loss of 30 clients:

E&Y captured some sizable wins for the year, notably UAL/Chicago (Revenue: $20.19 billion) from Deloitte and Apple/Cupertino, Calif. (Revenue $32.48 billion) from KPMG. But its gains couldn’t offset losses for the year of Tyson, Sovereign Bancorp and Nalco Holding, to name a few notable losses.

The end result of this client musical chairs doesn’t really add up to much in terms of revenue for any of the firms. Even the $75 million lost by Deloitte is a drop in the bucket compared to their fiscal year ’09 revenue of $26.1 billion.

Peruse as you numbers see fit and feel free to wave the flag.

SEC Deadline Watch: A Teaching Moment for Young Auditors

With the big SEC deadline on Monday there’s a good chance that some of you might be pulling some weekend hours. These are crucial moments where mistakes are not optional (especially food orders). Your attention to detail is paramount.

Being so close to a deadline can tempt some to cut corners, especially newbies. Things like ghost-ticking (btw, have we mentioned that everyone does this at some point?), plugging numbers and maybe not reading that draft of the 10-K as closely as you should are common shortcuts.


A reader passed along a link to an 8-K (no, not same form but the point is same you dolts) from 2005 for City National Bancshares Corporation of Newark, NJ and despite its age, it serves as an important teaching opportunity (emphasis unnecessary):

RESOLVED, a description of such 6% Non-cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock, Series E, including the preferences and other rights, voting powers, restrictions, limitations as to dividends, qualifications, and terms and conditions for redemption, all as set by the Board of Direc you fucking new when i asked you liartors of the Corporation, is set forth in the attached Certificate of Designation Establishing the 6% Non-cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock, Series E and Fixing the Powers, Designations, Preferences and Relative, Participating, Optional and Other Special Rights, and the Qualifications, Limitations and Restrictions, of the 6% Non-cumulative Perpetual Preferred Stock, Series E.

Do you see what happens? Intentional? Accidental? Doesn’t matter now, but somehow this awesome embedded message slipped by someone and now it lives for all eternity at the SEC. The point is, you should probably read every word of the filing to find obvious mistakes like these. Whether you choose to suggest a correction to your client is another matter entirely. Personally, we could handle seeing more of this.

Audit Room Etiquette: Three Faux Pas That Make Your Co-workers Hate You

Since we marked the countdown to the first SEC deadline of busy season yesterday, let’s tackle an important issue.

Sitting in close proximity of the same people day after day, night after night tends to wear on a person (and if you happen to be sleeping with them, it’s worse).

You start noticing the most mundane, yet painfully annoying habits of your fellow auditors and they can drive you up the boringly-beige wall. Pretty soon, assault and battery seems like your only course of action. We ask that you refrain from beat downs (it’s just not considered good professional to batter your co-workers these days), but it is, of course, your God-given right to gripe about it and share your gripes behind the offending co-workers’ back.

But before you get too high and mighty, are you absolutely sure you’re not one of the annoying ones? We consulted another former audit room survivor, DWB, and no one is immune. In order to make you more aware of your personal, er, shortcomings, we’ve assembled this handly list of the most common bad habits that occur in the audit room:

Eating – You either eat food that makes the entire room reek or you happen to simultaneously masticate and opine on recent accounting developments. Trying to burp quietly is an act in futility and don’t react to your food like it’s sexually stimulating (even if it is). All of these make you terrible to be around.


Personal phone calls – You know that guy that takes three phone calls from his girlfriend every single day at the exact same time? Or you happen to call your mother every day to shoot the breeze for 45 minutes. Oh, that’s you? Well, not only are you shamefully whipped and/or dependent you’re annoying the hell out of everyone else within earshot.

Humming, whistling and/or singing – For the love of God, why on Earth is necessary to audibly hum a tune that you’re making up in your head? Furthermore, why would you put words to it? You’re an auditor, not Andrew Lloyd Webber. (And no, it’s not OK if the tune is actually one of Mr Lloyd Webber’s compositions – actually that might be worse.)

Now for those of you that simply think that a set of headphones will solve all these problems, we regret to inform you you’re gravely mistaken. Once these habits have saturated a person’s psyche, any movement, otherwise normal, will amplify the inner wrath to deistic proportions.

The above list is by no means all-inclusive and we’ll admit that our tolerance for bad human behavior is lower than most but the issue is important enough to warrant discussion and possible solutions.

