How to Audit (Part 19): Leaving Drinks

In every auditor’s life comes a day when checking bank statements no longer satisfies. And that feeling doesn’t go away even after some spreadsheet fun. On that day, he decides to leave. It could happen during the first week or after an illustrious career. But that time always comes.

A lot of thought goes into deciding the next step. By contrast, the leaving process itself is straightforward because there are clear rituals to follow.

Note that these rituals don’t apply if you have been dishonourably sacked. Instead of a ritual there is a choice: leave quietly or burn down bridges and curse the earth on which it stood.

Giving Notice

It is considered polite to tell management that you no longer wish to serve under their command. The notice period is several months. This is negotiated around client commitments. So the actual leaving date depends on how irreplaceable you are. For the exceptionally skilled, the leaving date can be several years past mandatory retirement.

Leaving Email

Writing the leaving email is next. The recipients are copied from the previous leaving email. BCC etiquette is unhelpful here. The email contains the future destination and an emotional thanks to special colleagues. Some will have funny stories. They finish off with a contact email address.

Leaving Drinks

Leaving drinks will be arranged by to say goodbye. The leaver will put up a tab that is in portion with how many free drinks they’ve had from company socials. The best part of the night is the leaving speech. It’s delivered by a senior manager or close friend. The leaver is praised for their hard work. Then there are stories of illegal acts, drunken adventures, inappropriate behaviour and gross incompetence.

Should free drinks be a taxable benefit? Photo by frecklescorp

An unintended consequence of the slowdown is that leavers are holding joint events. It attracts a good crowd. However, random first year trainees will arrive early and consume the tab. Leaving speeches can take over one hour.

Final Leaving Email

The final act is sending an email just before handing back the laptop. The staff pass is taken and utterly destroyed. The unceremonious end is the start of the final paragraph of this particular career chapter.

Leavers go with different feelings and for different reasons. But, they all say one thing in common – the people will be missed most. For a profession that has no value without its people, those leavers can be a good sign.

How to Audit (Part 18): Alight Here for Connecting Trains

A Big 4 training contract is like taking the train. The journey takes three years. Emotions range from boredom to terror to farcical humour. The dining car has dry lunchtime sandwiches and gourmet client meals. It is always well stocked with alcohol.

There are many stops for exams. Some passengers will be kicked off for failing. Others will get off even if the train is moving. With great incredulity and relief, the train makes arrives at its qualification destination. Strangely, it looks like Crewe.

The favourite pastime of 3 out of 10 auditors. Photo by JohnGreyTurner

Crewe is regarded as the railway nexus for Western Europe. Here, you can change your career journey. The first class upgrade is complimentary. If you are unsure about where to go, then staff (aka recruitment consultants) are ready to help.

Having this choice is a marked contrast from the fixed path trainees have been used to. It is probably the first major career decision. Going through the education system is a broadly fixed path. Choices were dictated by parents. Attainment came from parental pressure and self expectation.

A training contract continues this fixed path. The difference is that you pay more taxes than at university. It’s a valuable first-time experience of the business world. However, at the end of it is the time to decide and specialise on a career.

For the time poor qualified-accountant, this blog post is a quick guide to your career choices.

Take a Plane

The Big 4 is a good option for living abroad because of secondments to overseas offices. The interview process is less onerous because it’s internal. There is support for work visas and moving costs. You maintain a professional job without any retraining.

The disadvantage is that all countries outside Europe work harder and have less holiday. You’ll find that the inside of a plane is the same as a train, i.e. the work is all the same.

Change Coaches

This means trying a different function within the firm. This is possible because bean counters don’t actually count beans. The majority of the Big 4’s revenue comes from consulting and tax services, not audit. The main benefit is being able to stay within the firm and try something new.

The main hurdle is making a business case saying that it is better for you to work for to earn money for a different department. Secondments are the hottest trend in the audit fashion world. This reflects Generation Y’s desire to have a variety of experiences (and to put off major decisions).

