Ed. note: Jim Peterson, a 19-year veteran of Arthur Andersen’s internal legal group, has been writing since 2002 about the issues and challenges confronting the Big Audit model, including as an occasional guest here. Since last winter, Jim has been covering the intense public criticism in the U.K. of the performance and business model of […]
Some unlucky folks at Grant Thornton U.K. are taking the hit for the firm’s miserable 2018, which saw GT stop bidding for new audit work at the largest U.K. companies, the CEO not seeking a second four-year term after a partner revolt, revenue dip from £500 million in 2017 to £491 million last year, partners’ average […]
We’re just spitballin’ here. From Economia: [Grant Thornton] said on Friday its average profit per partner fell 8% from £403,000 to £373,000 in 2017/18. Ouch! Of the top six accounting firms in the United Kingdom, this puts Grant Thornton sixth, by quite a bit, in average partner pay for the 2017-18 financial year: Deloitte: £832,000 […]
Regulators and politicians in the United Kingdom may well disrupt the Big Audit model—judging from inquiries launched recently by the Financial Reporting Council and the Competition and Markets Authority. The series that I began on Re:Balance on Sept. 25 and Oct. 8 started to address the misguided nature of the purported “remedies.” It is making […]
You better watch your back, DLA Piper. PwC is coming for ya. From Law.com: PwC’s legal operations brought in around £70 million ($91.82 million) in U.K. revenues during the 2017-18 financial year—a figure that would have put it only just outside the U.K. top 50 based on last year’s rankings. The Big Four accounting firm, which received an alternative business […]
A drunk, searching on hands and knees under a street lamp, tells the inquiring police, “I’ve lost my keys – over there in the dark alley.” “Then why look here?” they ask, perplexed. “Because the light’s better here.” In the city of London, where the modern audit profession was born in the Victorian era, no […]
The Investment Management Association (UK) recently held its inaugural Auditor Reporting awards and you'll be happy to hear three of the Big 4 were recognized for excellence in audit (I know you want to make a radio station joke here but read on and you KPMG haters will be disappointed): The awards were set out […]
For five years, Mitan Sachdev worked in risk assurance for PwC across the pond, conducting control assessments and other such excitement. Like most of you, he dreamed of a better life, so one day he just up and quit. What was his plan for LAP (Life After PwC)? Industry? Government? Nope. Falafel. Bloomberg has the […]
EY recently reported global combined revenue of $27.7 billion, or approximately eleventy bazillion in OMGdollars. Just how much of that do partners see? Unfortunately, we don't have US numbers, so UK numbers will have to do: Partners in the UK firm will receive an average £727,000 share in profits, an increase of 12% on last […]
Yes, you read that correctly. After all, in changing the value of audits, KPMG doesn't want to force anyone to do it because that just wouldn't be cool. In a piece written for economia, Tony Cates, UK head of audit at KPMG writes: Earlier this year we field tested an innovative form of report that […]
It appears the Financial Reporting Council — the UK's answer to audit cops — is looking into a "minor" matter involving the company that owns London's fire trucks and former auditor Grant Thornton. The investigation is specifically aimed at financial statements ended March 31 2008 – March 31 2010 and "the preparation of financial information […]
Did you wake up this morning and think "gee, I really would love to know how much Big 4 firms make from consulting as share of overall revenue!" Boy, are you in luck. A recent report called Cheques and the City by the non-partisan but totally hater-y High Pay Centre looks at the top accounting […]
What makes a Big 4 partner? Chris Carter, Crawford Spence and Claire Dambrin (academics, natch) set out to find that answer, looking specifically at partners in Canada, France and the UK. You will not be surprised by the results. First, they discovered that only about 2-3% of those who start out at Big 4 make […]
Interesting info from economia — which is sort of like the Journal of Accountancy for our friends across the pond — that says accounting tops professions for women in the UK: Our research found that the accountancy profession is rated particularly highly by women and working mothers. In a survey of over a thousand women, […]
Yes, someone at Americans for Tax Reform actually wrote this: Over the weekend, Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open and the Open Championship. While winning even one PGA event is a tremendous feat, Mickelson won’t be left with much to celebrate upon his return from the U.K. In his recent Forbes article, K. Sean Packard, CPA (Director […]
When do you recognize maple syrup, when it is earned (sucked from the tree) or realized (when it goes down your big fat gap)? How much goodwill does a forest have?
