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 6): Auditors Versus Doctors

Two years and 12 exams completed means that many trainee auditors are looking to life after audit. There is an undertone of disillusionment from the auditors. But I have also heard the same feelings from junior doctors and other professions. Is anyone happy in their work?

So this blog post looks at medicine as an alternative career path for the auditor. The two professions will each be judged on 13 scientific criteria. Then a winner shall be declared.

1.) Pay

They say money does not make you happy, but you’d be very unhappy doing either of these jobs for minimum wage. To dispel a myth – medicine is not any more lucrative than auditing. The average starting salary of £27k (£22k plus 20% supplement) for junior doctors is comparable to audit. The chart of salary against years of experience is also similar:

Accountant’s Salary:

Median Salary by Years Experience – Certification: Chartered Accountant: ACA (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) (United Kingdom)Median Salary by Years Experience
Compare your salary: Get a free Salary Report

 

Doctor’s Salary:

Median Salary by Years Experience – Job: Physician / Doctor, General Practice (United Kingdom)Median Salary by Years Experience
Compare your salary: Get a free Salary Report

However, doctors will have spent two or three extra years in university before they can start their career. They will have extra student debt, but more crucially, they will be behind on the career pay ladder. There is also a much lower ceiling on maximum pay. While a good consultant can earn a six figure salary and a celebrity plastic surgeon may earn up to £1m, the best partners at a Big 4 accountancy firm could earn in excess of £1m. There is fat cat money available if the auditor makes it to the boardroom of a large company.

There is one caveat in that accountants can only earn the big money if they obtain the Chartered Accountancy qualification. Then they will inherit the riches of the Earth – or £79,100 to be more exact (this is the average ACA salary).

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors

2.) Working Conditions

This is the standard public versus private sector debate. We pit the fat, ugly and lethargic NHS against the lean, competitive, fierce and beautiful audit stallions.

Doctors face the difficulty of working with diverse professional groups. They have authority over nurses but need their co-operation to keep the wards running smoothly. They have to work with pharmacists, without whom drugs cannot be obtained. There are even differences between doctors – medics and surgeons do not get along.

The doctor’s incentive to save lives has to compete with the bed manager’s priority of saving money. The hated bed manager was probably an accountant in a previous life. There are not many jobs where there is such divergence between management and staff. Friction is constant.

Auditors are very monocultural. All partners started off doing the endless hours of photocopying and invoice checking. Respect and knowledge of competence is, therefore, instant. Auditors tend work with other auditors. Even when they don’t, they will work with like-minded finance professionals. This fosters a greater sense of teamwork and there is less inherent friction.

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors

3.) Information Technology

It is the joy of thousand-line Excel spreadsheets against the notoriously bad NHS IT. It is over-priced, doesn’t work and is based on MS-DOS. Medicine is constantly progressing, but that is at odds with a culture of tradition and status quo. Doctors don’t even use email that much. On the other hand, auditors cannot function without their laptops.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors (because huge Excel spreadsheets are bad for the eyes)

the auditors trophy
The Auditor’s Trophy by kaienong

4.) Travel

Auditors face commutes to inconvenient client sites and hotel stays. But do enjoy occasional foreign travel (to Slough). Doctors live close to their place of work but face the risk of superbug infections.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors (because I believe in NHS hygiene)

5.) Airplane Situations

Every time they board a plane, doctors have the chance to be a hero or get sued horribly. It is usually the latter because there is little a doctor can do without his charts, drugs, stethoscopes and bed manager by his side to hold his hand.

There is a reason that auditors will never be asked to identify themselves on a plane – no-one ever needs an emergency stock count that badly.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors

6.) GMC verses the ICAEW

Accountants and medics are ruled by their respective professional institutions. For the qualified accountant you get a monthly magazine from the ICAEW for £300. For a new doctor, £400 gets you the right to be severely punished by the GMC. The value of membership is not an unread and unloved magazine, it is the right to call yourself a chartered accountant and the resulting salary increase.

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors (because it is cheaper)

7.) Boredom

Work is varied for both the doctor and the auditor. Junior doctors will see different patients and work in different fields. Auditors will work at different clients throughout the year. They will return to the same clients year-on-year, but they will audit more complex areas and have more managerial responsibility.

The work can also be boring. Doctors could be on the same ward for months and years. There are only so many variations on a sore throat. Auditors do have to face the dirty work of checking endless near-identical invoices.

Doctors ½ – ½ Auditors (it’s only fair)

auditors versus doctors
Fight! Pictures by ernstl and andresrueda

8.) Exams

Doctors study for longer. They face even more exams when they want to progress in their career (from junior doctor to registrar, and from registrar to consultant).

Auditors need to pass 15 exams to become qualified. It doesn’t feel like university has finished and they also have to work full time. Doctors can have as many attempts as they want, but auditors will get fired for failure.

However, the pain only lasts for three years and there are no further exams after qualification. Text books and exam entry fees also get paid for and (ample) study leave is provided.

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors (because it is cheaper)

9.) Consequences of Failure

No-one has ever died from a bad audit, but the partner can be sent to jail. The corollary for medicine is more fatal. But who wants to focus on failure? Success in medicine means better quality and length of life. Audits are mandatory, so success means the (mere) fulfilment of the law.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors

10.) Flexibility

Doctors will always be doctors and escape from that career path is quite impossible. A Chartered Accountancy qualification opens up many different career paths in finance and business. Working abroad is also more feasible. Although, you will always need to carry a calculator.

