September 17, 2019

Big 4

Walking the Opportunistic Line – What Should the Big 4 Do About India?

The developing issues in India have been covered by Going Concern on a fairly regular basis, so I suppose I should take a crack at the subject as well.

It can be very easy scroll past the articles on India, but I advise you not to; after all, as one of the BRIC countries (do your homework), there is an absolute necessity for the Big 4 to position their resources here. And no, I’m not referring to outsourcing.


Based on February research, the Gold Men are bold to state the following:

While it’s clear that BRICs nations tightened their financial conditions when the financial crisis hit at the end of 2008, they rapidly eased back afterwards. Chinese and Indian financial conditions have eased substantially post-crisis, they’re now looser than pre-crisis even. Brazilian conditions also remain very stimulative compared to its past decade. Only Russia looks tight and unstimulative historically.

Sounds like a cash cow, doesn’t it? The BRIC development has long been looked at as the next fat cow for accounting firms to feed off of; closing the gap between the SOX hey days and the inevitable eventual IFRS transition. A fundamental issue is how the firms chase after business in these emerging markets. Push too hard and get burned. Tip toe through the daises and be passed by your three bullish cousins. Either way, on the table at all times is the branding image of each firm.

No one wants a Satyam situation on their hands, because even though no one knows what Satyam actually does, PwC’s global image is at stake because of this situation. Think about ripple effects. The potential client that is ignorant of the situation and whose thought process is “I think PwC is in some kind of trouble in India” is a more volatile problem than a client that, you know, reads the paper every day. Protecting the welfare of client relationships, but seeds and established, is absolute priority in situations like this.

With the exception of those few public sponsorships, the Big 4 don’t spend much time in the presses. And you know what? The big wigs like it that way. After all, we’re all accountants, forced to work in broom closets and wet basements for long hours and GREAT financial gain.

So the quieter the better, because we all know how it turned out for the last one to steal the spotlight.

Will CFO’s Audit Fee Benchmark Tool Help Keep the Big 4 Honest on Fees?

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

There’s a bit of a tiff going on over at my former place of employment as a result of the cover story in the latest issue of CFO Magazine on the recent fall in auditor’s fees.

Some critics seem to fear that the phenomenon will be encouraged by a new benchmarking tool the website unveiled on April 1.

For a fee of $1,200, the tool allows companies to compare the fees that their peers pay for auditors. The process should be both quicker and more comprehensive than the requests for proposals now put out by many companies trying to figure out what they should be paying.


Accounting mavens David Albrecht and Lynn Turner, however, seem to worry that such an exercise will lead to the further commoditization of audits, and so to lower quality financial reporting, even though there’s no evidence the increased fees we saw in the wake of the Sarbanes Oxley Act did anything to improve its quality. Lehman Brothers, anyone?

Yet after the article appeared, Turner sent around comments on his list serve saying it contained several “factual inaccuracies” and that “a firm cannot do the same amount of work with these lower fees without seeing a huge reduction in profits.”

One problem here, it seems to me, is that we’re talking about an oligopoly, which invariably skews the normal effects of supply and demand. Albrecht concedes that the industry is an oligopoly but doesn’t make a cogent point about the significance of that. And he misses the other complication, which is that SarBox not only required auditors to review a company’s internal financial controls as well as its financial results, but also prevented auditors from offering audits as loss leaders for their more profitable consulting services. Now auditors can’t offer both services to the same clients. So audits have to stand on their own two feet.

Turner gets this point, though he confuses the chronology of the regulatory events involved. And he seems to suggest the article is flawed in the conclusion it draws about it, without saying how.

Here’s the point. If, in fact, the extra work SarBox required inflated auditors’ profits, why shouldn’t CFOs be able to make sure they’re getting what they pay for?

And the apparent assumption that benchmarking will inevitably lead companies to push for lower fees seems a bit shaky to me. As CFO.com’s editorial director Tim Reason points out, the process may instead merely keep auditors on their toes. Are Albrecht and Turner arguing that opacity is necessary for the public good, so auditors can pad their fees with impunity? Sorry, but that just doesn’t compute.

In an email to me this morning, Tim wrote: “We think finance executives and audit committees will benefit from having an independent, trusted editorial source provide them with a quick way to benchmark their fees-and make sure they are neither too high nor too low.”

Too low? Sure. You get what you pay for.

Tim also points out that there are no advertisers or sponsors for the tool. “It is a pure editorial offering being made directly to our readers, giving them information they’ve been asking us for years.”

Now there’s a radical idea.

Accounting News Roundup: ICAI Claims Big 4 Is ‘Bending Laws’; There Is No FASB, IRS Conspiracy; Aggressive IRS Blamed for More Americans Severing Ties | 04.06.10

‘Big four audit firms bending laws in India’ [Times of India]
A committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India that is investigating the Satyam fraud is claiming that the Big 4 is “circumventing laws while providing auditing services in the country.” According to the Times of India, the committee has claimed that the firms have been granted permission to provide consulting services but not “taxation services, auditing, accounting and book keeping services and legal services.” The firms are able to provide these services through affiliate firms like Price Waterhouse Bangalore vis-à-vis Lovelock & Lewes who were responsible for the Satyam audit.

