As a corporate controller, CFO, and consultant, I've been on auditees' side of the table for the past 20 years. Yet, I still remember the gratifying excitement of coming to a company as an auditor and testing the depth of my expert knowledge in an unfamiliar territory, quickly absorbing the business's specifics and immediately identifying the scope of testing. Well, Ok, I've been called a "show-off" and "know-it-all" many times, so forget me. Over the years, there were other public accounting professionals (not many, but some), who impressed me with their knowledge and sharpness, but it doesn't happen anymore.
I've been complaining about the decline of the quality of work across all jobs, from customer service representatives on the phone to the cardiologists in fancy hospitals, for years. But somehow I still get very frustrated when I encounter the same trend in my own profession. I cannot even explain why. After all, I am very conscious of the managerial accountants' limitations. The main reason for writing "CFO Techniques" was the desire to fill their knowledge gaps. Just a few weeks ago I wrote about The Unimaginable Abyss of Accounting Ignorance in the small-business environment. So, I should not be surprised when I am faced with the same situation while dealing with financial auditors. Nevertheless, it still gets me.
It's audit season, so in the past couple of weeks I've been helping my client (a young company) to go through their very first independent year-end examination of books and records. It's conducted by a small CPA firm hired before my consulting engagement commenced.
Under my guidance, the client's accountants did what I always advise to do in preparation for an audit (see Chapter 30, What Guarantees Fast and Painless Audit, in "CFO Techniques"), i.e. they loaded the appointed auditor in advance with statements and schedules of data required to make all testing decisions. He definitely had time to prepare well.
The client is an importer of raw materials. So, the revenue/cost recognition and cut-off tests are very important. Accordingly, the auditor gives a list of sales and purchases he wants to test. We provide all supporting documents to verify the propriety and accuracy of each transaction. After a little while the auditor knocks on my door with a bunch of papers in his hands. "How do I know," he asks timidly, "if these invoices have correct dates?"
Inside my head I scream, "Are you fucking kidding me?" But this is not about my frustration, this is about my client. So, I calmly explain that he needs to compare the recording dates with the source documents proving the product's ownership transfer as defined by Incoterms. I go further and demonstrate with one of the selected items: this sales order states CIF (cost, insurance, freight), which means that the customer owns the product as soon as it's loaded on the transport; hence, your source document is the Bill of Lading (BL) attached right here to the Commercial Invoice and the Packing List; the BL's date is the sale's date.
He soon comes back with another file and he is very apologetic, "I am sorry, could you explain this to me again? I never heard of those... terms... before. What did you call them?" I help him out, "Incoterms?"
Will somebody, please, explain to me, since when it's Ok for an auditor, who is responsible to lenders, investors, and other outside users to verify the correctness of books and records, to come to the client without the full knowledge required to perform his tasks? Why is he not even embarrassed to admit that? Why the hell in 2012 it did not occur to him to get his ass onto the world wide web, as soon as he heard the word "Incoterms" from me, and study them?
I guess, that would be too much to ask. Hey, he didn't even know what a "metric ton" was and asked me for the ton-to-pound conversion ratio instead of finding it by himself. He continued coming over, I continued providing him with definitions and rules. At some point he got so comfortable with this teacher-student setup, he even asked my advice on how to "test for prepaid expenses." Seriously? Did he forget that I was their from the client's side, essentially being audited?
And here I have to bring up my book again. There is Chapter 29 in "CFO Techniques" called Choose Your Auditors Wisely... Dear business owners, CEOs, CFOs, and controllers, please, read it if you want to avoid paying $25,000 - $100,000 (average range for small businesses) for low-quality accounting services.