Blue Jays president touts small firm experience

Baseball is back and it’s always great to welcome the boys of summer back to town after a long, grey winter in Toronto. The Jays are in Cleveland this weekend, but the home opener is on Monday and it’s always an awesome time. I’ve got my ticket!

In the March issue of CA Magazine, Jays president Paul Beeston, FCA graces the cover and is featured in a great profile of his career with the Jays, MLB and Labatt. He also talks about how his CA training has helped him throughout his career.

While his ebullient personality has made him one of the most popular executives in Major League Baseball, it is Beeston’s sober accounting skills that have made him a treasure for his corporate owners at Labatt and more recently Rogers. “I would say [an accounting background] is almost critical. You have to be able to read a P&L. You can’t lose money and be successful.”

He also waxes poetic about a topic that I’ve touched on a number of times over the years: the difference between getting your CA at a smaller firm versus one of the Big Four. Turns out I’m in good company:

An accountant to the end, Beeston looks back fondly at his time with Coopers & Lybrand in London, Ont., where he received his CA in 1971 (then McDonald Currie) and worked in the tax department. Clients were smaller in London, which meant he got to work on up to 50 audits with different clients over the course of a year. “You learned and you did everything — the tax returns, the auditing — you learned what a financial statement was all about, you learned what financing was about,” Beeston says. He contrasts that with a role in a big firm where an accountant might work on just one client for the better part of a year.

Pretty cool that one of the guys responsible for the Jays back-to-back Series wins in the early 90s is a fellow CA (no pun intended). The team is looking pretty strong this year and the minors are stocked for the future. Let’s play ball!

Dropbox increases maximum free storage via referrals

Dropbox announced yesterday they are increasing the amount of free storage one can earn by referring people to the service!

I wrote a blog post about the service almost three years ago, claiming they made USB drives obsolete. Dropbox offers 2GB of free cloud storage that integrates seemlessly into Windows, Mac and Linux, and more storage (50GB or 100GB) for a monthly or annual fee. They also introduced a service for teams, which I could see being very useful for small businesses with remote workers in particular.

The old blog post was very successful for me, as seven people signed up for Dropbox using my referral link, netting me an extra 500MB each time!

If you haven’t yet tried it, give it a shot. The way it integrates with the operating system makes it so easy to use, and the web interface is great for those times when you don’t have administrator access to your computer but still need to get those files!

AICPA, CIMA stakes claim to a global management accounting certification

One of the big reasons for merging Canada’s accounting professions is the global competition nipping at their (our?) heels. One such challenger, as highlighted in the current CA Magazine, is the Chartered Global Management Accountant certification, a product of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

Cue Patrick Bateman: “Look at that subtle off-white coloring; the tasteful thickness of it… Oh my god, it even has a charter.”

I’m not sure why I should be worried about a brand new certification with no history and nascent prestige (to be charitable), but, … uh… hey, free magazine!

Accepting the argument that we need to meet this threat head-on by joining forces with our brethren, this might lead some to believe CMAs would be assuming the front lines in this battle, given their pedigree with management accounting. If we take these upstarts to be our challengers, this will no doubt impact the development of the merged curriculum and other requirements.

CA Magazine’s done some recon:

The hallmark of the CGMA designation is expertise in applying nonfinancial, qualitative information along with financial analysis to understand all aspects of business. According to a study done by the two institutes, this will be in increasing demand by international businesses that want integrated financial and nonfinancial information.

I think what they mean here is expertise is applying non-financial and/or qualitative information. As we all know, there are many important metrics in all businesses which are non-financial, but still quantitative. I think they’re taking that from this page which compares and contrasts financial accounting and the added value of management accounting. Where the former is concerned with the financial, the latter adds non-financial. Where the former focuses on quants, the latter includes qualitative information. (Conclusion: It’s all marketing!)

One thing is for certain, according to the pro-merger forces among us: War is coming.

(Yeah that’s right, I started this with an American Psycho reference and I’m ending it with a Game of Thrones reference. What of it?)