The committee states that “Indian firms and [multi-national accounting firms] are defacto the same entities providing the assurance, management and related services and as such their operations are designed to circumvent the provisions of the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949,” and that information sought from some local firms has not been provided to determine if they have partnered with the Big 4.


Debunking the FIN 48 Conspiracy Theory [CFO Blog]
When the IRS proposed its latest rule for disclosing uncertain tax provisions it debunked a theory concocted by some that the FASB was in cahoots with the Service to provide treasure maps for companies that take aggressive tax positions. It was thought that when the FASB was developing FIN 48 (aka Topic 740) in 2006 that they were siding with the IRS in requesting companies to report specific information about those positions.

Not the most interesting conspiracy theory we’ve ever heard but a conspiracy theory nonetheless. Anyhoo, FIN 48 requires less detail about the uncertain positions than the new IRS proposal, thus, debunking the conspiracy, at least in former FASB member Edward Trott, “I think FIN 48 accomplished exactly what was intended…The IRS’s proposed rule makes it clear that [FASB] was able to provide information to investors without providing a gold mine of information to the IRS.” You can go back to your illuminati theories now.

More Americans Give Up Citizenship As IRS Gets Aggressive Overseas [Dow Jones via TaxProf Blog]
Just over 500 people renounced their citizenship or permanent status in the fourth quarter of 2009. The report, citing public records, states the figure is more than all of 2007 and double of 2008. Mostly people are creeped out by future tax increases and more regulation, including the requirements to report details of foreign bank accounts.

While that does drive some people out of the US of A, the IRS claims that there has been a push to get some out who have already surrendered their passports, “The IRS says some of the swelling of numbers of expatriations towards the end of 2009 occurred because the agency made a push to notify people that had already surrendered their passport, but had not completed the process by submitting the IRS form. Until that form is received by the IRS, these people are still subject to U.S. tax.” Or in other words, “GTFO and stay out.”

Accounting News Roundup: Accounting for Healthcare Reform Begins; Should Small CPA Firms Partner with Large Firms on Projects?; Lawsuits Against Accounting Firms Rising Fast in UK | 03.28.10

The healthcare party is over – now comes the (accounting) hangover [FT Alphaville]
Now that healthcare reform is behind us, the matter of sorting out the impact on corporations now falls to the accounting professionals in those companies as the first quarter winds down this week.

FT Alphaville notes that AT&T, for one, has already filed an 8-K that states that it will “take a non-cash charge of approximately $1 billion in the first quarter of 2010 to reflect the impact of this change.” The change that the company is referring to is the “Medicare Part D subsidy” which, under the new law, is no longer eligible for a write-off against a company’s taxes. The subsidy is given to companies to help to pay prescription drug benefits to its employees.


FTA cites a report by Credit Suisse that shows many companies’ (including Goodyear Tire, International Paper and The New York Times) first quarter earnings will be impacted significantly by new healthcare legislation. And it also appears that it will cause companies to take a second look at the benefits they currently provide to employees, as Ma Bell stated in its filing that it “will be evaluating prospective changes to the active and retiree health care benefits offered by the company,” as a result of the legislation.

Why solos and small firms shouldn’t “partner” with larger CPA firms on projects [Fraud Files Blog]
Tracy Coenen recently had a large firm approach her to see if she’d be interested in helping them out with some “Fraud Risk Assessment services.”

The larger firm asked her if she would be interested in “a partner/subconsultant” arrangement. Tracy explains why this isn’t a good situation for solo practitioners like herself, “[T]he consulting firm doesn’t have the know-how necessary to provide their client with the services they need. But they’re not about to let something silly like competence stand in the way of collecting fees! They will find a way to do it.”

Tracy says that the larger firm will ask you to discount your billing rate, train their staff, and ultimately, give them the secrets to your practice, “Don’t lose money by discounting rates, training someone else’s staff for those discounted rates, and creating a competitor for yourself who uses your proprietary methodology.”

U.K. Accounting Suits Reached 5-Year High Last Year, Study Says [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
The number of lawsuits filed in the UK against accounting firms in the past year is greater than the last five years combined according to Bloomberg. The thirteen suits filed in 2009 is more triple than the four suits filed in the previous five years. Although the number of suits is considerably smaller than the 61 suits filed after the collapse of Enron, et al. in the 2002-2003 time period, Jane Howard, a partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP, is quoted that it’s not clear whether things are just getting started, “What is still hard to tell is whether this sudden rise in claims will subside quickly or whether accountants will face a higher number of claims over the coming years.”

The Recession Taught Some CFOs That They Need to Pay Closer Attention to Miserable Employees

Plenty of lessons came out of the financial crisis. For some it was that Big 4 auditors are irrelevant. For others it was that we need one set of high quality accounting standards ASAP. Aaaannnd for others, it was that the SEC needs to get better at pretty much everything.


For CFOs, it appears that at least some of them learned that miserable employees are a drag. Robert Half Management Resources surveyed 1,400 CFOs and 27% of them said “they learned to place greater focus on maintaining employee morale.”