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published its first white paper on the natural environment in 20 years hoping to answer some of these questions. The natural choice: securing the value of nature suggests the UK should set up an independent Natural Capital Committee (sort of like FASB for forests) to advise the government on when, where and how natural assets are being used unsustainably.
This would create “green accounts” which give an idea how the country’s natural assets are being used.
The authors of the paper suggest that economic growth and the natural environment are mutually compatible, implying that “nature’s bank balance” should not be ignored when looking at the country’s overall economic growth.
“Past action has often taken place on too small a scale. We want to promote an ambitious, integrated approach, creating a resilient ecological network across England. We will move from net biodiversity loss to net gain, by supporting healthy, well-functioning ecosystems and coherent ecological networks. We will publish a new Biodiversity Strategy for England, responding to our international commitments and setting a new direction for policy over the next decade,” the paper says, proving that someone obviously read their accounting textbooks before they tried to write a framework for valuing nature’s assets.
[Insert bad money doesn’t grow on trees joke here]
BP Mulls Selling Off Billions in Assets [WSJ]
“BP PLC is in talks with U.S. independent oil and gas pr on a deal worth as much as $10 billion that could include stakes in BP’s vast Alaska operations, according to people familiar with the matter.
A deal, which would go a long way to helping BP cope with the financial stress of paying for the clean-up of the Gulf oil spill, could be reached in the coming weeks, though there is no guarantee it will succeed, one of these people said.”
Bank Profits Depend on Debt-Writedown `Abomination’ [Bloomberg]
This abomination has an official name, SFAS 159, The Fair Value Option for Financial Assets and Financial Liabilities
“Bank of America Corp. and Wall Street firms that notched perfect trading records in the first quarter are now depending on an accounting benefit last used in the depths of the credit crisis to prop up their results.
Bank of America, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, may record a $1 billion second-quarter gain from writing down its debts to their market value, Citigroup Inc. analyst Keith Horowitz estimated in a June 23 report. The boost to earnings, stemming from an accounting rule that allows banks to book profits when the value of their own bonds falls, probably represented a fifth of pretax income, Horowitz wrote.”
Koss embezzlement ran in spurts, lawsuit says [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
The most impressive “spurt?” $478,375 over three days in 2006. According to Koss’ lawsuit against S-squared and Grant Thornton, $145,000 also disappeared from the petty cash fund over the years, amongst other “unauthorized transactions.”
Bias At Work: To Sue or Not to Sue? [FINS]
Harassed? Discriminated against based on age, sexual orientation, race et al.? Of course suing your employer is an option. This is America after all, where the opportunity to slap someone with a lawsuit is your god-given right. But is it always the right move?
Bolt running from the taxman – Usain snub for British meeting [Daily Mail]
The fastest man in the world would prefer to keep a little money for himself, “Under present tax rules, if Bolt competes once in Britain and only five races elsewhere, the British taxman will demand one-sixth of everything he earns, whether in Britain or not. His taxable earnings would not only include his considerable appearance fees but also his hefty endorsement contracts.”
The Big Four’s UK Firms Pick Up Non-Executive Directors — And Then …? [Re:Balance]
Jim Peterson expands on his thoughts about the Big 4 non-executive directors in the UK, “Not only can good governance not be inflicted or imposed, in other words, because resistant leaders will find ways to disturb or subvert the purpose, but a virtuous culture will display its legitimacy without the need for pietistic overlays.”
Too Rich to Live? [WSJ]
The estate tax debate has gotten even more morbid than it would ordinarily be, ” ‘You don’t know whether to commit suicide or just go on living and working,’ says Eugene Sukup, an outspoken critic of the estate tax and the founder of Sukup Manufacturing, a maker of grain bins that employs 450 people in Sheffield, Iowa. Born in Nebraska during the Dust Bowl, the 81-year-old Mr. Sukup is a National Guard veteran and high school graduate who founded his firm, which now owns more than 70 patents, with $15,000 in 1963. He says his estate taxes, which would be zero this year, could be more that $15 million if he were to die next year.”
