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#24 Softcopies

softcopiesAccountants love working in Excel, and they didn’t get this way sorting a thousand rows by hand. You can thank softcopies for misplaced USB thumb drives full of sensitive information and confusing e-document retention policies.

Softcopies are the electronic source of the paper printout. Before a schedule is printed out, it typically exists in a software format. This could be .Xls, .Pdf, .Doc, etc. Accountants rely on having the softcopy (.xls) as opposed to the hardcopy (paper).

Accountants are known to spend over an hour looking for the softcopy in their e-mail inbox before requesting it again from the source.

Besides adding everything to a pending list, accountants also instinctively ask for the softcopy. This is second nature, because an accountant who has received only a hardcopy has in reality received nothing at all.

When an accountant is not able to get the softcopy version of a document, it is considered desperate times. They may resort to OCR document scanning or recreating the document in Excel manually. These alternatives do not work very well and allow accountants to go over-budget earlier than planned.

If you ever have to deal with an accountant, you can save some time by giving them softcopies of the document instead. That way, you save yourself a trip to the printer and can say you are doing your part in the company’s green initiative.

#23 Copy Machines

537037_hispeed_copier_1Accountants rely on tools to make their workload a bit more manageable. One tool accountants require is a copy machine. It’s at the top of their list of things needed to get work done, and it also holds a top spot on the list of most tedious tasks.

Paperless workflow? Please, accountants use so much paper that even if they switched to printing on both sides of each page, they would still go through reams of paper before AND after lunchtime.

An accountant’s productivity is strongly correlated to the efficiency of their copy machine. The sad reality is that a copy machine that never jams is as likely as a company that never makes financial errors.

As documented in Office Space (a authoritative source along with The Office), copiers and printers make all sort of paper jams – usually at the worst time possible. Michael Bolton:

PC Load Letter? What the fuck does that mean?

Accountants photocopy everything from testwork support to 10-K drafts. Accountants are very cautious about using original documents, so they make a copy. Accountants are also worried about writing the wrong tickmarks, so they make a copy. Accountants get lots of comments when workpapers are reviewed, so they may make a copy. You see where this is going.

During peak hours, if there is only one copy machine in a given area of the office, there will be a long line of people waiting to copy things. It also gets worse if the office has the inconsiderate jerk who uses the copy machine as their printer even though they have a dedicated printer nearby.

If you want to gain an accountant’s friendship, you should tell them about the copy machine downstairs by the lunchroom that nobody ever uses. Just like that, an accountant owes you one and you will be on their good side.

Another tip, if you can’t find an accountant at their desk, you will find them at the copy machine. That or the fax machine.

#22 Confidential Records

126427_shredded_paperThough you’ll be hard pressed to find one who openly admits it, accountants love reading this stuff. Stock grants, board minutes, commission payouts, employee resumes, ADP wages, and so on. Accountants love reading confidential records when they think nobody is watching over them.

Accountants routinely handle sensitive data and have entered into confidentiality agreements to maintain privacy. Let’s move on from NDA discussion and get to the interesting stuff.

One form of confidential records is a public company’s financial statements before release. An accountant will know time-sensitive earnings and will also know how they compare to analyst targets. On financial websites, people have to guess and argue back and forth about a company’s earnings. The accountant doesn’t have to guess. The accountant simply looks down at paper and sees what will be released. This goes without saying, but accountants are not allowed to trade on insider info.

Another form of confidential records is an employee’s file. An accountant may perform procedures in the payroll process and go through the resume of someone they work with day to day and despise. This often leads to playing the game called, ‘How much does this person make?’ Accountants love reading this stuff and feeling privileged.

“You said you were a manager at XYZ firm?”

“Yeah, that was a while ago.”

“Well your resume says you only worked there for 2 years.”

“Wait, how do you -”

“Oh, um, just kidding, since I would never read up on that stuff. It’s personal and needs to remain private.”

“Right …”

With all the things that suck with the job (think 99%), reading confidential records is one of the few occasions where an accountant can say with a straight face that they don’t hate their job.

#21 Cat 5e Ethernet Cables

616959_networking_cable_4You might be an accountant if…

You carry around a document retention box filled with office supplies and tangled cat5 cables.