It’s likely that this isn’t a lesson learned by just CFOs. Plenty of CPA firms have probably realized that a bunch of morose auditors and tax pros hanging around doesn’t make for a happy shop and are looking to improve their cheerleading skills going forward. KPMG has already brought back the Standing O, PwC, Ernst & Young, and Grant Thornton have all guaranteed merit increases for this year so there are signs that your happiness is no longer an afterthought.

CFOs Advise Keeping Employees Happy [Web CPA]

Big 4 Firms Are Planning for Your Exodus

For some time now, Caleb has been touching on the upcoming/ongoing/always-occurring exodus from Big 4 into the private sector. The obvious reasons for the change from public to private are obvious, but here’s a few for kicks:

• Bigger pay day (and potential growth)

• CPA requirements completed

• Actual work/life balance

&ill set transition to a new career

There are other reasons of course, but it is the ferocious combination of these that leads to the breaking point – low morale.


Going Concern received an email from a distraught and burnt out Big 4 auditor from the Southeast region:

The level of morale in the [XYZ] office is at an all time low. Discussion with low level staff, through managers, have yielded the same opinion of overwhelming expectations without the needed support from the firm. They want us to draw blood from a turnip, and they want it done better, faster, and with less resources than last year. This has caused everyone to start exploring options in the market. A vast majority have started fielding resumes and contacting recruiting firms. The select few who have made it past that hurdle are interviewing with no looking back.

Not to downplay what this auditor is saying (and I’m not), but this sounds like the unfortunate reality of many auditors working on smaller, non-public clients. You know, the not-as-sexy-as-ABC Bank but just as important to the firm’s bottom line. You won’t get tickets to the pro sport’s game, but thankyouverymuch for your efforts.

The reader goes on:

Primarily, people have expressed their interest in holding out any real intentions of leaving until promotions roll around in the later part of the summer. They’re hoping that maybe there will be some juicy 20% raise waiting for them, but the stark reality of a measly 5% raise is what they know is coming. Any fifth year Seniors who are waiting for the promotion to manager are just using it for resume purposes.

Our offices are already using under qualified second year staff at the Senior level, as well as retaining new managers in the Senior position because they are extremely understaffed at that level. This, in turn, is causing all of those people to take measures to leave perhaps after busy season and certainly after the insulting promotions come through in August.

It’s a matter of time before this individual (and half of their respective office) becomes another statistic that the Big 4 HR guru’s term “natural attrition.” From an HR perspective, here’s a loose idea of the attrition formula:

Fall 2010: 100 new hires

Fall ’11: 95 new hires become “2nd years”

Summer/Fall ’12: 88 2nd years promoted to senior staff, 70 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’12: 2 years of public experience reached, 55 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’13: 45 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’14: 35 seniors remain

Summer/Fall ’15: 25 seniors remain; 15 promoted to manager, 10 remain on as seniors

Summer/Fall ‘XX: 10 senior managers are eligible for partner

The recession stunted this formula for every firm, as they were forced to make cuts, not only for cost cutting purposes, but also to keep their staffing formulas close to being in-check. But think about it – your firm expects this kind of turnover. They know it’s a matter of time before their hiring class is whittled down to 10% of its original size.

And in the case of the reader, their firm dropped the analytic ball 3-5 years ago. Had they better estimated the percentage of projected losses, there would be more seniors to handle the work.

Remember that time you felt bad about leaving? They’re waiting for you to do so.

Most Top Ten Accounting Firms Saw Lower Revenues, Headcount for 2009

Accounting Today put out their annual Top 100 Firms list late last week and while it focuses on the practices in United States it give us a little bit of room to speculate about who the real contenders are for the Global Six whathaveyou.

The ranking is based on net revenues from U.S. operations but it includes a lot data on each firm including # of offices, partners, total employees, and fee split.

Deloitte runs away with this list in three of the major categories – revenues, number of partners and total employees. The Casa de Salzberg had U.S. revenue of over $10.7 billion which was greater than #2 E&Y by over $3 billion.


Here are the top 10 firms along with their revenues, number of offices, number of partners and total employees

1. Deloitte – $10.7 billion; 102; 2,968; 42,367

2. Ernst & Young – $7.6 billion; 80; 2,500; 25,600

3. PricewaterhouseCoopers – $7.4 billion; 76; 2,235; 31,681

4. KPMG – $5 billion; 88; 1,847; 22,960

5. RSM McGladrey/McGladrey & Pullen – $1.5 billion; 93; 751; 7,755

6. Grant Thornton – $1.1 billion; 37; 535; 5,414

7. BDO – $620 million; 37; 273; 2,712

8. CBIZ/Mayer Hoffman McCann – $601 million; 180; 465; 4,580

9. Crowe Horwath – $508 million; 25; 240; 2,428

10. BKD – $393 million; 31; 258; 1,891

Some other interesting information from the list includes:

Declining Revenues – Revenues for all firms dropped with the exception of CBIZ/Mayer Hoffman McCann, Crowe Horwath and BKD. KPMG had the largest drop of nearly 11%.

Big 4 Dominate – The non-Big 4 firms’ combined revenue (approx. $4.7 billion) is still less than KPMG (smallest of the Big 4).

