Are small-caps better served by mid-size firms?

A little late, but a blog post at about the level of service a small-cap public company can expect to receive from a Big Four auditor compared to a mid-size firm seemed interesting enough to share: reader Kunal Ganguly wrote us to say a company of Catapult’s size, with its $102 million market cap, shouldn’t have been using a giant like Deloitte anyway. A local firm would be a better fit because it likely has more experience handling companies of a smaller size, he thinks. Adds accounting professor Zafar Iqbal: “[Smaller] public accounting firms have more experience with, and better knowledge of, the needs of smaller clients. Thus they are in a position to add more value.”

Catapult Communications is a US company based in California that recently announced it was switching from Deloitte to Stonefield Josephson and saving roughly 45% of their usual audit costs to do so. To be honest when I first read about the move it didn’t strike me as all that remarkable. Companies change auditors and save money doing so all the time. Not 43 to 49% of fees, sure, but it wasn’t as if the sky was falling.

Truth is, the stories in the media made this all about the money, which is why the blog post was special. It focuses on the quality of service and expertise Catapult and other smaller companies can expect to receive from a non Big Four audit firm. Something to think about, if you’re in the market for assurance services.


Big Four and Mintz again part of Top GTA Employers list

The Toronto Star has released the 2008 edition of their Greater Toronto’s Top 50 Employers list, and it is no surprise that accounting firms are well represented once again.

All four of the largest accounting firms, the Big Four, made the list, along with a local single office firm, Mintz & Partners.

The reasons why they made the list are similar, with most touting days off to study for the UFE, personal days on top of regular vacation, support for families and volunteering, and matching RSP contributions.

Still no mention of 20% time for personal projects though.


Audit choice and competition in UK and G8

Jeremy Newman of BDO Stoy Hayward, highlights a key finding of the British Oxera Report on Audit Choice and Competition:

According to the report by Oxera on Competition and Choice published in April 2006 more than 70% of FTSE 100 companies had not held a competitive tender for the last 15 years. The incidence of companies switching auditors is even less frequent. According to the Oxera Report it is around 4% on average for listed companies and less than 3% for FTSE 350 companies.

It’s not just a problem in the UK, however. Grant Thornton researched the global audit market:

The levels of audit market concentration across the world’s eight largest economies are dangerously high, with the Big 4 firms responsible for up to 99% of large public company audits, according to research by leading accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP in the UK. […] Analysis of auditor concentration among the G8 economies revealed a high of 99% in Italy, followed by the UK (98%), the US (97%), Canada (96%) and Russia (90%).

That, after Grant Thornton’s US boss issues a call for a study to be performed on the US audit market. Not sure what a study of the US market would reveal since the above quote references a 97% concentration of Big 4 firms on public company audits already. Clearly there is a problem.

Investors and businesses are not being well served by the current situation. I hate to advocate increased intervention by governments of any kind, but it’s clear that public company audit committees also hate to advocate for shareholders’ best interests in terms of rotating audit firms and/or partners.

Maybe the solution is increased coverage of public companies that switched their audit to a non Big 4 firm. I would love to hear from any company in Canada that made the switch and is happier and better served for it.


Forced ranking at accounting firms?

Francine dishes on forced ranking at GE and the Big Four:

That is, compared to their peers, they don’t have the right stuff right now and their performance, although fine, is not as fine as the other 90%. So, with a poor rating instead of a positive rating, your choices are slim. No raise, no bonus, no ability to transfer, and a less enviable position at the negotiating table as far as a severance package when you do finally realize you have to leave. Oh, and don’t forget, with a poor rating on your record, there’s no rehire… […] One thing for sure. The standards for achieving success in a Big 4 firm are pretty clear. Conformance, Competence, Collegiality, and Chargeability.

The idea of forced ranking doesn’t sit well with me, as it sounds pretty harsh towards those unlucky few at the bottom. It makes sense that there are the best and worst performers at the top and bottom, and that most are average, but to fire or demote or otherwise retard the careers of those at the bottom doesn’t.

It is nearly impossible judge in this subjective manner whether the bottom few at your firm aren’t better than the average (or top) at another firm? Sort of depends on how good the hiring is at each place.

With new online and automated processes at some firms, there isn’t even the old signing of the review to signify acknowledgement and acceptance or rebuttal to signify disagreement.

At my firm, we use online forms to complete job and annual appraisals. It’s appraisal time right now actually as I would imagine it is at other firms, and I should be hearing about when mine is sometime in the next couple weeks. I’m looking forward to it!

Accounting Blogs

re: A new auditing and accounting blog

re: The Auditors is a relatively new blog that covers the auditing profession and is written by Francine McKenna, who has some impressive work history which she details on her LinkedIn profile. I’ve added her to my Links.

Some posts I’ve found particularly interesting:

I think I found her via JobsintheMoney’s CareerWire blog, which links to the both of us.