A recent study, “Why Do CFOs Become Involved in Material Accounting Manipulations,” by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington attempts to answer just this question. Their finding? Pressure from the companies’ CEOs, more than the possibility of financial gain, tends to drive the actions of crooked CFOs.
Of course, the researchers couldn’t actually divine the motivations that drove the CFOs who manipulated numbers. Instead, they reviewed a group of firms subject to SEC enforcement, analyzing the role of the CFOs, as well as the costs they incurred and any benefits they gained from their actions.
They found – not surprisingly – that the CFOs involved faced stiff penalties for their actions. More than half of the CFOs (54 percent) employed by the nearly 300 firms in the sample that were charged by the SEC for accounting manipulation were prohibited from serving as an officer, director or accountant with a public company in the future. About 48 percent of CFOs were fined as a result of their wrongdoing, with a median fine of $50,000. A small number – about 4 percent – also faced criminal charges. Clearly, monkeying with the numbers can be quite costly for CFOs.
On the other hand, the CFOs that engaged shady number crunching didn’t have significantly higher equity incentives than CFOs in the control sample. That means the CFOs involved in misstatements took on a lot of risk, yet couldn’t expect to come out much further ahead financially than their counterparts at law-abiding firms.
Conversely, the CEOs of firms in trouble exhibited both greater power and equity incentive than CEOs of control firms. For instance, these CEOs were more likely to be company founders and to serve as chair of their boards than the heads of the other firms. “This evidence is also consistent with the pressured CFO explanation; that material accounting manipulations are more likely in the presence of powerful CEOs,” the researchers write.
What’s more, CFO turnover jumped during the three years before the misstatements occurred. That suggests that at least some CFOs either left or lost their jobs because they refused to participate in the manipulation.
The SEC also seems to have taken note of the larger role that CEOs, rather than CFOs, typically played in the schemes. When the researchers examined 188 companies in which both the CFO and CEO were charged with manipulating numbers, they found that the SEC had charged 18 percent of CFOs with orchestrating the schemes. When it came to CEOs, however, 32 percent were charged – almost double the CFO number.
Moreover, when the SEC charged just the CFO with wrongdoing, 30 percent of them benefited financially. That’s a lot, but it’s significantly less than the 46 percent of CEOs who were charged and also gained financially.
Given these findings, are there changes that could reduce accounting shenanigans? To be sure, the research doesn’t mean that CFOs who cook the books can simply blame their actions on their bosses; clearly they could have acted differently, as difficult as doing so might have been. The findings do suggest, however, that one step to reducing the opportunity for wrongdoing would be to provide CFOs with greater independence from their CEOs. One way to accomplish this would be to expect greater participation from corporate boards or audit committees when it comes to hiring and evaluating their firms’ chief financial officers.
So! Thinking about getting a little aggressive with the accounting? Forget aggressive, let’s just say you need to make your numbers next quarter come hell or high water? Maybe there are some pesky internal controls that you would really, really like to get around. For the good of the company of course.
Do whatcha gotta do but before you do, consider the sentence of Charles McCall, the former chairman of McKesson Corp. first. If, after reading his story, you decide it’s still worth the risk, then proceed with your plans.
A former chairman of San Francisco-based McKesson Corp. has been sentenced in federal court to 10 years in prison for securities fraud in an accounting scheme that cost shareholders $8.6 billion in 1999.
Charles McCall, 65, of Delray Beach, Fla., was given the prison term by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco on Friday.
McCall was convicted by a jury in Alsup’s court in November of four counts of securities fraud and one count of circumventing the company’s internal accounting controls.
Prosecutors said that in the fraud, HBO & Co. and McKesson HBOC inflated revenues by backdating software sales and concealing side letters that would have allowed buyers to cancel proposed purchases that the company had counted as revenue.