Now £15.7 billion may not seem like much to you if you are, say, Bill Gates or Ben Bernanke but for PwC UK, it may be the magic number that gets them into a whole steaming shitpile of trouble.
UK regulators allege that from 2002 – 2009, PwC client JP Morgan shuffled client money from its futures and options business into its own accounts, which is obviously illegal. Whether or not JP Morgan played with client money illegally is not the issue here, the issue is: will PwC be liable for signing off on JPM’s activities and failing to catch such significant shenanigans in a timely manner?
PwC did not simply audit the firm, they were hired to provide annual client reports that certified client money was safe in the event of a problem with the bank. Obviously that wasn’t the case.
The Financial Reporting Council and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England are investigating the matter, and the Financial Services Authority has already fined P-dubs £33.3 million for co-mingling client money and bank money. That’s $48.8 million in Dirty Fed Notes if you are playing along at home.
Good luck with that, PwC. We genuinely mean that.
Inquiries mount after PwC ‘failed to notice’ mistakes [Times UK]
• 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.
We meant to get to this on Friday but as you recall, our plans we’re slightly derailed by forces beyond our control. We’re sharing it now because there are lessons here for all the newbies out there. Pay attention, this could one of you.
During busy season the temptation to get a little aggressive with the expense reimbursement comes naturally to just about everyone. If you deny this particular bit of weakness then you are either A) lying through your coffee-stained teeth or B) in the wrong profession; join the clergy.
It should be noted that the abuse of reimbursement policy has relative levels of ridiculousness. Partners can rationalize and get away with more extravagant abuse than a mere associate so keep that in mind here.
So maybe every once in awhile you and some team members slip out for a three martini lunch that falls on the expensive side and you ram it through on your expense report because you figure you deserve it. Totally natch.
It gets overboard when you have the tendency to place some wagers and because you’re a degenerate loser, you start submitting expenses to fund this little gambling hobby.
Vikas Gupta was employed by KPMG until he couldn’t pass his “accountancy exams” aaaaannnnddd it was discovered that he claimed expenses of £25,000 to fund his gambling and to pay off debt. Gupta claims that he hit “various internal charge codes” to charge the expenses; which, we hear, is a typical methodology.
Gupta also claims that he suffered from depression (losing streaks will do that), is now in Gamblers Anonymous and is employed by a new firm, so he’s back on the straight and narrow.
This didn’t impress a tribunal of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (the AICPA of E&W), who has recommended that Gupta be banned from having provisional membership for 12 months and to be “severely reprimanded.” Since he has no means to pay fines (he entered an individual voluntary agreement), one can assume that the reprimand will consist of 30 lashes, a marathon of technical accounting trainings, or both.
Ex-KPMG trainee admits £25,000 expenses fraud [Accountancy Age]
In 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
Big 4 firms dodge a bullet in the UK as the highest court dismissed a negligence lawsuit against an accounting firm that failed to detect fraud that brought down a trading company. The ruling will significantly limit the firms’ liability in cases “where a determined criminal drives a company to financial ruin”.
Doesn’t make sense to us, since if you can’t make auditors accountable, who the hell is accountable? Hey, whatevs, we’re sure the Big 4 and other accounting firms won’t be celebrating long anyway, since a ruling like this won’t happen in the States, which is where the serious money gets handed over.
Auditors win ruling over Madoff-style frauds [FT.com]
• Warren Buffett to Teach Kids About Finance in New Web Cartoon [Bloomberg]
• U.K. GDP Shrinks More Than Expected – “Hopes that the U.K. economy was on the road to recovery after a severe recession received a major blow Friday with official data showing output contracted far more than expected in the second quarter.” [WSJ]
• After Buffett Rebuff, CIT Eyes a Breakup – “Conglomerates Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Leucadia National Corp. made a bid to buy parts of CIT Group Inc. but were rebuffed by CIT, according to people familiar with the matter, because the price was too low.” [WSJ]
• The Man Who Sank New Jersey [Forbes]