Accountants go through these cables like candy. They are easy to misplace and constantly ‘borrowed’ by other accountants never to be seen again. Cat 5e ethernet cables are the standard cables used for wired internet access. They’re ubiquitous yet hoarded by accountants who lose them in conference rooms, cubicles, and other workspaces.

Even though Wi-Fi, 3G, etc. exist, accountants remain tethered to the internet through the office staple, the cat5 cable. You can even think of the laptop and cat5 cable as the accountant’s ball and chain.

Besides fighting over cat5 cables, accountants must also battle it out for a much coveted spot in the router hub. When there are more accountants than available sockets, junior accountants have to sit in the conference room without internet. Not having access to the internet is extremely demoralizing for an accountant.

Cat5 cables also make an accountant’s job hazardous. The ethernet cables working together with power cords, wind around tables and past chairs to trip accountants in the tiny little conference room. Because of the dangerous work environment, accountants are forced to tip toe about the room taking great care not to knock over binders, drinks, or workpapers.

#20 The Pending List

541351_spreadsheet_3Accountants live and die by the pending list. It’s the heart of their operation and acts as mission control. For an accountant, to have to worry about version control (i.e. which pending list is the most recent) is a set back that will cost at least a day to catch up.

A pending list is, as the name implies, an organized list of items that remain pending or outstanding. A typical pending list may include columns for what is outstanding, which accounting process, who is responsible, and when it was asked for.

Pending lists might as well be mythical monsters since they are associated with a number of magical properties not limited to:

  • Invincibility
    Pending lists do not get shorter as the filing deadline approaches. You would expect them to get shorter as work is done, not longer and nastier as is the usual case.
  • X-Ray Power
    Tasks marked with highest urgency are the ones that everyone sees right through. Common sense dictates that an accountant has marked certain items *Important* for a good reason. Then again, if accountants had their way, every single task would be marked highest priority.
  • Invisibility
    The list may be sent out once a day, but nobody claims they’ve seen it. It is normal, in fact it is expected, to act as if you haven’t seen the latest pending list in your inbox. It’s also common to say, “What’s still outstanding? I thought I gave you everything.”
  • Shape Shift
    When updated by more than one person, the pending list takes on different, inaccurate versions. It’s hard to tell which version is the pending list’s true form. As different people update different Excel sheets in the same workbook, nobody has a complete picture of what is outstanding.
  • Night Vision
    Working on the pending list past midnight, accountants develop their own night vision. The pending list is the last thing done before an accountant can go home and is sent out after midnight.

The good news for you is that an accountant’s life is simple and predictable. If an accountant has received everything on the pending list, life is good. Since this is probably not the case (even after filing), an accountant’s life is miserable as it revolves around updating and requesting things on the list.

38119_business_card_holderIt’s true, accountants give out crappy, lame gifts. Accountants are not known for being especially creative people, unless it comes to cooking the books and then the MENSA scholars come out from all corners.

Just look at all the junk available out there. Coffee mugs emblazoned with Accountant? A t-shirt that says CPA? A mouse pad? Really? How do these companies even stay in business? People should be embarrassed twice – once for purchasing it and again for giving it.

Assuming an accountant even cares about the holiday (9 out of 10 times they are busy working), accountants may feel obligated to give their coworkers/friends a celebratory gift of some sort.

If it doesn’t involve alcohol, you can count on it being lame, unoriginal, and hopefully practical. Accountants think that giving trite gifts like desktop calendars, pens, or business card holders are respectful and thoughtful. Yes, it is respectful to give and receive gifts. However, to give something like the Old Farmer’s Almanac filled with useless trivia, that you can count on finding in the 80% off bargain bin a week into the new year, shows no thought.

What tasteless, lame gifts have you received from an accountant? Post your best/worst gifts in the comments.

#18 Instant Messaging

gtalk-ss1

When it comes to sending IMs instead of working, there is no match for an accountant. Accountants spend most hours in their day in front of laptops staring at excel, outlook, and instant messenger.

An amazing thing about how instant messaging works: the more explicitly company-banned instant messaging programs are, the more popular the programs become.