This poor bastard got sentenced to 10 years (at 65, he’ll be lucky if manages to serve the full sentence) and he probably doesn’t know a internal control from his ass, other than at one time, he thought it was enough of a hindrance that he’d just ignore it altogether. If anyone has an extra copy of COSO laying around, kindly send it his way. He’ll have time to get caught up on the idea.
Ex-McKesson chairman gets 10 year sentence [SF Chronicle]
One day after it was reported that fraud detecting superman Harry Markopolos called the Commissioners “idiots” and Mary Schapiro “coldly polite” (that’s a compliment, isn’t it?) the SEC is charging another Madoff associate.
Today the Commission brought charges of “conspiracy, securities fraud, falsifying books and records of a broker-dealer, false filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and filing false federal tax returns,” against Daniel Bonventre, according to several reports.
Bonventre was the master of making the internal accounting look legit, as opposed to lying to peoples’ faces directly. He was responsible for accounting entries that “[hid] the scope of the investment advisory operations and understating Madoff liabilities by billions of dollars.”
The Commission also brought civil charges against Bonventre, “alleging he helped disguise Madoff’s fraud and financial losses at Madoff’s firm by misusing and improperly recording investor money to create the false appearance of legitimate income.”
While the rest of the media focuses on the who, the what and the how long will that person be spending in FPMITA prison, “Dirty Diapers” Markopolos probably just wanted remind everyone that A) the SEC missed this by ignoring him several times and B) he still doesn’t think too highly of them. Oh, and he has a book coming out.
DOJ, SEC Announce Charges Against Madoff Exec Bonventre [Dow Jones via WSJ]
Madoff Aide Bonventre Becomes Sixth Charged in Fraud [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
Madoff Whistleblower Slams Obama’s SEC: ‘They’re A Bunch Of Idiots There’ [HuffPo]
Former executives of New Century, the Southern California subprime lender that filed for bankruptcy in 2007, are the latest examples on the SEC’s “We’re Back to Cracking Skulls” tour. The SEC has filed a civil complaint against former CEO Brad Morrice, CFO Patti Dodge, and controller David Kenneally.
From the press release:
In its complaint, the SEC alleges that New Century disclosures generally sought to assure investors that its business was not at risk and was performing better than its peers. Defendants, however, failed to disclose important negative information, including dramatic increases in early loan defaults, loan repurchases, and pending loan repurchase requests. Defendants knew this negative information from numerous internal reports they regularly received, including weekly reports that Morrice ominously entitled “Storm Watch.”
The complaint also alleges that Dodge and Kenneally fraudulently accounted for expenses related to bad loans that it had to repurchase. In the face of dramatically increasing loan repurchases and a huge, undisclosed backlog of repurchase demands, Kenneally, with Dodge’s knowledge, made changes to New Century’s accounting for loan repurchases in both the second and third quarters of 2006. These undisclosed accounting changes violated generally accepted accounting principles and resulted in New Century’s improperly avoiding substantial repurchase expenses and materially overstating its financial results.
“Violated generally accepted accounting principles” has got to make more than a few people at KPMG nervous. Especially if you’re the partner that wrote, ‘As far as I am concerned, we are done. The client thinks we are done. All we are going to do is piss everybody off.’ We’re guessing he/she wasn’t on the ‘Storm Watch’ mailing list, otherwise KPMG might not have a $1 billion lawsuit on its hands.
SEC Charges Former Officers of Subprime Lender New Century With Fraud [SEC Press Relase]
SEC Charges Former New Century Executives With Fraud [WSJ]
S.E.C. Accuses 3 New Century Ex-Officers of Fraud [DealBook]
In today’s edition of “They just made the numbers up,” the SEC has charged Home Solutions of America, Inc. with inflating revenues based on phantom business deals related to restoration projects after Hurricane Katrina and other weather-related disasters.
According to the Commission’s complaint, Home Solutions issued several “materially false press releases” bragging about their kick ass results after doing work related to the damage caused by Katrina.