Change Trains

Aka working in industry / the client side. That is to say, being the internal preparer of accounts rather than the external checker of accounts. Generally, the work lifestyle is more stable. You perform the same tasks for the same team in the same office.

There’s a world outside audit, but I have not known it. Photo by eamoncurry123.

A recruitment consultant can guide you to the right job. Magically, your telephone number becomes known to 25% of recruitment consultants as soon as you qualify. The remaining 75% get your number from chain letters.

Stay Seated

In the short term, most newly-qualified auditors will stay on. The most sensible (and depressing) piece of advice I’ve been given is that I will have a long career. Due to growing life expectancies and the future insolvency of social security, I will be working for another 50 years. Changing for the sake of change is silly.

Eventually, everyone will leave audit and will usually go to industry. The timing does matter. A year in audit is worth more than a year in industry. Those with long experience in audit can move onto very senior positions. That is, more senior than those who start in industry after qualification.

Is That It?

There are wider options available to the newly qualified auditor. One is becoming an anti-capitalist anarchist. However, if that was ever a remote option, then they wouldn’t have boarded the audit train in the first place.

Bringing peace to controversial accounting policies. Photo by Cranky Media Guide

How to Audit (Part 17): Results Day

Friday 2nd September was Case Study results day for the trainee class of 2008. The ICAEW takes around 6 weeks to mark a written paper. The results are released on a Friday at 5pm. A variety of ways are used: letter, email, text message and their website.

Text Message Waiting

The Friday afternoon wait for results strains the nerves. Most trainees will try to find an isolated hole to hide in. We were stood in a circle outside a bar in Canary Wharf. Others were enjoying a drink. We clutched our phones waiting for that message.

There are 5 unforgivable auditor pranks. Hopefully, you won’t experience the worse – having “ICAEW” replace a phone contact and being sent a deceitful text. As general guidance, do not send nervous trainees any text messages between 4:51pm and 5pm.

The ACA exams aren’t the most important exams in our lives. We wouldn’t have been to take the exams without good GCSEs, A Levels and a 2:1 university degree. The consequences of failure aren’t so dire. Once the Advance Stage (last three exams) is reached, there is no time bar and unlimited attempts (link).

However, this particular text does have greater significance and meaning. Three years of grinding stress could be over. There is the prospect of life without the threat of exam bird poop over you. The great unattainable becomes certain. Qualification.

Failure means retakes, but a retake doesn’t mean failure. Many successful partners have failed an ICAEW exam. However, the disappointment is crushing and good heart is needed to go through the same process again. Having unlimited attempts is of no comfort. More than three attempts results in begging for an attempt-limit as an act of mercy.

At 5pm, the texts came through. Gasps. Cheers. Hugs. Another check. Handshakes. A text message audit to make sure. Calls to family. A smile.

Website Hunting

After your own position is secure comes the scramble to find out if friends have made it to the same happy place. The exam results are published publically on the ICAEW website. Inevitably, it crashes at 5pm. Fortunately, we live in the age of Facebook. The newsfeed is a crash-proof and reliable information source.

Recruitment consultants do love these lists

The website is eventually checked because it is an important source of gossip about who failed and what they failed. Confusingly, the results are published in two lists: a Pass List and a Credit List. The pass list is for those who have passed all three Advance Stage exams. The Credit List shows the exams that have been passed for those who have not passed all three. You hope to be on the Pass List, or at least on the Credit List. Being on neither is definitely bad. You may experience shock/elation depending on the permutations of number of sittings and number of exams taken.

Who says accountancy isn’t straightforward?

The After-Party

Qualification should be the perfect reason to party and acts of exuberant celebration, such as swimming in the Trafalgar Square fountains. However, results day is often an anti-climax. Relief, rather than joy, is the dominant emotion. The fear of failure means that nothing large is organised. The mood is dampened by friends who didn’t pass.

The day after qualification feels little different from the days before. There is a quiet satisfaction from the amazing achievement of passing all 15 exams. This grows over time and brings a joy that lasts longer than a boozy night out.

I passed.