SEC Deadline Watch: One Week to Go For Large Accelerated Filers; Is It Really the End?

Not that we need to tell any of you working on a LAF but marking the occasion seems appropriate. For those of you would like to know just what the hell it is we’re talking about, March 1st is the 10-K deadline for large accelerated filers (market cap of $700 million or more and few other conditions).

The sleepovers and MSG overdoses are almost over! Plus, now you can dump your busy season bitch. Rejoice!


Actually, not so fast. Whether or not next Monday’s deadline brings an end to your busy season is another story. Some of you may be lucky enough to coast for the next month or so but since staffing was an issue for more teams than usual this year, we’re guessing most of you will get to hop on another team to help them cross the finish line.

For those of you not on an LAF, you’re probably relieved if you happen to be getting an extra set of hands in the coming weeks. And then there are those of you that don’t work on public clients at all that probably need the help but won’t be getting it for another two weeks when the next deadline passes. Even then you might not get the extra help you need.

Well, shit. Maybe we shouldn’t have brought it up.

Who’s Doing an Inventory Today?

Thumbnail image for inventory.jpgIt’s a big day of counting items of all sorts: screwdrivers, unsold Pontiacs, Shiri Zinn Minx vibrators. And unless you’re Count von Count, we’re guessing that you’re not too psyched about it.
We’ve touched on inventories a couple of times in 2009 and now that the mother of all count days is here, we’ll open a thread for those of you poor souls that will be spending all day tagging [insert item].
Whatever your responsibilities are, we hope they won’t get in the way of your NYE plans but unfortch, one reader has already told us about the less than thrilling news they got yesterday:

I just found out I have one on new year’s eve that is three hours away from where I live for another of the firm’s offices and I likely won’t be leaving there until 8:00 pm. And this company’s inventories have historically been “messy”. F My Life.

Nothing like last minute. To top it all off they’ll probably end up counting pig carcasses outside a slaughter house.
So let this story be your jumping off point for our inventory thread. Share your nightmare inventory count stories from auditor tales of yore or what the hell you’re up to today. And don’t leave out the details like condom goodie bags. Have a great count and don’t be ashamed to use your fingers.

Will a Boycott of Overstock.com Thwart Patrick Byrne’s Auditor Hunt?

Thumbnail image for patsy_byrne.jpgGuys and gals, we here at GC are concerned about something. Something other than who the next face of Accenture will be (honestly we’re excited about Chuck’s commanding lead).
No, we’re concerned that your humble servant and Farmville enthusiast Patrick Byrne is going to be unable to find an auditor for Overstock.com. The company has until January 18th to pull something together so the NASDAQ doesn’t delist them and if things continue the way they are, it’s going to be hello Pink Sheets.
Maybe things wouldn’t look so grim if PB hadn’t blown off CNN. Or if he hadn’t pissed off every single financial journalist and blogger by getting too friendy.
But now that Barry Ritholtz has called for a boycott, any hope for finding the next auditor to put the stamp of approval on OSTK’s financial statements is fading.
Wait! Gary Weiss has his doubts: “As for that boycott: great idea, except that with Byrne manipulating the financials, how would you know if it is having any impact?”
Whew! There’s still a glimmer.
Boycott Overstock.com [The Big Picture]

Should Auditors be Able to Take Credit for Selling Non-audit Services?

Thumbnail image for integrity.jpgThe partner track is a challenge, as we’ve discussed. The competition in the UK is fierce enough that some directors and manager in the UK have taken it upon themselves to ignore their firm’s policies regarding cross-selling:

Authorities frown upon cross-selling, which involves an auditor selling non-audit services to their audit client. The practice is a potential threat to auditor independence and the Big Four explicitly prohibit the practice from being considered in staff appraisals.
But that didn’t stop Big Four firm Deloitte’s audit directors and managers referring to cross selling when trying to secure a promotion, according to the [Audit Inspection Unit].
“A number of audit directors and managers referred in their performance evaluations to cross selling non audit services to their audit clients,” the report stated.