The scheme wasn’t exactly rocket science, as the former, CEO, CFO and one Director created phony invoices in order to record fake accounts receivable. They also decided that cash basis accounting was more their speed, expensing bonuses when they were paid rather than earned, in order to inflate their earnings.
All this hocus-pocus led to a run up in the stock price, which in turn, resulted in the former CEO, Frank Fradella selling over $6 million in shares based on the inflated price. The stock later tanked after massive insider stock sales, the filing of the lawsuit alleging fraud, and the Company’s announcement that they had to restate their financial statements.
And because we know you’re wondering, the most recent auditor we can find for Home Solutions is KMJ Corbin & Company LLP. We left a voicemail seeking comment but so far our calls have gone unreturned.
SEC Charges Hurricane Restoration Company and Executives in Post-Katrina Accounting Fraud [SEC Press Release]
Deloitte has another lawsuit on its hands that is seemingly back from the dead. After last week’s revival of the Washington Mutual shareholders’ lawsuit, a suit in New York has gained new life after Deloitte initially won a dismissal.
The plaintiff in the case, Symbol Technologies, is proving tenacious:
…the panel found that Symbol Technologies had sufficiently alleged that the “continuous representation” exception to the statute of limitations and the company’s amended complaint “trigger[ed]” the “adverse interest” exception to the in pari delicto doctrine.
“Symbol’s pleading is sufficient to establish that the parties mutually contemplated that Deloitte’s work and representation for each audit year would continue after the issuance of the audit opinion/report and, therefore, the continuous representation doctrine applies,” Justice Leonard B. Austin wrote for the 4-0 panel in Symbol Technologies v. Deloitte & Touche, 2008-06642.
He later added, “In its amended complaint, Symbol set forth sufficient allegations that members of its senior management committed accounting fraud for their own benefit and totally abandoned its interest, thereby triggering the adverse interest exception.”
Nothing too fancy. Just a good, old-fashioned case of senior management fraud not being detected by the auditors:
Symbol’s lawsuit against its former auditing firm stems from an accounting-fraud scandal at Symbol that culminated with the technology giant agreeing to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission $37 million and shareholders an additional $100 million.
The SEC had charged Symbol, a Long Island, N.Y.,-based supplier of mobile information systems, and 11 of its former executives with numerous fraudulent accounting practices that together overstated the company’s reported revenue for the fiscal years of 1998 through 2001 by more than $230 million and its pre-tax earnings by more than $530 million.
The fraud resulted in overpayments to Symbol’s senior management of more than $100 million.
At least eight former Symbol executives have pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from the fraud. The company’s former chief executive, Tomo Razmilovic, remains a fugitive, living in Bussevik, Sweden.
Symbol sued Deloitte & Touche, now known as Deloitte, in November 2005, alleging the “Big Four” auditor had failed to detect the fraud. The company’s complaint does not specify the amount of damages sought.
The amount of damages being sought by Symbol hasn’t been disclosed but you’d figure Deloitte could cough up $137 mil just to put the company back to square one. But no, Deloitte is as equally determined, saying ‘the action is without merit and intends vigorously to defend this matter’.
Sorry. With a sub-par year in revenues and breaking ground on the new Animal House, Big D can’t spare the change. We’ll see you in another ten years when this thing is finally settled.
Symbol Technologies’ Massive Malpractice Action Against Deloitte Is Reinstated [New York Law Journal vi Law.com]
Some people think so. Emily Chasan at Reuters discusses the perceived rise of accounting irregularities today:
“Corporate balance sheets may be showing signs of the wear and tear from the prolonged U.S. recession as accounting irregularities are starting to surface at growing numbers at U.S. companies.”
Okay but don’t accounting regularities happen all the time? If the economy is humming along nicely does that mean that less companies are engaging in accounting hocus-pocus? Hmmmmm.
