How to Audit (Part 12): The Good and the Antonym of the Aforementioned

Audit is extremely unfashionable. Saying that you enjoy auditing is a taboo worse than owning a Justin Bieber CD. Cynicism and disparagement pervade the trainees. But this is crazy. Trainees work for a minimum of three years in audit. Given a choice between the choice between a positive and negative attitude, most chose to be sad.

This article will be unconventional and talk about the positives of audit. However, simply saying that a positive thinking is enough is insensitive. It ignores that reality that many trainees are not that happy. Is this an issue for the firm, industry, London living or life itself?

Start the excessive, arrogant pretention:

The Good

1) Cyclical Variety
Every week in audit is different. The clients and location change. You will work with different people. You could work in large or small teams. The dress codes varies from ties to jeans in college. Even during the hardest weeks, there is the prospect of change to tide you over.

2) College
Get paid for not going to work and gaining a valuable qualification. You can even return home during daylight.

3) Client Conversations
Auditors get a lot of contact time with the client. It’s good fun. Bonus marks can be gained by remembering the name of the client’s pets.

You also get the chance to talk with senior finance professionals, which is a rare learning experience.

4) Work Freedom
Trainees are given a lot of autonomy and responsibility in their work. Your tasks can be completed in any order you chose. Working hours can be flexible. It is possible to leave early for opera commitments because the time can be made up later. Managers are open to new ways to work more efficiently.

5) Socials
The large audit firms feel very youthful because they recruit many graduates. As a rough guide, 75% of the staff are under 30. This working atmosphere is fun and easy-going. There are many fun social events. The late weekday nights are a reminder of university, expect sleeping in is no longer an option (or, at least it shouldn’t be).

happy_sad
Happy or sad? by Aginorz

The Antonym of the Aforementioned

The title follows the modern business language trend of banning negative words. The audit crap is:

1) Unrealistic Expectations and Horrible Hours
While there is freedom in work the overriding aim is that the work is finished. Work becomes more important than dinner with friends, exam revision and, even the most sacrosanct of all: evening Excel classes.

2) Commutes and Hotels
No matter how centrally you live there will always be a client with a long commute. At worst four hours of the day can be lost to travel. You will stay in a hotel if the client is distant. Unfortunately, the novelty of room service wears off after a day.

3) Client Conflict
Not many companies would chose to have an audit. However, audits are mandatory for larger companies. There is less sense of client service than in advisory or medicine.

Most clients are understanding, co-operative and pleasant to work with. However, auditors are dependent on timely and appropriate information from the client. Without this, the work is very frustrating and stressful.

fist
Please do not anger your auditor by Redwood

4) Bell Curve Pressure
A good appraisal depends on out-performing your peers. The hardest and best work may be merely average because it is measured against other equally brilliant graduates. The use of the “average” label is disconcerting.

The aim of the bell curve is to everyone work harder. To quote the Goldman Sachs work culture:

  Taking type-A people, making them feel like type-B people and moulding them into kick-ass teams that work every hour God — sorry, Goldman — sends, is important, no doubt. (link)

The pressure is not as obvious as the dog-eat-dog corporate world stereotype. It is subtly embedded into the work culture (especially London). It is easy to forget that there is a life beyond the audit bubble.

5) Friday Drinks
A consequence of working with different people and locations every week is that there are no regular Friday night drinks. This may or may not be bad, but does show that relationships are many and shallow, rather than few and deep. Or this might indicate my deep unpopularity.

Two-Sided Caveats

With the exception of college, most graduate jobs have the same good aspects of audit. Indeed, some may dislike working in different places every week.

Long hours, commutes and stress are common to most professional jobs in the 21st century. The death of the 9 to 5 is approaching its 30th anniversary. It’ll be celebrated by the abolition of final salary pensions.

The problems is not with audit, but with a general dissatisfaction with work. However, work is the unavoidable price of the lifestyle that we want and expect.

The Question

Do you enjoy the good parts of audit enough to tolerate the bad parts? Or is audit just a means to pay for your secret weekend opera addiction?

