Posts Tagged ‘accountancy’

Well, two tales today, anyway.

I’ve told the odd – some of them very odd – story from my accountancy career in the past, those that aren’t genuinely covered by an NDA or that it’d be unethical to disclose.

Yes, if you’re new to the blog, you may not know that I used to be an accountant, an audior and in due course, after taking the commercial shilling, a financial director, and then a director of finance.

For the US readers, since I understand ‘financial controller’ is often the person who can add up best,

    UK financial controller – US equivalent: VP Finance
    UK financial director – US equivalent: Chief Financial Officer

But, as mentioned above, most of the really good stories I would tell, I can’t… because of the aforementioned Non-Disclosure Agreements or it would just be plain wrong to do so, ethically.

My first day in accountancy, I started the day with about a dozen others, all fresh and incredibly naive, still of the opinion that there was some fundamental goodness in the careers on which we were about to embark.

Actually, that’s not fair; I still think that, to a large extent, and still believe that the job I did, all the jobs I did, were necessary and important.

But yeah, twelve or so young kids, eager and stupid, or rather ‘pretty ignorant’, about accountancy as it is actually practised.

The staff partner ushered into the board room and gave us the usual spiel about the firm: the different departments, the types of work, the likely career progressions, the study leave… I clearly remember two things he said, even now.

1) If you come back from study leave with a tan, you’d better have a damn good reason

2) You’re going to hear lots of stories about things that have happened to accountants; odd tales, funny stories, just flat out weirdness. Trust me, by the time you’ve been in this game for three years, you’ll have a fund of stories this high… either stories that have happened to you, stories that have happened to colleagues, or stories that are like urban myths. Everyone knows they happened… but no one knows quite who they happened to… or you’ll hear that they happened to six different people. Anyway, let me start you with some of them.

And then he regaled us for two hours, giving us befuddlement with one tale, laughter with another, and jaw dropping exasperation with yet another.

But he was right, as he was in so much else in my two years working at the company. I eventually had my own fund of stories. And, maybe, over the next few weeks, I’ll tell some more.

But for now, for today, two stories; both happened to me, both completely true.

Here’s the first, which I was reminded of earlier today, the time I was called a “corporate whore”. Not in the office, or directly related to the work, but merely when I told someone what my job was.

I was at a party, just before New Year’s. I knew maybe a quarter of the attendees, maybe. But the hosts, while not being close friends of mine, were very close friends of friends of mine, and they’d invited me.

And, as always happens at such things, an hour after getting there, I’m chatting to people I don’t know, one of my friends next to me, Somehow we got onto the subject of people being mistreated by employers. And then someone said something like companies exist to mistreat their employees. And that all employees should revolt against their employers. He didn’t say whether it should include violence, but he didn’t obviously exclude it.

The person who said it was, admittedly, very drunk, and very loud, but not quite very obnoxious. And, as always, everyone grants a kind of amnesty-while-drunk-as-long-as-you-don’t-hit-someone at parties.

And that’s when he started… I’d say arguing, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a flat assertion, said with as much passion as someone now asserting “but we voted to leave!” would express. Yes, that much.

So that’s when he moved onto how companies were inherently ‘evil’, and should be abolished en masse. And who did he attribute blame to this for? Accountants.

Accountants were the spawn of Satan, or something like that. I don’t remember precisely.

My expression was, apparently, not entirely filled with shining admiration at this forensic analysis of companies’ behaviour and accountants. I mentioned, hoping to squash this, that I disagreed, but yeah, some companies didn’t exactly enhance their reputations with their actions.

“Do you work for a company?”

“Yes… I’m a financial director.”

“Oh, right… a corporate whore, then…”

It’d be lovely to say that the room fell silent, that everyone stood there, shocked.

But, no, of course not. There were a dozen or so people in the room, I guess. And only a couple of them heard the comment. But I could feel the small area of the room grow just a bit colder, just a little bit sharper. In a movie, there’d be one of those ‘go into close up on budgie’s face while the rest of the room blurs’ shots.

Before I could say anything, though, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, and another guiding me out of the room, and I left, much in need of a cigarette. Moments later, the host came out, full of apologies. They weren’t necessary, genuinely. I knew they’d’ be horrified, as they were.

