Archive for the ‘Pondering’ Category
If you casually pay attention to what is going on in the land of Big 4, a world far, far away from most of us in the accounting world, you might have interest in two recent articles from Jim Peterson, pondering the survivability of the huge firms. I will summarize what I think are a few highlights.
2/13 – Jim Peterson at Re:Balance – If the Big Four Went “Ex-advisory” – Deja Vu? Or Worse? – Regulators don’t like the huge consulting practices in the Big 4 and the partners in the Big 4 consulting arms don’t like the constraints on their growth, opportunities, and compensation from being tied to the audit & tax practices.
Article speculates on the impact if the consulting work were to be spun off, as happened back in 1998 through 2001.
- First, a digression into the ethics and audit issues of systemic faking of accounts and coding diesel engines to cheat.
- Next, pondering whether there will be any clawback of the $124M bonuses from the senior executive who managed the retail banking area.
- Finally, two articles describing the DoJ opening a preliminary investigation.
9/14 – Prof. Mike Shaub at Bottom Line Ethics – Plausible deniability and the insulation of upper management – Prof Shaub ponders two fiascos in the news for the deeper ethical issues. Both the Volkswagon diesel engine scheme and the Wells Fargo fake account fiasco reflect poorly not only on the companies and their culture, but the state of ethics in business and our society.
We, collectively, need to grapple with those issues.
The article raises unsettling issues for auditors. Let’s ponder for a moment…How can we detect corporate cultures and entity tone-at-the-top environments which allow building a cheating code into the core operation of a company’s software? How can we detect an environment that incentivizes staff to cheat customers or risk losing their jobs for not hitting sales targets? Those are sobering questions.
I stumbled across the website of the law firm that handled the lawsuit against PwC over their audit of Colonial Bank. The case has been settled for an undisclosed amount.
Rare glimpse inside major audit
To put this into context, this is the biggest case against a CPA firm to actually get into court in a very long time. If I’m understanding the case correctly (a massive assumption!) after briefly browsing the articles, there were 12 days of testimony spread over either 3 or 4 weeks of in-court proceedings.
Phrased another way, this case provides lots of sworn testimony on the details of a major audit disaster. It is rare for outsiders to see the inner workings of an audit that did not go well.
Of the three lawsuits against PwC that are large enough to potentially be life threatening, one was settled by PwC after several weeks of the trial. I previously discussed Litigation cases that could possibly take down a Big 4 firm.
On 8/26, the Wall Street Journal reports PricewaterhouseCoopers Settles $5.5 Billion Crisis Era Lawsuit.
Francine McKenna has repeatedly pointed out on Twitter that this is the first major case in a long time against an accounting firm which actually got into court. There are a few weeks of testimony which will likely be a good source for researchers and journalists wanting to understand how audits of large companies can go sour.
Amount of settlement is confidential. This settlement still leaves a $1B suit by the FDIC over the failed bank that was audited by PwC.
Let me give a thumbnail picture of this suit. My simplification will obviously show my confusion. Yeah, my bias will probably be visible too.
In the near term, your CPE options will include twelve-minute courses.
In the long-term, ponder how much of your audit work could be replaced by artificial intelligence. I can grasp the idea of automating a large portion of detail testing. I can’t see the possibility of replacing the entire audit function. Stretch your brain with two articles from Jim Peterson.
8/11 – Journal of Accountancy – CPE standards update accommodates new forms of learning – It will be a while before you see this in a CPE class, but the AICPA and NASBA changed the CPE rules to allow for nano-learning and blended learning.
Nano-learning is a short course, say 12 minutes that will allow CPE credit in 0.2 hour increments. Picture a 24 or 36 minute course on how to conduct an inventory observation. Or a 12 minute class on how to prepare the planning materiality worksheet.
Consider this idea: perhaps GAAP-based accounting numbers aren’t giving stock investors all the information they need.
What is wrong with this picture?
In April, Netflix announced their earnings fell short of analysts’ expectations. Usually that would drop the stock price. What happened?
Nexflix stock jumped 18%.
What could cause that? The market supposedly has incorporated the consensus into the price. Missing the expectation should drop the price.
Consider this: At the same time, Netflix announced their new-subscribers were 4.9 million instead of the expectation of 4.0M.
That means they will have stronger earnings for the next several quarters than was expected the day before the announcement. Thus, the stock price rose.
Investors looked at the new subscriber tally as a better indicator of future earnings and thus future stock price than this quarter’s GAAP net income. New subscribers is more important than EPS.
If you wonder are wondering why GAAP EPS isn’t the driving force in that story, here is a brain stretcher for you:
“The End of Accounting”
Professors Baruch Lev and Feng Gu point to The End of Accounting and the Path Forward for Investors and Managers in their June 21 Wall Street Journal article.
You can find the book at Amazon here. It is a bit steep, $32 in hardback and $26 in Kindle format, which is really high for an e-book. I already have a copy on my e-reader. Started reading it yesterday.
The professors suggest that reported earnings under GAAP are losing relevance for investors as we move further and further away from an industrial economy. When know-how, processes, patents, using the internet, and other intangibles are the source of income, GAAP doesn’t report useful information for figuring out future earnings.
By the way, keep in mind that providing historical information to readers of the financial statements to allow them to make estimates of future earnings and cash flows of the company is, like, sorta’, kinda’, the purpose of GAAP financial statements.
The problem with GAAP
Some drawbacks in looking at GAAP numbers, according to the professors: