Reflections on the week just past

This past week has been an interesting one. I’m at a client for the third year now. This is the first time that’s happened, which makes sense since I just began the third year of work after graduating. Some reflections on the milestone:

  • The first year I was green. I had about a week of client-site audit experience to that point, so I did very low-level work. But it was interesting, because the client is a very large owner-managed firm and the engagement is complex.
  • The second year was shortened, since I went to the SOA during the final three weeks of June and after that I was put on another engagement. That engagement is also coming up soon, and will be the second client with whom I’ve hit the third year.
  • This year, thanks to a colleague’s promotion and another’s vacation, I’ve inherited the “In-Charge” mantle and taken the reins of this beast. I find that I really excel in situations where I have greater responsibility, so I’m pretty psyched about the next couple weeks!

As challenging as new engagements are, it’s nice to be able to always spend the same time of the year at the same place.

Mind maps made productive for public accountants

I’m a huge fan of visualizing things. Things like data. Data is fun, sure, but not as fun as a data visualization. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and pretty pictures have gotta be worth at least 1,001.

What’s helping me visualize data these days? Mind maps.

That’s because there are two really cool web apps that make creating and sharing mind maps a snap – and Mindmeister.

Mindmeister appears more polished at this point, but you have to sign up to use it. will have you mapping right away (before needing to register) but isn’t as slick yet. Both are pretty cool tools for visualizing some interconnected data.

Mindmeister audit mind mapI’m hoping to use these tools in the near future when I’m leading an audit planning meeting. I think this is where I could use this technology for productive purposes (rather than just messing around) and display the relationships between sections of the file and the engagement’s specific risks.

It wouldn’t take much to liven up a planning meeting, that’s for sure. I think it would encourage more participation and livelier discussion of the relevant issues, engaging everyone from the partner down to the junior staff. For juniors, it would illustrate how interconnected the issues and risks are and enable them to better understand the client and the engagement.

There’s also Mindomo, which is more feature rich than both Mindmeister and, but less Web 2.0ish. I’ve found so far that it’s easier to just get going with the first two apps, plus I think they’d be easier to use in a meeting to brainstorm. For more detailed maps, Mindomo is probably better.

But what do you think? Are mind maps an exciting new frontier for the staid business meeting?

Engagement letter update

Before accountants can get down to the business of providing service to clients, we have to issue what’s known in the biz as an “engagement letter.” Contrary to what I’d initially thought, this doesn’t tie me down to any one person for the rest of my life, for better or worse, in good times and bad.

What it does is provide in writing the services agreed to by both parties in case anything goes wrong over the duration of the letter. My firm requires new engagement letters every three years. It spells out the services to be provided and the liability assumed by each party. This basically involves reminding the client it is all theirs (liability for the statements).

Which is what brings me to the point of the post – most clients don’t like the wording of the engagement letter, and I don’t really blame them. They hire us to perform some work and the first communication we send them basically says “can’t be held responsible.” Reminds me of The Freshmen by The Verve Pipe.

Dennis, at AccMan, has come up with a much better engagement letter template in a recent post on his blog. I like it because it’s plain English and it doesn’t make the accountants sound like we’re washing our hands of the client before we’ve even started getting them dirty.

Should the engagement letter be updated and translated into a more understandable English? Is it even possible, given its nature as a legal document?