The Second Question

If audit is not to blame for my generation’s unhappiness, then why are we a little sad? This shall be answered in 1 to 10 weeks time in “How to Audit (Part 13)™: Quarterlife Crisis”.

How to Audit (Part 11): More Than Numbers

I have long argued that auditing more than just numbers. A masterly command of the English language is vital for effective working. For words that provide the narrative behind the numbers. Indeed, a career in audit has an insidiously affects ones vocabulary. If you believe that the tongue is the reflection of the heart then audit does affect one’s character (Matthew 12:33).

This blog post will give you the words to mimic an experienced auditor. There are two types: business fads and audit vocab.

Business Fads

Use these words in quick succession whenever you realise that you know as much about the subject matter as next week’s lottery numbers. A first year will average 114.5 of these words per hour. This decreases exponentially with experience.

Touching base
You’ve been sent out on the business battlefield. I now want a progress report over a game of rounders.

It is what it is
Read: I have nothing more to say on the matter; there is nothing you can do to change the situation; and you will have to clean the mess. Goodbye.

For the win
Beat the offside trap, aim for the bottom corner, apply an accurate finish (to the accounts), three points and escape the relegation zone.

Like all fads, their inappropriate use only results in the speaker looking lame instead of looking knowledgeable. Avoid.

dictionary
Words or Numbers by Jovike

 

Audit Vocabulary

Not material
Auditors hate petty details and small numbers. Auditors ignore the small numbers and do allow a margin of error. Loudly declaring that a number is not material is an easy way to sounds learned and wise.

Reconciliation
This word is an example of good audit jargon because:

  • Any financially literate person knows exactly what you mean
  • It summarises a difficult concept in one word
  • There is not a simpler substitute for this word

“Reconciliation” means the restoration of relationship. In the accounting world, it means showing how financial information from two sources can be matched to each other. The crucial point is that both sources should produce the same number. This is unintuitive because it seems like using only one source of data would be more logical.

This is not the case, and I shall show this by using an analogy. Note that bad business jargon originated from good analogies. Imagine that one blind man and one deaf man are both witness to a robbery. A policeman called Mr Accountant is asked to write a report. The blind and deaf man’s testimonies are adequate by themselves but it’s better to use both. Also, the discrepancies between the two accounts will need to be further investigated.

The next part of the story is that the public has not much confidence in Mr Accountant’s report. So, Ms Auditor(ess) is asked to examine the report and make a comment about the truth and fairness of that report.

The “bank reconciliation” is a classic example. A company will keep its own records of their cash transactions. This is called the “cashbook”. The balance in the cashbook should be the same as the bank statement. The differences are called “reconciling items”. Using both sources together gives the most complete information about a company’s cash position.

Note that this is shortened to “rec” in everyday conversation.

Outstanding
It does not mean that your workpaper is a glorious piece of art that belongs in the National Gallery rather than an audit file. An “outstanding list” summarises all the work that you weren’t able to finish. Every minute spent making an outstanding list substitutes for 0.7 minutes of actual work.

New Vocabulary

Gain respect in the workplace and home with these new phrases:

Reaping to the edge of my field
Use when being overloaded with work.

Headshot
Always aim for the most effective audit test.

Armistice
Declare one when there is an irresolvable accounting issue

Real guitar or Guitar Hero?
Does the manager want a full or simplified explanation?

Is it Facebook safe?
Confidentiality considerations

Goal side view or grandstand view?
If you are lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics

Asymmetric dichotomy
When there are two options and one has greater consequences than the other

False asymmetric dichotomy
Not the above

Knot the rope
You don’t know what it means, you just know that you have to do it.

Zero sum synergies
???

At the end of the day

I dislike business jargon, but I do use it. Every profession needs jargon to for complex ideas and to save time. It makes you feel part of an “insider group”. But does the English language need to be slaughtered for a few extra pounds?

Sometimes, numbers do not need works, like RBS’s record £24.1bn loss.

How to Audit (Part 10): Leaving

In the 960 days since I’ve started audit I’ve seen many trainee and qualified auditors leave for non-audit paths. Sadly, high turnover is the norm in Big-4 audit firms. While they are missed by their colleagues, the audit machine is large and robust enough to survive.