Personnel Changes – E&Y had a percentage increase in partners of 8.7% while total employees dropped nearly 6%. CBIZ/MHM saw a 32% increase in partners while total employees decreased over 12%. Only PwC and Crowe Horwath saw net increases in the number of partners and total employees.

Audit Heavy Firms – According to the list, PwC (52%), BDO (60%), Crowe Horwath (65%), and BKD (52%) all receive at least 50% of their revenues from audit fees.

So the whole Global Six thing, as much as we like to making a BFD out of it, is a non-issue. All the firms have global connections whether it’s through their own cooperative or through an international network so to cut it off at six seems a little clique-y. We’ll flip through the AT100 for any more interesting factoids but in the meantime feel to embellish any of the information presented here.

Top 100 Firms 2010 digital edition [Free registration for Digital Edition]

Has the Post-Busy Season Big 4 Exodus Already Started?

Seems a tad early but with two major deadlines passed, it’s possible that the Spring 2010 exodus may have started.

From one Big 4 auditor, “[A]pparently the DC and/or Philly office just underwent some serious turnover – my [schedule] just got all kinds of fucked up and my performance manager’s explanation was that “we’ve had some turnover and you have been shifted around as a solution.” So that’s cool. And by cool, I mean WTF because there was no warning, and it seems to be changing every few hours now.”


Our source continues:

Not a clue just how much turnover or if it was limited only to the audit practice, and how the turnover took place (I’m assuming people are quitting, as that is what pretty much all anyone at my level can talk about lately), but it was enough that I just went from two normal-hours clients to five “plan on overtime” clients. (It was six clients last night, but it looks like it got switched up again this morning.)

If there’s one thing that may cause violence more than someone quitting in the middle of busy season, it’s getting assigned to a “plan on overtime” client in the second half of March.

It’s likely that the timing of people leaving is an office by office phenomenon as one of our New York sources said that people aren’t leaving but “everyone wants to, but that’s nothing new.”

So if people are heading for the exits in your office, forced or otherwise, let us know.

Quote of the Day: Five Words on Big 4 Audits | 03.15.10

“Our whole industry is useless.”

~ Unnamed Big 4 Auditor and GC reader

Auditor

Are Big 4 Auditors Irrelevant?

Okay people, the calls for the complete obliteration of the accounting world have begun. Check that. It’s more or less the accounting world as it relates to auditors of public companies (i.e. Big 4 auditors).

Steve Goldstein at MarketWatch, for one, is NOT A FAN, “What precise purpose does it serve to have a supposedly independent auditor (paid for by the company) sign off on accounts? From Enron to Lehman to Satyam to Parmalat, it’s clear that the major accountants lack either the skill or the determination (or both) to ferret out fraud.”


So in case you didn’t catch it, he’s calling into question the Big 4’s (our assumption) integrity, competence and fortitude. Oh and before you start huffing about “it’s not the job of the auditor to detect fraud,” we’d argue that’s not even the point any more. Lehman was engaging in what a former CFO calls “shenanigans” that E&Y knew about for years and went along with it. Why? Because Lehman said everything was kosh.

Goldstein goes on:

Company executives already are forced to sign off on their accounts. When they are caught lying, companies face liability over disclosure.

So the threats that keep (some) companies honest are there regardless of whether the reports are audited. The outside auditors themselves are assigned a negligible value by the market.

A solution? Here’s two admittedly out-there solutions that the Securities and Exchange Commission probably won’t adopt.

One is quite simple: get rid of accountants. Who cares? They add no value, and their expenses weigh on the bottom line.

The other would be for someone else to hire the accountant. How about the company’s top five shareholders? While the likes of Fidelity would grumble about the added costs and the free-rider benefit for smaller shareholders, they would certainly have an interest in securing a far tougher audit.

Okay, Big 4 auditors, here’s your homework: explain why auditing for public companies isn’t irrelevant. We’ll listen, we swear. Or just start shooting off at the mouth if you feel it necessary. Goldstein isn’t the first to make this determination. Francine McKenna and Jim Peterson have argued that the value of an auditor’s opinion has been nil for quite some time and they’re both Big 876454 alums. It’s okay if you admit it. Acceptance is the first step.

What exactly is the point of having accountants? [MarketWatch]

Why Isn’t Deloitte Ranked Higher on DiversityInc’s Top 50 List?

What a relief. We were really concerned that we would get half way through March without hearing about a list of companies being good at something that included the Big 4. Fortunately, DiversityInc comes to our rescue today with their list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity for 2010.

Aaaand as you might exall present and accounted for, although some firms may wish to be higher(?). How does one determine success on these lists? Just being on it? Making the top ten? Is it an honor just to participate in the survey?

Speaking of the survey, the website describes the methodology so you can get an idea of how this particular jumble falls together. The survey is broken down into four areas:


CEO Commitment

Human Capital

Corporate and Organizational Communications

Supplier Diversity

Digging further, we found more details:

The survey consists of more than 200 empirical questions (no subjective or qualitative information), which have predetermined weightings. Ratios between key factors, such as demographics of managers compared with managers who received promotions, play a significant factor in determining point scores. Companies must score above average in all four areas to earn a spot on the list. CEO Commitment is the most heavily weighted area because if a company lacks visible leadership, its diversity-management efforts will fail to be a priority.