Maybe this isn’t as much of a problem Stateside, since the SEC has addressed services that are definitely off-limits, and a company’s audit committee has to approve all non-audit work performed by the auditors. If there was a perceived independence issue, one would hope the committee would say no dice and that would be the end of it.
However, if a potential service doesn’t fall into the SEC banned list and the audit committee gives the non-audit service the thumbs up, should a manager be allowed to point to the business that he/she introduced to the firm?
After all that hoop jumping, it would be hard for any manager to resist pointing to business that the firm eventually won. Since the Big 4 have policies against cross-selling coming up in appraisals, it might all be moot but any potential partner still wants to be able to show that they can drum up the business.
If you’ve got feelings or experiences on the matter, discuss in the comments.
Big Four partners seek promotions for cross selling [Accountancy Age]

UK Regulators: Let’s Try and Quantify Audit Quality

RG-1031.jpgOur friends across the pond have put it out there that as it stands, an audit report is an audit report is an audit report. Regardless of the firm doing the work, the end product is the same and the Professional Oversight Board (POB) wants audit firms to produce, “more quantitative data to better equip investors and companies with the tools needed to scrutinise their auditors.”


It’s long been popular to call an auditor’s product a “commodity” and this appears to be the Brits’ attempt to dispel that notion. The talk of asking auditors to somehow quantify quality has already garnered support in the investing community in the UK:

Michael McKersie, assistant director capital markets at the [Association of British Insurers], said he would welcome more comparative information. “The relative lack of hard quantitative reporting data on the audit firms and global networks has been… a concern. Comparability is really important and we have, in the past, seen no n-comparability [sic] here as a problem.”

Fine idea, although there’s not a single indication of how the quality could be measured and the director of auditing at the POB even admits that ‘The challenge is how can auditors demonstrate quality and those that use their services assess it.’
This whole idea of “comparability” came up because of a POB inspection of showed, “some firms were rewarding staff for attracting business at the expense of promoting audit quality.” So the answer to this problem — from the POB’s point of view — is to slap together a “rate this audit from 1 to 10” system and the firm with the highest score has the best audits?
Audit firms will always claim that their work is of the highest quality regardless of the circumstances but now regulators want them to put that in some quantifiable form. And because we like to keep the pace with our friends in the UK, it probably won’t be long before an ambitious bureaucrat Stateside (e.g. new PCAOB Chairman) will insist on a similar approach.
If there’s any wonky auditors out there that have some ideas how this could be done, we’re all ears but for now we’re firmly in the skeptical camp.
Clients blind on audit quality [Accountancy Age]
Also see: You mean the Big 4 aren’t transparent? [Tax Research UK/Richard Murphy]

Overstock.com Receives Delisting Notice, Really, Really, Really Needs an Auditor

patrick_byrne.jpgJust a brief follow-up on the three ring circus known as Overstock.com. After Wednesday’s bizarro conference call, Ringmaster Patrick Byrne and his company filed an 8-K on Friday letting the SEC know that the NASDAQ wasn’t impressed with the unreviewed 10-Q that the company filed last week.
The NASDAQ notice informed OSTK that since the company thought it would be cute to file an unreviewed 10-Q, they will delist the OSTK from the exchange if they are not back in compliance with listing rules by January 18th.
It was an especially nice touch that OSTK filed the 8-K “two minutes after market close today, a day after the letter was received.”
Getting back into compliance will involve finding an auditing firm stupid enough desperate enough willing to be the next humble servant to sign off on the 10-Q.
The issue at hand is worth putting to a vote. For whatever reason you like, choose the firm that should be the next auditor of OSTK. We’re not privy to all the possible independence issues that may exist, so anyone that brings them up to point how one firm would be disqualified can piss off.

Deadline Watch: 3rd Quarter 10-Qs

Thumbnail image for hairy-nascar-fan.jpgNow that you’ve enjoyed the extra hour of tomfoolery thanks to the time machine known as daylight savings time, it’s back to reality.
For auditors working on SEC filers, this means seeing less daylight from now until…well, yeah. The good news is that there’s only one week until the filing deadline for accelerated filers’ 3rd Quarter 10-Qs. For those of you on the non-accelerated types, you’ve got an extra week which could be a lifesaver or just a way to prolong…the…agony.
The bitch of the thing is that for those of you that are/will be going down to the wire, the deadlines fall on Mondays which means your weekend will likely consist of a slumber party at the client’s digs.
So for those of you that live and die by the calendar year SEC deadlines, discuss your Q3 and if it’s business as usual or if your engaging in the standard quarterly rhetoric about how you’re finding a new job right after the Q is filed.