But there’s more argument for “it’s the economy stupid”:
“Statistically you can show any time you have a recession or some type of tremendous decline in an economy you’re going to see financial pressures on companies,” said Bruce Dorris, program director at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, noting that corporate employees can sometimes be motivated to be overly aggressive with accounting or commit outright fraud to meet targets, particularly in difficult economic times.
The article cites Apollo Group’s stock dropping 18% yesterday after announcing that the SEC was starting an “informal inquiry” into its revenue recognition policies. It also lists Overstock.com, Town Sport International Holdings (owns NYSC), Zale Corp and also Huron Consulting whose stock price is still down 40% since the announcement of the SEC investigation. All these companies have delayed earnings reports or had investigations into their accounting practices.
So feel free to discuss your clients and their creative nature in this economy. Are their hard-nosed GAAP puritan ways caving to earnings pressure or are your partners the ones caving in the name of client service? Nobody wants a to be working on a client that’s going through a restatement. Nobody.
If you’re an accountant and you see a company’s name in the same sentence as “accounting irregularities”, “alleged cooking of the books”, or “SEC investigation”, your likely advice to any person would be to run away from said company like it was a band of lepers.
This is just conventional wisdom, nothing ground breaking. However, since Huron Consulting reported big second quarter numbers, the stock price is up more than 30%.
Now some of this is short sellers getting burned but according to one analyst quoted by Reuters, some investors may be going long because of “confidence in the underlying business”.
We’re not too crazy about the “underlying business” for a lot of reasons:
1. The Company said in a filing that they are likely going to take a goodwill impairment charge that will put it in noncompliance with a financial covenant of its credit agreement.
2. It’s worried about “‘reputational issues’ that may affect the company’s ability to retain its senior managers and attract new talent and new business”.
3. Can’t predict the outcome of the SEC investigations or private lawsuits (P. Dubya take note).
4. They warned that their current numbers may not be legit since the new management has no idea what the hell else is out there in the way of
kickbacks payments made to Huron Management, questionable allocated billable hours (but don’t worry, this won’t affect client billings) or anything else for that matter that may call for another restatement of its results.
5. The whole Arthur Andersen connection creeps people out.
Far be it from us to speculate on a company’s future but this place seems doomed. We might just listen to tomorrow’s earnings call to see if there’s anything worth mentioning but in the meantime, put your money in…WTFK?
Huron Consulting fights to stay alive [Greg Burns/Chicago Tribune]
Huron Consulting, after cleaning house, admitting to some book cooking, and having multiple class action suits filed against it, now has a brand new SEC investigation to look forward to. This new investigation is in addition to a separate investigation the SEC was conducting related to its chargeable hours.
The new investigation relates to the accounting hocus-pocus that led to the announcement that three years of financial results were being restated. On top of all this, the 10-Q, due yesterday, has yet to be filed. The company said everything is cool though and that it will be filed…
who the hell knows as soon as possible.
Huron crossed its heart and hoped to die that it would cooperate with the new investigation. After all, they’ve won new business since the scandal dropped, so not everybody thinks they’re crooks.
SEC investigating Huron accounting errors [Chicago Tribune]
Huron Consulting, who cleaned house late on Friday and is restating three years of financial statements, is likely going to be named in a class-action lawsuit, according to Reuters.
Huron, who need we remind you, is not a CPA firm and does not perform attestation services, what with all those pesky independence rules and whatnot, has seen its stock price drop from just over $44 last week to hovering around $15.
More, after the jump
Huron was founded by two dozen Andersen partners, according to the report, including the resigning CEO, Gary Holdren. So, natch, these guys were probably viewed as having not so sterling reputations, and now, well, this is a little awkward.
more than likely pretty much a certainty that this particular accounting mishap will bring more heat on auditors, in this case, P. Dubya, as management seems to be able to manipulate their reporting, regardless of what the auditors try to do.
We reached out to PwC on this story, who would not comment on client matters. We thinks this might become a PwC matter before long…If you’ve got any information on this story shoot it our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Huron scandal, shadows of Arthur Andersen [Reuters]