SO! While this explains some things, it certainly brings up more questions. Since we spend the majority of our day perusing the web for every instance of Big 4 CEOs simply breaking wind, we’d like to think that any “CEO Commitment” as it relates to diversity would be noticed by us or our team of monkeys that work around the clock.

That being said, we’d be hard pressed to find a bigger diversity go-getter than Deloitte’s CEO Barry Salzberg. The man is tirelessly pursuing diversity at every waking moment. Even after Deloitte announced its freshly minted Chief Diversity Officer, Bar gave a speech earlier this week on as part of the DiversityInc festivities demonstrating that he’s still on this.

So then, our question is, how does Ernst & Young rank 5th, PwC 6th, KPMG 15th and Deloitte bring up the rear at 25th?

Perhaps the other firms display diversity fliers with their CEOs mugs on them to serve as constant reminder to all employees of the diversity in their firm but if CEO commitment is measured by MSM talking points, how does anyone beat Barry Salzberg? The only thing we can think of is there is some sort of secret anti-male pattern baldness bias at DiversityInc that quietly knocks Deloitte down the list. Sure Dennis Nally is slowly going Costanza there but Moritz in the tighty-whities probably made up for it.

So the efforts of Deloitte’s diversity commitment are rewarded but did they get the recognition they deserved?

The Unveiling of the 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 [DiversityInc]
The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity [Full List]

Accounting News Roundup: CFOs, Staff Are Getting Worn Down by Guidance; Miami Forensic Accountant to Plead Guilty; Big 4 In Pari Delicto Defense Strategy | 03.10.10

A Growing Contagion: Accounting Fatigue Syndrome [CFO Blog]
Anyone getting worn out from all the guidance that is coming from the alphabet soup of regulators? You’re not alone and there appears to be an epidemic, something that CFO Blog has deemed “Accounting Fatigue Syndrome.” The long/short of it is that things are only going to get more complex as FASB and IASB continue to converge their rules and guidance continues to come out of both rule making bodies.

“Like many finance executives, Terry Lillis, CFO of Principal Financial Group, is tired. The constant stream of guidance from regulators and accounting standard-setters — plus the expected inflow of more to come over the next few years — has created “huge accounting fatigue” among his finance staff”


What’s the solution to AFS? How about just getting out of the biz altogether? “While the panelists gave no hope to CFOs who wish the standard-setters would either slow down or cut back on their agenda, they did offer one tip for ending accounting fatigue. ‘If I were a CFO, the first thing I would do is look at my early-retirement provisions,’ quipped J. Edward Grossman, a Crowe Horwath partner.”

High-profile Miami accountant Lew Freeman to plead guilty to fraud [Miami Herald]
A couple of weeks ago we told you about “go-to” forensic accountant turned swindler Lewis Freeman and his legal trouble.

Today he is expected to plead guilty in Miami to embezzling $2.6 million from his clients. Prosecutors have alleged that Freeman, “wrote 162 unauthorized checks to himself totaling about $6 million from the accounts of five failed businesses once under his company’s control, but put back about half of the money.” Freeman has been cooperating with investigators since his arrest but still may face 10 – 20 years in prison.

In Pari Delicto: Are Auditors Equally At Fault In The Big Fraud Cases? [Re: the Auditors]
Francine tackles PwC and KPMG’s defense strategy involving in pari delicto to avoid their roles in fraud cases.

The way I see it, the in pari delicto doctrine is being used like a pair of needle nosed pliers by audit firm defense lawyers to diffuse a bomb – huge liability for some of the biggest frauds in history. The in pari delicto doctrine attempts to pull the auditors’ tails from the fire by excusing any of their guilty acts due to the approval of those acts by potentially equally guilty executives.

Are the Big 4 Desperate for Audit Work?

In the latest predatory tactic from our friends at the Big 87654, we see that the recession may not be treating them so badly. Sure, non-profit busywork isn’t exactly a good time to be had by all but it pays the bills and for the Big 4, there is no such thing as bottom of the barrel.

Take what you can get, right?


Crain’s:

The financial crisis blew up many big-name clients, leaving audit firms with excess capacity. Bear Stearns Cos., Merrill Lynch & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. and Fannie Mae disappeared from Deloitte LLP. Ernst & Young saw Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. implode, while KPMG lost Countrywide Financial Corp. and PricewaterhouseCoopers lost Freddie Mac.

Gary Boomer, a Kansas-based accounting industry consultant, says Big Four firms sometimes are bidding less than $100 an hour for non-profit and public-sector work, down from $175 to $250 for junior auditors. “What they’re doing is buying some work to keep the staff busy,” he says.

That’s hilarious, shouldn’t we stop and think about why they allowed “the financial crisis” (you mean the unstable positions of those financial firms lost in the bloody battle?) to blow up so many of their big-name clients before we let them scavenge the scrapings for a tasty morsel of audit work?

I guess it works, it’s not like you’ve got guys in the cathedral on December 31st counting saint candles.

It could be worse. Here are some really nasty audits that the Big 4 could be doing in lieu of cheap non-profit and public sector work:

Joe Stack – Think about it, KPMG, you have some awfully tall buildings, be grateful.