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors

11.) The Hours

In practice, the medicine and accounting professions do not recognise the European Working Time Directive 48-hour weekly work limit. Both work long hours without overtime pay.

However the auditors lot is much better, neither night shifts nor weekend working are mandatory. Auditor’s also have greater flexibility with their time. If you need to take time off work, as long as there is internet, you can catch up later. It takes a brave doctor to leave a sick patient and they can’t be carried home.

Doctors 0 – 1 Auditors

12.) Job Security

There will always be work for doctors and accountants in any civilised society. But you feel that people will choose health over accurate bookkeeping. This is despite my argument that accounting was more important than medicine during my interview.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors

13.) TV Shows

The TV industry will have run out of good ideas when they make a show about auditors. Medicine is spoiled for choice: House, Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs (and I can go on). I believe that a show about recurring manual controls failure without a compensating control can be made but it will never happen.

Doctors 1 – 0 Auditors

 

The Final Score

Doctors 6 ½ – 6 ½ Auditors

A draw! The blog post is somewhat irrelevant, because the decision to be a doctor needed to be made over 8 years ago. The grass is never greener on the other side because it is actually a sheer-faced cliff. But I will return to work on Monday and hear moans about the job – and I will be one of them. Shouldn’t we learn to be happy where we are or should we still chase the dream of retirement by 26?

How to Audit (Part 1): Insider Questions

The audit profession is easily misunderstood and unjustly feared. The “How to Audit” series aims to give an insight into the world of audit while abiding by professional, legal and ethical standards.

Picture the scene: You are at a party and meet someone new. You ask for their name, which is pointless because you forget it instantly. You move onto the next question: “Where do you work?”. Fortunately for you, the person is not unemployed but does say that they are an auditor.

Suddenly, you have no intelligent follow up questions, and are struggling not to make a joke about calculators. You force yourself a polite smile and comment that it is a “nice” job. However, you actually end up communicating that you think the other person is as interesting as beige. Talking stops and you both separate and get on with the rest of your lives.

This is where you need “insider questions”. Every profession has its own vocabulary, key concepts and idiosyncrasies. Learning a few key questions will make you sound intelligent and have great conversation. However, use insider questions sparingly before you are discovered to be a fraud. Do move the conversation on to mutually interesting topics, such as the weather.

The insider questions for auditors

1) Busy season – Auditors will do a great deal of their work from January to April, often without holiday. This is because audits are conducted after the end of the financial year. This is 31 December for most companies. Mentioning these two words to an auditor will either get them talking enthusiastically or crying endlessly – be prepared.

2) Exams – This is a classic question. Every auditor has gone / is going through exam trauma. Myriad questions can be asked: Which institute?; How many exams they have passed so far?; How many exams left?; How many attempts before getting fired?; Which calculator they use in an exam?

Be sure to mention that you couldn’t work and study full time and that they are making the noblest of sacrifices.

3) Longest hours worked – Every auditor will have their personal story of the nightmare client with the 100 hour week in a tiny conference room that smelled a bit. These are the scars of audit and are worn as badges of honour. Do ask an auditor about their worst job.

4) Funny audit room moments – Cramped conference rooms, long hours, stress and green pens have a strange effect on the auditor’s brain.

5) Cool clients – Not all clients are widget manufacturers. There are interesting audit clients. Just think, for every chocolate factory and theme park there is an auditor having fun.

pens

Pens – the key to audit. Photo taken by atomicShed

Questions to be avoided

Certain questions will annoy the auditor. Use these with care:

1) Jokes about counting beans – This instantly shows your ignorance of what auditors actually do. Bean counters are actually “mere” bookkeepers. Audit is more interesting than that. We check that the annual bean report is correct in terms of number, size, type and weight. And only the larger beans are checked, the small beans are ignored.

2) Asking for confidential information – This is illegal. However, if the auditor acquiesces to you “well-intentioned” joke then immediately phone the Metropolitan Police on 0300 123 1212. Make sure you take a photograph and then run to the nearest safe house until the danger has passed.  

3) Mentioning the tax year – There is merit in knowing that the personal tax year runs until 05 April. However, this date is irrelevant to auditors because they are only concerned with companies. If you try to work this date into a conversation the auditor will start a long and uninteresting ramble on the meaninglessness of 05 April.

4) Posing maths questions – Friends have yelled a series of numbers at me and expected rapid mental arithmetic/calculus. This is a no-win situation for the auditor. Either we’ll get it correct and it is nothing special or get it wrong and look incompetent. Reality is that these days, auditors rely calculators and Excel spreadsheets, even mental calculations are double-checked using a calculator. 

5) Why audit? – Auditing is not a traditional childhood aspiration. This question might expose a graduate’s lack of imagination in choosing a career or a personal desire for a stable income. However, numbers are the great desire for some, but would that be admitted in public?

Do insider questions work?

Insider questions are useful. Last week, I tested out some over dinner with 11 junior doctors and a dentist. I asked questions about the hours and interesting/dangerous patients. After a while, I did try to move the conversation beyond work by asking about non-work activities.

This is important to avoid being exposed as a fraud. But more importantly, no-one really wants to talk so much about work. It’s a Western cultural quirk that the second question we ask is: “where do you work?”. We define ourselves by our work but it is not where our passions lie.

Sadly, the reply to the question was: “I don’t have any spare time”.

The insider questions idea is taken from “How to Talk to Anyone” by Leil Lowndes.