But yeah, ‘corporate whore’. That was a new one.

Here’s another one. Again, less to do with the actual work, but absolutely about working in an office, any office.

In that first job, the firm maintained a satellite office at a large client. The client was huge, in corporate size, I mean. One parent company, literally dozens of subsidiaries, and we were the auditors for all of them.

(Smal digression but I genuinely don’t know if that arrangement would be allowed these days; I wonder…)

But it was a small satellite office, a single medium sized room, seven of us in there; the partner, his deputy, two seniors and three juniors, including me.

And there was a window. A lovely window. That opened, and in the heat of a hot day, the breeze through the window made working in the room just a little more pleasant. Especially for the desk that was right by the window, and the chair in front of it. The partner’s deputy sat there.

And then came the first time when the deputy was off for a month or so for some study leave and Tax exams as I recall. And one of the seniors, a cocky lad named Ralph as I recall, baggsied the desk for the month.

Didn’t bother me; I was very low in the hierarchy. Then the deputy returned, and taught all of us, myself included, a lesson in how to handle that situation.

The deputy, whose desk it was, strolled in after the exams… to find Ralph still sitting at the desk.

“You like that chair?”


“You want to keep that chair, and the desk…?”


“No problem… no problem at all… just as long as you take the work that goes along with it.

I swear: Ralph turned pale. And vacated the chair so fast it was genuinely surprising.

And Ralph was never quite the same cocky sod again…

See you tomorrow, with something else, the usual Tuesday ‘something else.

Came across this xkcd cartoon earlier and it reminded me of a favourite tale from my long ago career as a practising accountant:

NB For any Americans reading, all references to ‘flats’ may be read as ‘apartments’, and all references to ‘lifts’ may be read as elevators.

Many, many years ago, when I first started out in accountancy, I was working for a company with a lot of property clients… a lot of them. About 80% of the firm’s business came from auditing property businesses, which included companies with several blocks of flats. Now when you have a company that owns lots of properties, they usually employ third party property agents to look after the property, maintain the lifts, etc.

So with one company, very early on in my career, I’d done the audit, all the invoices looked correct, everything looked fine. I took the file into the audit partner and he held it in his hand, as if weighing it, and simply said “Nope.” When I queried it, he said “Lee, I’ve been doing this job for twenty years. I know when enough work’s been done on an audit file. This isn’t enough. Finish it off and then bring it back.”

I left his office thinking less than charitable thoughts about him and racked my brains wondering what more I could do. To be brutally honest, I was wondering what extra photocopying I could do to increase the file’s weight without actually involving me doing a lot more work.

While looking at the file, I noticed the invoices for lift maintenance and had a brainwave. The contracts for maintenance are always bulky! I quickly checked the previous three files and there was no contract in there, so yeah: it justified inclusion. I called the agents and asked them if they could send me a copy of the lift maintenance contract. The guy at the other end of the phone said he’d bang a copy in the mail to me (this was way, way before scanning, PDFs and email) but probably not for a few days. The block of flats weren’t that far out of the way home for me, so I called the caretaker/manager of the building, thinking I could stop in on the way home, grab it, copy it at the office and return it the following day. I’d spoken to him several times before; he was a nice chap and I’d been told by previous years’ auditors that he’d do small favours for us without a problem.

The following telephone call ensued:

Me: Hi, it’s Lee Barnett from the auditors.
Caretaker: Hello, Lee – what can I do for you?
Me: Quick favour; can I drop by tonight and pick up your copy of the lift maintenance contract? I promise I’ll return it tomorrow night – just need a copy for the file.

= pause =

Caretaker: What lift maintenance contract?
Me: The maintenance contract for the lifts. With [checks name of maintenance people in file and reads it out].

= pause =

Caretaker: We don’t have any lifts.
Me: I beg your pardon?

Yeah, turned out (a) they didn’t have any lifts, (b) the managing agents had been supplying fake invoices, (c) it had never been picked up before, (d) it wouldn’t have been picked up by me, (e) it was picked up solely because the audit file didn’t weigh enough.

First case of outright fraud I’d discovered during an audit. It wasn’t the last, but you always have fond memories of your first, don’t you?