Blackwater expenses – They really deserve their own audit team. It’ll keep those juniors busy, ifyaknowwhatImean.

C Street – Bonus side work helping Mark Sanford convert his dollars into Argentine pesos.

Whore yourselves out however you have to, guys, even if it means a door-to-door campaign for whatever audit work you can find.

Quote of the Day: Big 4 Lowball | 03.02.10

“What they’re doing is buying some work to keep the staff busy.”

~ Gary Boomer, on the Big 4 low bidding smaller clients.

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.

Thinking Career Change? Big 4 Probably Isn’t for You

A reader posed a question to one of Caleb’s posts last week with regards to, “how to get into one of the big four accounting firms as an entry-level auditor when you are a laid off baby boomer with many other experiences?”

My short answer — in so many polite words — is why would anyone want to do that? Even as a recently laid off baby boomer, I can only hope that your career, up until its unexpected termination, was fulfilling. Contacts, networks, referrals, and references; all of these resources should be tapped out before considering a complete career change.


On a more basic level of necessity, I doubt that an entry-level career (well below the average Big 4 salaries earlier discussed) starting between $48,000 and $60,000 is ideal for a baby boomer. This is before the return on investment is even discussed. If I was a recruiter and had to choose between hiring a green recent graduate with minimal zero family obligations versus a baby boomer, parent of three, coming off of a recent firing, the answer is simple. The young buck will complain less, cost less in insurance terms, and has a recent education that can be molded to fit the firm’s methodology.

The typical public accounting career path is set: graduate from school, start career with a Big 4, take your punches and roll up the ranks. Those still standing in 10-12 years make partner. Burnt out souls need not apply; there’s always the private sector.

There are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb. The experienced hiring departments of the Big 4 are consistently recruiting specialized talent from the private sector. Ten years ago this centered heavily around the IT departments, as firm security practices grew exponentially (gotta love those SAS 70’s). Tax specialists are always in need. Many of the firms poach experience from government work, which is about as plug-and-play of a situation as you could hope for.

More on the volatility side of things are the firms’ advisory practices. Through 2005-2008, experienced hiring for the forensic, corporate finance and M&A practices tried desperately to keep up with growth opportunities. Turn the page to 2009 and where do you think the axe fell the most? No question it was the advisory lines. But even now as the markets shed thousands of jobs, a supply of raw talent appeared on the horizon for the Big 4 to gobble up. It can oftentimes be a rollercoaster of both potential and risk, but generally the best opportunities for experienced employment can be found here.

Accounting News Roundup: SEC Delay on IFRS Irks Some; Client Opinions of Big 4 Audits Not So Hot in UK; IRS Asks for $21M to Answer More Phones | 02.25.10

U.S. delay on global accounting leaves world waiting [Reuters]
The head of financial reporting at the ICAEW is not impressed with the SEC’s plan to string everyone along on IFRS. Although we’re sure Dr. Nigel Sleigh-Johnson is bright guy, we’re not sure what the good doctor was expecting from, you know, the SEC.

Dr. Johnson complains that ‘the world [has] been awaiting clear signals from the Securities and Exchange Commission as to how and when it is going to start the process of completing the convergence to International Financial Reporting Standards,’ which is probably true. Think about it. If 110 countries have jumped on the IFRS ship, they sure as hell would want the US of A on that ship too because that way, if this turns out to be the worst idea in the history of double-entry accounting, then at least the U.S. went along with it too.


Big Four audits are off the pace [Accountancy Age]
As a group, the Big 4 didn’t fare to well in the inaugural “Accountancy Age Finance 360 survey of client opinions” which asked participants to give their “views on the service they received from their last audit provider”.

Out of twelve firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers ranked the highest at #5, KPMG #9, Deloitte #10, and Ernst & Young brought up the rear at #12. The Age reports that “[E&Y] Staff were described as ‘pretty dire’, short on technical knowledge, confidence and even decent written English. Negative comments outnumbered the positive two to one.” Comments on KPMG and Deloitte were a little better:

While KPMG won plaudits for technical skills, it was let down by perception of its added value, with one FD claiming “very little feedback on potential improvements” their money.

Deloitte also struggled to prove it added value, while clients felt the firm’s audits were “mechanical” and an exercise in “box-ticking”.

One FD felt Deloitte was “more concerned with gathering enough evidence to stand up in court with a defence if there were ever a negligence case”.

All the firms not happy with their ranking essentially said that they were “committed to the highest standards of work” or something like that. You know the drill.

The tops firms in the survey were all included two Global 6 candidates: Mazars at #1 and Grant Thornton at #3 with Horwath Clark Whitehill taking the silver.

IRS Commissioner Requests Additional $21m So IRS Will Not Answer Taxpayer Phone Calls 25% of the Time [TaxProf Blog]
Doug Shulman asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government for $21 million to improve the customer service. Apparently this would result in a 4% jump in calls answered. That sounds like magical government math if we have ever heard it.

When Will Accounting Firms Fully Embrace Social Media?

Accounting firms seem to be on the fence when it comes to social media. While the Big 4 recruiting teams (and non-Big 4 for that matter) are into it full force, we’re skeptical about the enthusiasm of the firms’ leadership, especially the operational leaders.