Accountants use MSN/Yahoo, AIM, Gtalk, and company provided programs (like Sametime and Office Communicator). These programs, as you are aware, allow one person to chat in real-time with another person or groups of people. In limited cases, accountants will constantly use e-mail back in forth in place of instant messaging. Note: that e-mail is as good of a timesink as instant messaging.

You may think instant messaging is a trivial skill, but accountants always have to take it to the next level. While dealing with others, working on memos, and reviewing workpapers, accountants also have to keep up to date on office gossip and the latest on youtube. Instant messaging allows them to stay current on the latter two.

A good accomplice of instant messaging is the privacy screen. Accountants will go to great lengths to sit with their laptop screen facing a certain direction of the room and use a privacy screen. All this careful planning allows them to surf the web and send IMs all day undetected.

#17 Studying for the Exam

olinto_cpaStudying for the CPA exam is an important step in any young accountant’s life. It demonstrates strength of will to put up with and study excessively dull accounting concepts. It shows that they are ready to accept the title of CPA and manage the painful, dream-shattering experience that is everyday at work.

The exam has four key exams and other requirements vary state by state. BEC, FAR, REG, and AUD are the four key sections to pass.

There exist countless study programs and materials for candidates. One program, Becker CPA, often subjects its students to awkward innuendo, including pink dresses and steroids. Maybe they figured exam candidates would better retain material questioning the instructor’s personal taste rather than what DR * CR * IR equals.

If you were to talk to recent (1-3 years) college graduates who work in public accounting, the odds are 95% in your favor that they are currently studying for the CPA exam. You can use to this your advantage by asking them what course they are using, which section they are studying for, and how they think they did on the last test.

The answers for questions #1 & #2 vary, but you can be assured that the #3 is a resounding, epic fail.

(Full disclosure: this author used Becker but is not endorsing any of the available courses to candidates.)

Sunday, February 15th, 2009: Get ready to make the workplace an even more inappropriate place to work.

From the creator,

The Day-After-Valentine’s is the day we observe, and show due reverence to the dirtiest, witless-est, and all around unclassiest comeback since, “Your Mom.” February 15th is the day to tell your friends, “That’s What She Said.”

This Sunday is the 3rd annual, international “That’s What She Said” Day, and the past couple years have been successful, innuendo-filled, highly offensive events.

Working on a Sunday? That’s crazy, you say? Well, sadly, you don’t know accountants during busy season very well.

The good news is that this is a holiday that needs no explanation, and everyone can participate in. Check out the link below for “That’s What She Said” in 73 different languages:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=45906271987
(Note: facebook login required)
That's What She Said by xkcd.com

#16 Claiming Expenses

708717_cards_1As a professional pastime, accountants are experts at claiming expenses. This practice has also been called expensing it, charging it, running it through, and so on. Accountants call it whatever they want since it’s a perk of the job, though the IRS doesn’t need to know that.

Here’s how it works:
1.) Buy something possibly work related
2.) Claim it as an incurred, necessary expense
3.) Profit!

Accountants, as you can imagine, have claimed or tried to claim pretty much everything over the history of time. Legitimate claims include meals, mileage, office supplies, airline tickets, recruiting, etc.

Accountants are so good at this pastime of theirs that everything gets upgraded and overspent. Meals become full course feasts with enough extras to take home for days. Airline tickets involve upgraded seats and extra luggage. Recruiting is a special circumstance since there is no limit to spending and any fixed “budget” is merely a suggestion. Recruiting says $50 per person and the accountant knocked the bill out of the ballpark? No problem.

Note that the above examples are only a fraction of what gets run through and claimed as expenses. There is no limit really to what qualifies. Cell phone data plans, professional publications, rental car upgrades, and bar tabs are only the tip of the iceberg for claimed expenses.

Of course in this economy, all companies are trying to reduce costs and survive. The reality is that companies with big egos need to maintain an expensive image to recruit future accountants, who work and claim outrageous expenses.

All you need to know is that if an accountant offers to “run it through” during your lunch, you should feel free to order whatever you want and maybe the dessert as well. The accountant won’t care, you don’t care, and the Company paying for it doesn’t care since it’s immaterial.

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