November 20, 2018

Former Big 4 Audit Intern Pens Heartbreaking Tribute to Friend Who Died From ‘Overworking’

We’ve been heavy on the death and depression around these parts lately, and for that I’m sorry. I guess it’s just the nature of the game sometimes. I’m not that sorry, though, because we’re about to talk about completely preventable death some more.

A Facebook post from a former Big 4 intern went viral recently on the other side of the globe, and for good reason. In it, she pleads with the audit industry to consider the consequences of long hours, poor nutrition, and a general lack of concern for the well-being of associates. Read.

Audit Culture Facebook post

Surely what she describes resonates, at least in some ways, with auditors across this big, fine, flat earth of ours, as well as many across all public accounting service lines. The long hours, the boxed lunches, the constant anxiety over major screw-ups; all of these things are the foundation upon which Going Concern is built. While we make fun of them at every opportunity, it’s not that we think these things are funny, rather that it’s so ludicrous the worldwide economy is guarded by a bunch of malnourished, sleep-deprived accountants that you have no choice but to laugh at it.

Except sometimes it’s no laughing matter. We were unable to find any news stories about a 2 a.m. car crash; however, we did find another tribute written by a classmate for their friend who quite literally died from overworking.

Adam Chan writes:

Good friend passed away yesterday. Reason? Overworked. Left office at 2am in the morning and met an accident while he was traveling back to his comfy bed.

I’m not entirely sure why did he continue staying in the office even though he wanted to go back home early, but from a reliable source(his colleagues who are also my friends) was saying that it’s the culture in Audit department that no one should leave the office before works are completed and before your senior (from the highest hierarchy to the lowest) leave accordingly. Nobody cares if you are tired, have someone waiting for you to go home or any excuses that could delay the work done or affect the overall audit team performance and image.

Sadly, this isn’t the first case of work-related death we’ve ever discussed. There’s the Finnish tax guy who died at his desk and no one noticed, the 25-year-old PwC auditor in Shanghai whose work-related fatigue weakened her immune system to the point of death from acute cerebral meningitis, and of course the manager at PwC Kenya who took his own life earlier this month by throwing himself off the firm’s building. If you want even more, just check out this recent /r/accounting thread about people dying at work.

The saddest part of Hoo Xinyi’s note is not the fact that she lost her friend, but rather that she calls it “audit culture that nobody knows.” People know. Maybe not grocery store cashiers and cable installers, but people in the industry and the people who curate firm culture from the top down know damn well everyone is overworked. Either they don’t care OR they can’t figure out a solution that doesn’t cost them boatloads of money. Sure, firms could institute four day work weeks and or require certain rest periods after long work sessions, kind of like the DOT requires of truck drivers, but those things cost time and money.

Plus the firms are constantly engaged in a race to the middle with one another; it’s sort of like aiming for a 75 on the CPA exam, you only need to do well enough to get it done. They’d probably push you further if they thought it wouldn’t kill a bunch of you off. I imagine if one Big 4 firm suddenly grew the balls to say “you know what, we’ve been doing this wrong this whole time” and start treating their employees better, they would have candidates coming out of the butt. Except they never stick their necks out because they’re only in competition with one another, and then wonder why they have a talent shortage problem.

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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]