To them blogs, Facebook, Twitter et al. is a way to waste time and has nothing to do with producing results. But now that Microsoft has announced that it will be including plug-ins for Outlook (sorry, firms on Lotus Notes), we wonder if the momentum behind social media will prove too much to ignore forever.


There are some signs of acceptance including Stephen Chipman (still needs to make it public)and Jeremy Newman communicating through the blogosphere, the growth of social networking and, as we mentioned, recruiting. Eventually the firms will come around, but when?

Our friendly HR expert, Dan Braddock thinks it won’t be long, “Facebook’s privacy settings are getting sophisticated quickly; someone can make their Facebook page look as professional as a LinkedIn profile.”

And what about friending clients, co-workers and potential recruits? “People are getting more and more comfortable with the idea, so it won’t happen right away but in 3 to 5 years, you’re going to start seeing more of it,” DWB said.

Microsoft’s director of technical accounting called out financial reporting as being pretty much irrelevant. It remains to be seen if firms continue to resist social media while the rest of the world continues to find ways to innovate by utilizing it.

Most Aren’t Ready for IFRS on the CPA Exam

Last year, the AICPA Board of Examiners made it clear that though a roadmap for IFRS adoption in US financial reporting might be a ways off, it intended to start testing IFRS in Financial Accounting and Reporting (mostly, we’ll get to that in a second) in the first window of 2011. Just a friendly reminder, that’s only three testing windows away.

But what gives? According to the 2009 KPMG-AAA Faculty Survey, only 8% of respondents felt as though at least half of their accounting faculty were qualified to teach IFRS. Meanwhile, 70% of professors said their most significant challenge to teaching IFRS was finding room for it in the curriculum.

As far as I am aware, State Boards of Accountancy have not shown a desire to require IFRS coursework to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam at this time.

The Big 87654 committed to pushing IFRS in college classrooms as early as May of 2008 (months before the SEC announced an IFRS adoption roadmap) and they are still tossing millions at the initiative.


In December of 2008, The Summa’s Professor Albrecht insisted that the Big 87654 had certainly chosen the right candidate, lobbying Obama to accomplish their IFRS goals. Why? “Obscene profits,” he says, pointing to campaign contributions and Obama’s subsequent pro-IFRS SEC Chair pick as signs that IFRS doomsday is upon us. A little over a year later, the SEC appears too busy chasing “crime” and playing catch up to issue a clear directive on IFRS in the US.

So? How can the AICPA BoE insist on testing information that A) accounting students still aren’t being taught and B) isn’t widely understood or practiced by most CPAs in the US?

I certainly get what the AICPA is trying to do and if nothing else, they probably want to show off that their awesome psychometric CPA exam technology is OMGamazing! and ready to adapt in a timely and efficient manner. But pushing IFRS on unsuspecting CPA exam candidates isn’t really the way to demonstrate that.

Is it just a coincidence that now the AICPA is prepared to reevaluate their scoring process after the first two testing windows of 2011? Even they know this is an awful idea.

UK Code Requires ‘Independent Non-Executives’ for Big 4

demand.jpgIn a development that will destroy the secret society of Big 4 management in the UK, a “radical” governance code has been implemented that will require the Big 4 to appoint outside “independent non-executives” that will oversee “public interest matters; and/or be members of other relevant governance structures within the firm.”
According to the code, these new independent non-executives will make us all feel way better about what audit firms by “enhanc[ing] shareholder confidence in the public interest aspects of the firm’s decision making, stakeholder dialogue and management of reputational risks including those in the firm’s businesses that are not otherwise effectively addressed by regulation.”
But that’s not all! According to the introduction, “It should also benefit capital markets by enhancing choice and helping to reduce the risk of a firm exiting the market for large audits because it has lost public trust.” In other words, everyone still is freaking out about who the next Andersen will be. Apparently this “should” help your concerns by encouraging companies to consider other audit firms.
What a coinky-dink, Grant Thornton was just asking for help on this last week! Not really sure if this what they had in mind for but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?


The Financial Times claims that “Accountants broadly welcomed the move, although some in the firms’ international networks were unhappy about the possibility the UK code might pave the way for ‘creeping regulation’ worldwide.” In other words, people in the U.S. don’t like it one bit.
Plus, the FT didn’t quote any accountants that “welcomed the move”. The exception, of course, is the chair of the group, Norman Murray, who said that the new code was “‘as user-friendly as possible but seen to have some teeth.'” Not sure what that means but it sounds like he’s a believer.
Another member of the board, John Griffith-Jones, co-head of KPMG Europe, was less enthused. All he could manage was that he hoped that the move would put the “‘Enron query to bed.'”
Something tells us your hopes will be dashed, JGJ. Enron is the story that never ends. Especially in the MSM. Plus it’s on the stage now. Those tunes will be in your nightmares.
Auditors required to adopt UK code [FT]
audit firm governance code.pdf

UK Financial Reporting Watchdog: ‘We don’t need no Big 5’

Solutions.jpgEditor’s Note: Want more JDA? You can see all of her posts for GC here, her blog here and stalk her on Twitter.
Once upon a time, there were 8. And then 7. And then 6. And then 5. And now 4. I’ve thrown out the idea of a large audit failure sending one of the Big 4 tumbling but the idea has been met with resistance; and naturally so, they’ve survived this long, right?