Are Going Concern Opinions the Kiss of Death?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for epic-failure.thumbnail.jpgOne thing is for sure: clients don’t like getting them. Auditors may even go out of their way to not give one in order to maintain “excellent client service” or whatever the latest buzz phrase is.
Many companies risking the dreaded explanatory paragraph arrived there on their own accord but if a company is legitimately trying to recover from their stay in financial intensive care, auditors may be piling on by issuing the GCO.


CFO:

Such a qualification can result in tougher-to-get and more expensive financing deals, just when the company is most in need of a break. Indeed, once hit with a going-concern qualification, companies may succumb to a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” say accounting observers. The pariah status such an opinion confers all but forces investors, suppliers, and lenders to turn away, often driving a company on the brink of bankruptcy into a Chapter 11 filing.

CFO’s piece cites the opinion of Al King, former Chairman of the Institute of Management Accountants, who mentions the guidance of auditing rules “don’t allow auditors a wider range of possible warnings.” The situation comes down to one of options: 1) we’re cool or 2) we’re doomed.
That may be a valid point but the idea of an explanatory paragraph that discusses the alignment of the planets along with management’s brilliant plan to save the sinking ship doesn’t seem like the answer.
Nevermind breaking the bad news to your client, who may be living in denial over the state of their company. Or as the Overland Storage situation demonstrated, clients just get their panties in a bunch and start firing auditors. But you still have to the your jobs, amiright?
The GC opinion. Discuss any experiences you have had in comments. Did it involve grown men sobbing like children? Delusional clients? Maybe just gnashing of teeth? Or did the partner fold like a cheap lawn chair in the name of client service?
Living with a Scarlet Audit Letter [CFO]

Deadline Watch: Employee Benefit Plans

dow10000.jpgDid Dow 10,000 get you excited about your 401k again? No? Just a psychological level? Bah. “We don’t give a damn because we’re still down from the highs you jerk.”
Fine, you kill-joys, regardless if you still consider your nest egg to be in the crapper, there are lots of people out there that ingested inhuman amounts of MSG last night to get employee benefit plan audits completed and submitted with their Form 5500s for today’s deadline. This is our tribute to them*.
Sure, EBP audits are the redheaded step-child of audits but they keep some of you employed, they’re profitable and low risk so everybody a few people win. Good work EBP trolls, finish up and go get your drink on.
*Maybe we were just waiting until the day of the deadline to mention EBPs. Didja ever think of that? Didja?

PCAOB: We’re Not Saying Perfect Audits, Just Pretty Perfect Audits

Thumbnail image for epic-failure.thumbnail.jpgThe public understanding of what auditors actually do is, to put it mildly, frustrating. If you were ask the average dude on the street what auditors’ responsibilities were, “Find fraud” would probably be the first thing that you would hear.
With all the public outrage against everything remotely related to finance or accounting, politicians feel like they have to do something. This usually amounts to putting pressure on bureaucrats, who in turn make rules to appease said politicians who can then point to accomplishments.


The PCAOB is no exception, and regardless of its potential extinction, has a go-getter attitude that includes potentially making the public’s perception more of a reality.
FEI Financial Reporting Blog:

Although not part of the PCAOB’s formal standard-setting agenda for the upcoming year, some SAG members argued there was a need for the PCAOB to revisit the fundamental fraud standard (SAS 99) as a standalone or ‘foundational’ standard, in much the same way as the PCAOB is in the process of re-proposing its suite of risk assessment standards as ‘foundational’ standards.

You probably know where this is going:

In response to questions, Silvers said, “We should not expect that every audit is a forensic audit… that’s absolutely not what I’m saying.” However, he added, “I think we need to move the dial a little bit so auditors have some greater obligation than is currently embodied in the current fraud standard, to have an obligation to act when there is reasonable suspicion of fraud.”
“This was subject to some extensive discussion in the Treasury committee (Treasury’s Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession or ACAP],” said Silvers, adding, “some people, Lynn [Turner], may feel my approach is not tough enough, some people felt we should move to some absolute liability standard [i.e.] if you don’t find fraud, it’s the auditors fault; but it’s also not my view that looking for fraud is not related to the audit, that doesn’t parse with the public’s [perception] of the audit profession.”