Renaming internal audit to better represent its stature

Internal audit. The name leaves something to be desired, in my opinion, and unless you’re familiar with IA, it could be a bit confusing.

It also creates this false dichotomy with external audit that really doesn’t exist. Within the IA context, the audit of financial statements is supplemental and focused on only one risk: reporting risk. Granted, reporting risk holds a special place in the pantheon of enterprise risks, critical to obtaining and maintaining financing, but still.

Why is internal audit content with naming itself only in terms of where its practitioners reside in relation to the organization under audit? Seems quite narrow and vague. Given that IA concerns itself with all enterprise risks, it makes more sense to me to called it Enterprise Audit. This would also dovetail nicely with Enterprise Risk Management. ERM and EA, two sides of the governance coin.

Better branding in this manner would attract more and higher quality people to the profession as well. It sounds far more interesting and rewarding to be in the business of enterprise auditing than internal auditing.

What do you think? Is it too late in the game to make a change like this? Does it matter, so long as those in business understand the role and responsibilities of the auditors?

Working the phones for audit purposes

Inc. published a short article on “working the phone” yesterday that touched on a number of things that anyone should take to heart if their job involves talking to people on the phone, which is to say, pretty much all office workers that do work.

This is one of the bigger differences between my previous gig in internal audit for a global building materials manufacturer and my current one with a national retailer. Before, I was doing a lot of traveling to various plants and subsidiary offices to conduct audits, and meeting face-to-face was much more important to getting work done. There were phone calls during the planning phase and weekly conference call updates on any issues that arose, but the majority of the time we were sitting across a table from each other.

Phone calls (and voice mail) are much more important in my current environment. Schedules are more structured, especially those of senior management. I’ve had to adapt to this by getting better at gathering information via phone calls and leaving voice mails that are more likely to get results.

Some of the highlights of the article as I see them:

Never have a business conversation, especially on the phone, without knowing exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.

Absolutely the most important point is to know why you’re calling and have an idea of how you want to get there. I’ll make notes beforehand in a Word doc and have it on screen when I make the call. I’ll even incorporate if-then conditional statements based on my questions and the possible answers I expect to get. They get thrown out the window if the answer is not one that I’d expected, but like a boy scout at least I’ve prepared.

It takes a bit of practice, but what you need to do is suspend your “what do I say next?” until after the other person is done speaking.

This is something I’m going to try to keep in mind in the future, more to assess whether I’m doing this already (the default assumption for most of us, I think) or not. Really consciously focus on listening and processing when my audit clients are speaking, which segues nicely to the next item…

When you pause before responding, the other person knows that you’ve listened.

If I’m speaking to someone for the first time and we’ve never met face-to-face, I want them to feel fully comfortable sharing information with me. For someone who maybe isn’t used to dealing with auditors, which will happen if it’s an area that doesn’t get audited often or hasn’t been audited at all, this is critical. This tip is going to be useful in achieving that level of comfort, and that should give me better results.

As you speak, gradually take on the least obvious elements of other person’s voice.

This is a subconscious rapport builder, and will work if it is subtle. If it’s not, it’s going to come off as disingenuous and have the opposite effect. So it’s a gamble.

In my previous job, I worked day-to-day with people from Ireland and the (US) South, and I found it impossible not to lightly pick up those accents when I was with them so much. (The company was headquartered in Ireland and the North American corporate office was in Atlanta, so most of the internal auditors were from those areas.) The combination is a bizarre one, especially peppered with Canadian “eh”s as well!

I’ve found it’s also useful to check people’s schedules prior to making the phone call, to anticipate whether they will be there to pick up or whether it’s likely to go to voice mail. If I need to call someone and they’re in meetings all day, I’ll draft the voice mail message before I call so I can be succinct and not forget anything.

My preference is to have a face-to-face instead of a phone call, because in-person meetings allow for body language and they just feel easier to make a connection with the client. Email is useful because it provides a record of the discussion that can be referred back to if needed. But for situations where immediate attention is best, the phone call reigns supreme.

Please share in the comments how you get the most from your phone-based interactions!