Accountancy Age:

Stephen Haddrill, the new Financial Reporting Council chief executive, in his first interview since taking the post, said there was little chance a global challenge to the Big Four – PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG – would emerge in the near future.
“I don’t think it is achievable in the near term and the priority for us has to be that we are prepared for the worst and that is where I will put my focus,” he said.

To read the rest of Haddrill’s interview with Accountacy Age, one might be inclined to point out that the guy is only a little bit pessimistic and for good reason. The Big 4 cannot exist indefinitely as they have, deflecting fines each time they bumble a big audit. It isn’t a problem exclusive to the UK and in fact, the Big 4 might not realize it but they are fighting the battle to save American capitalism. To that end, sacrifices may be required in the name of “competition”, whether or not the Big 4 are ready to embrace the idea.
They call them the Final Four because it is widely believed that the large accounting firms cannot lose another player but what’s to stop regulators — either Internationally or here at home — from busting down the joint and shutting one down? Anyone forgotten Satyam?
The firms — clever Trevors that they are — already know regulators are on their asses and behave accordingly. Crossing their Ts and dotting their Is, it was incredibly easy for PwC to say “Satyam wasn’t our problem” here in the states just as they’d have done if it had gone down in the UK, Dubai, China… it doesn’t matter, that’s what the lawyers get paid for.
Anyone get the feeling we’ve got a problem on our hands or is that just me? “Preparing for the worst” eh? Sounds like a plan.

Jeremy Newman: See? I Told You That There Were ‘Big 4 Only’ Clauses

BDO Global CEO — and infrequent blogger — Jeremy Newman would like everyone to know that he wasn’t dreaming when he stated that some financing agreements included “Big 4 only” clauses.

Apparently Newman was thought to be a little Patrick Byrne-ish on this particular point:

These are views that I have been expressing for some years, although many have questioned the prevalence of such clauses and indeed some have sought to deny their existence.

It was comforting therefore for me to read in the report published by the UK’s Financial Reporting Council in October 2009 entitled ‘Choice in the UK Audit Market’ that reference was made to restrictions in loan covenants. The report from the FRC noted:

‘..it is too early to determine how widespread such obligations are; however, the FRC continues to receive examples of banks imposing loan covenants with ‘Big 4 only’ clauses, including one which imposed a higher rate of interest if the borrowing company chose a non-Big 4 auditor.’

Surely there is now sufficient evidence to recognise that such clauses are a potential constraint on choice in the market place and regulators should be urged to ban them.

So despite the lack of evidence that these obligations are widespread, this remains a matter of “urgency,” according to Newman. There are examples, people. That should be enough for you. The man is trying to build a Global 6 firm after all. Kindly throw in a little additional bank regulation to help him out.

FINS: Big 4 on the Resumé Is a Must-Have

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hire me2.jpgWe have had some lively discussions regarding how important having a Big 4 firm on your resumé is.
According to FINS, it’s a must-have:

PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte or KPMG. Resumes that boast experience at a Big Four firm are a step ahead of the pack.
These names signal that candidates are well-trained and meet stringent hiring standards, says Lisa Garcia, a marketing manager at Adecco’s Ajilon Professional Staffing, a recruiting firm based in Melville, N.Y. Other large firms such as Grant Thornton and BDO Seidman will also catch a recruiter’s eye.

“[S]tringent hiring standards” could be called in question in some instances but for the most part, we agree that having a big name on your resumé is definitely something that a lot of employers notice.
Our thread on Life After Big 4 life is a good place to get some further discussion.
Contrary to popular belief, your career is not dead in the water if you don’t have experience at a Big 4 firm. FINS lists some other must-haves including:
IFRS – It’s coming people (albeit slowly). If you’ve got experience with it, make it known.
SEC – Regardless of the Commission’s track record, there will always be filings.
Experience with specific industry software – Caseware, SAP, PeopleSoft, Deltek, and Black Baud
Numbers – listing specific accomplishments that result in cost savings or creating revenue streams
Customer service skills – Yes, you socially awkward types will be at a disadvantage.
So a good presence of all these things will look good on your resume but we wouldn’t get too hung up on any one aspect. If there’s anything else you’ve noticed that get the recruiters giving you that extra look, please share in the comments.
Now get out there and impress the pants off somebody. January will be here before you know it. Good hunting.
Six Must-Haves for CPA Resumes [FINS]

Face It People, Nothing Much Can Be Done About the Revolving Door

Revolving_Door2.jpgThere’s constant conspiracy theories bellyaching about certain companies getting their former big shots into public service and regulatory positions (we’re talking about you, Maxine Waters).
Well now there’s speculation about former Big 4 partners working at the IASB.
We get it, those who used to work at the big firms shouldn’t be writing the rules. So who the hell is going to do it? Shall we have the likes of Friehling & Horowitz appointed as the standard setters?
The large firms have the biggest pool to choose out of, so natch they’re going to have some of the better candidates to delve into this wonky rule-writing stuff. We’re probably lucky that there are people out there that actually want to serve on these boards, lots of Big 4 partners can barely turn on their computers.