Our emphasis. So not every audit will be a forensic audit, so, just most of them? That’s a relief.
So not only do you need to get way better at auditing fair value, now the brain trust at the PCAOB is considering putting more auditor flesh on the hook when it comes to finding fraud. So not absolute assurance but it’s getting there.
PCAOB Announces Ambitious Agenda; May Be Time to ‘Dial Up’ on Fraud, Silvers Says [FEI Financial Reporting Blog]

(UPDATE) Is the PCAOB Going the Way of the Dodo?

Dodo_bird.jpgWho knows? Our separation-of-powers principles knowledge is pretty much zilch. However, the PCAOB is currently “doubly insulated from both political pressure and presidential oversight” which some – including the Plaintiff in the case, First Free Enterprise Fund – think is unconstitutional.
The case, First Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, will be argued during the new session of the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7th. Here’s the take of our sister site, ATL, last year when the possibility of the SCOTUS hearing the case first came up.
More, after the jump


We won’t rehash the whole immaculate conception of the PCAOB, as you’re all familiar with that story. First Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, however, could make things interesting: “This case has the potential to undo the SOX accounting and auditing reforms. As such, the result may impact not just the auditing profession, but also every public company as well as the users of financial statements of those companies.”
‘Undo SOX accounting and auditing reforms’? That sounds kinda serious. We won’t go so far as to suggest that you start forgetting everything that you’ve been trying to get your heads around for the past seven years, but there’s at least a possibility that the PCAOB could become extinct. That could be exciting, or it could make you completely f*cking miserable again.
New Court Term May Give Hints to Views on Regulating Business [NYT]
The Supreme Court Term – Significant Cases for Business [SEC Actions via JDA]
Supreme Court Obsessed With Business This Session [Law Review]

KPMG Arrives at the Paperless Audit Party

office-space-402a-061907.jpgWe’ve received several reports about Klynveldians attending “eAudit” training this summer which marks the firm’s attempt to get break into the “paperless” audit world. Reports have been mixed with some saying that it’s best technology KPMG has invested in but others claiming that it will only run on Vista which may be problematic when Windows 7 rolls out.
Forgetting the technology mumbo-jumbo, it’s been long rumored that KPMG was the last major firm to make the move to a paperless audit. This could have been due to a number of things:
More, after the jump


• Partners that have been around since WWII that can’t even use email put the kibosh on the whole idea
• M-O-N-E-Y
• Accountants, in general, resist the idea of trying a new restaurant so don’t even think about messing with their audit methods
What’s more surprising is that some Radio Station clients have said that they prefer the old school audit. Not exactly sure what is so appealing about young auditors schleping around boxes of binders that weigh a few metric asstons but whatevs.
Our point, dude, is that KPMG has finally caved on this whole “paperless” idea. Since audits aren’t truly paperless we’re not sure what all the fuss is about but KPMGers got an extra week in Florida in the dead of summer out of it. Discuss the firm breaking into the new century in the comments or let us know how terrible your lives will be because of it.

Last Call for Q2 Meltdowns

calendar.jpgLast week we checked in with those of you working on 10-Q’s for the second quarter and it sounded like it was pretty quiet.
Large accelerated filers have until 5:30 EST today to get their 10-Q’s submitted. Any last minute meltdowns out there? Anyone going on 48 hours of no sleep to pull this one off? Let us know in the comments or email us at tips@goingconcern.com.

Add Another Hoop to the Audit Process

signature.jpgIn a move that probably just adds one more annoying hoop to jump through for auditors, audit engagements will now go through quality review with adoption of AS No. 7, Engagement Quality Review (EQR).
According to the press release, “The EQR standard provides a framework for the engagement quality reviewer to objectively evaluate the significant judgments made and related conclusions reached by the engagement team in forming an overall conclusion about the engagement.”
We’re hoping the engagement quality reviewers will be given free range to document their “overall conclusions” as they wish. Some that we would suggest: “You call yourselves auditors?“, “I’m recommending that the PCAOB inspect this engagement” or “What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?“. It would be a shame for the firms to institute a check-the-box method that would compromise artistic integrity.
In other PCAOB news, the Board is asking for comments on its Concept Release “to consider the effects of a potential requirement for the engagement partner to sign the audit report.” We speculated last week that signatures in blood or dog excrement might be appropriate in many cases but if you’ve got other ideas, you’ve got 45 days to give them better suggestions.
Press Release [PCAOBUS.org]