It is more surprising when a trainee leaves given that they are locked into three year contracts. It is worthwhile to explore why trainees leave early.

In the beginning

We all start off with good intentions when we first join and no-one ever plans to leave. There’s enough effort just to get started. The graduates have stellar academic and extra-curricular records, well motivated, possess excellent communication and team working skills, and managed to beat 20 other similar graduates to get the job.

Fantastic opportunities lie ahead when you start. The ACA is an excellent qualification. You’ll work with great people. The experience you gain would proudly decorate your CV. It’s tough, but you’ll grow a lot professionally and personally.

Why leave?

In life, nothing worthwhile gets achieved without some pressure and trial. It takes three hard years to qualify as a chartered accountant: 15 exams and 450 days of work experience. It’s an impressive achievement because it is hard. But for some, the effort isn’t worth it and leaving is the right thing to do.

I believe people leave for four interconnected reasons:
1)    Stress
2)    Health
3)    Exams
4)    NFM – not for me

exit
Not the easy way out by peminumkopi

 

1) Stress

The hours are long: 40 to 50 hours a week during busy season. This does not including time spent commuting, eating and thinking up accounting jokes. Audit is stressful. People think it is just about the numbers. However, soft skills count for more than calculator abilities. A lot depends on the effectiveness, efficiency and helpfulness of the client. So teamwork and interpersonal skills are vital. You’re under pressure to deliver results and meet deadlines. Untypical problems do come up, which needs creativity to find a solution.

Experience matters a great deal for coping with stress. Auditing is done as a team, and seniors will be there to help. Whenever I’ve needed it, help has been available. People do understand that trainees start off with no audit knowledge and take that into consideration.

2) Exams

You will be fired if you fail the (retake) exams. This is how most trainees prematurely leave a Big 4 firm. It greatly adds to the stress of the job. Fortunately, the work calendar is designed so that you the main revision periods are during the quieter times at work. Managers are sympathetic if you have exams and will endeavour to minimise working overtime. However, there will be times were you have to work long hours and revise in the evenings and weekends.

Telling you to pass the exams first time is an obvious and unhelpful piece of advice. But failing means: paying for retakes, using up holiday time for revision courses and destroying your weekends prior to the retake.

stress
How not to treat the trainees by bottled_void
 

3) Health

Audit comes with a health warning.  The typical audit room is cramp and furnished with high tables and unadjustable chairs. This is not good for your back. Fortunately, trainees are only out at the client for about a third of the year. The rest of the time will be spent in college stressing about exams.

However, the long hours spent sitting down and eating sandwich lunches do take their toll. Regular exercise is essential to your health and sanity.

4) NFM – not for me

To some extent, the first three problems can be overcome. However, audit does not suit everyone. Of course, we all get depressed / annoyed / angrier than a banker without a bonus from time-to-time, but for some that feeling never escapes. Their reasons go much deeper than the ones I have outlined. Perhaps the hours intolerably encroach onto family life. The commutes are too long. The firm is too large and impersonal. Maybe the work isn’t simulating enough.

Conclusion

Some trainees will love the work and feel no pressure, others will find it intolerable. Most of us fall in the middle, the pressures are they but we’ve found ways to cope and still manage to have some fun.

I don’t want to attach any stigma to those who leave early. Everyone faces the same pressures. I would say that it’s important to consider how you will cope and if you will be happy before starting any job. However, it is impossible to know that until you have joined and discovered this for yourself. After all, no wisdom was ever gained from a blog post.

Epilogue

I actually wrote this blog post at the beginning of my audit career but I refrained from publishing it might have given the impression that I was going to leave early. However, with one exam to go before qualification, leaving is unthinkable. In a poll of some peers, no-one would choose to leave even if they won the lottery.

I did write this blog post for my friend, Graham. He faced a lot of these work pressures that I have talked about. And, a year ago, passed away after a long period of mental illness. He was 24.

In his memory, we (Graham’s friends and family) are raising money for Mind, a leading mental health charity by running in the Bupa 10k race. Please, hit the link below and donate generously:

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