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#15 Immaterial

1136586_case_with_dollars_3If accountants had their way, everything would be immaterial.

“50% of gross assets? Immaterial!”

“Oh, it’s only a few hundred million off? Totally immaterial.”

Material, roughly speaking, means that an omission or misstatement of the data could potentially influence the decision of an end user. To say something is immaterial is to say that it is not material and would likely not matter to end users (e.g. banks, investors, government, etc).

Accountants, in public or industry, are grateful for this concept of declaring things immaterial. To individuals such as you and I, $10,000 misplaced would be A VERY BIG DEAL. However to accountants, it is trivial to wave away problems with large dollar amounts as immaterial and move on with their lives.

Does a company that has billions in assets really care if $10,000 is missing? Probably not. This is one of the benefits of accounting where accountants, who would be devastated if $20 was missing from their own pockets, absolutely could not care less if $20M won’t reconcile at a large corporation.

It’s not necessary to go into detail how accountants calculate materiality in this post, but just be aware that an accountant’s quality of life is directly correlated to the threshold of which things are considered immaterial.

#14 The Office

theofficebannerThe Office is a TV sitcom documenting the exciting, drama-filled lives of office employees in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Office showcases a paper sales company with a clueless boss, Michael Scott. In order to keep the show entertaining, accounting treatment is rarely discussed and the accountants (Angela, Kevin, and Oscar) are often targets of the plot.

You will find The Office among the most recorded programs on an accountant’s Tivo (or DVR). This is so that after working a long day, accountants can come home and watch TV at odd hours of the night. If you’ve ever been around accountants during Halloween, you already know that The Office is a popular costume choice.

The Office not only sets an excellent example for office behavior; it is easily relatable for accountants. Awkward situations, coworker pranks, and inappropriate conversations all remind them of what it feels like everyday to show up to work.

If you ever need to engage an accountant in some small talk, you should talk about The Office. This cannot go wrong since this will allow them to either 1.) incessantly quote their favorite scenes or 2.) confess a desire to watch the latest episode. In either situation, your accountant friend will see that you have amazing taste and respect you.

A popular show gag of The Office is to shout “That’s what she said!” after something vaguely inappropriate has been said. Although SAL tried to sneak this joke into this post, it just would not fit anywhere even though we tried so many different positions.

acronymsFrom GAAP to GAAS, CPA to CPE, and AICPA to PCAOB, accountants feel the need to shoehorn as many acronyms as possible throughout their workpapers and professional lives. While accountants are busy trying to save the world, the fact remains that accountants are incredibly lazy people.

Acronyms, as you are well aware, are words formed from letters in each word. For example, “w/o/m/e” stands for without material error. When accountants need to state clearly on each workpaper (read: write the same thing twenty times) what has been done, they rely on tickmarks and acronyms.

Across all industries of practice, accountants have an endless alphabet soup of acronyms to pick from. Not only that, but new acronyms are created each day to ensure accounting remains undecipherable to the masses. This also helps maintain the steep learning curve for all newcomers.

Instead of StuffAccountantsLike listing acronyms specific to one office, we want to encourage you to post your favorite acronyms in the comments.

#12 Training

fltrainingTraining is important to accountants, but not for the reasons typically listed. Keeping up to date on the latest accounting standards, improving soft skills, utilizing new software – nobody cares. All the real learning is done on the job anyways.

Trainings are the perfect time to see coworkers, go out, and not sleep. People go to restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping centers, and do whatever as long as it doesn’t involve studying classroom materials. Accountants need to celebrate getting through a day of boring courses with copious amounts of alcohol.

When accountants need to travel for a two week training session, it is acknowledged by everyone that those two weeks will be filled with sleep deprivation, coffee, and alcohol. Accountants become so sleep deprived at training that it is a miracle they can stay awake at all during the actual training parts.

When would be a good time to schedule mandatory trainings? Popular solutions in practice have been during busy season, two days before the filing deadline, or summertime.

Trainings vary of course and can be for any purpose. Many trainings help fulfill CPE and others are just as good time wasters. There are accountants who spend most of their time attending trainings and teaching them to others.

As boring and useless as training really is (since accountants learn by doing), training is the perfect opportunity to catch up with coworkers and get completely trashed.

#11 Tickmarks (and Legends)

tickmarklegendNow, we have the opportunity to discuss accounting fundamentals. Forget everything you thought you knew about accountants: debits, credits, even addition and subtraction. None of that actually matters in practice. Accountants rely on Tickmarks and equally, if not more important, Tickmark Legends, to accomplish anything. Accountants have to take a pen that dollar stores would be embarrassed to sell and use it to mark up workpapers into a frenzy of ink to signify work was performed. Note that overachieving accountants make Tickmarks in Excel or Word.

Tickmarks are simply arbitrary symbols to represent work performed. Examples range from (1), (2), to ###, @, %, and *. There is no limit to what can be used as a tickmark. Generally the more arbitrary and confusing, the better, since it allows an accountant to express their individuality and demonstrate that they spent 2 hours scribbling around the edges. People have even been known to take the letters W, T, and F and “cleverly” (by which I mean not clever at all) arrange them into a tickmark.

Tickmark Legends are the index or summary of all the tickmarks used on those workpapers. There is no mystery here, and tickmarks would be useless without the prerequisite legend.

You will find in your experiences working with accountants that more senior accountants have developed increasingly convoluted and arbitrary tickmarks that they must use on every document. Failure to include these tickmarks may incur the wrath of the PCAOB or something like that.

If you are trying to understand an accountant, how they use tickmarks says a lot about their character. Do they meticulously use the same tickmarks in a systematic way to make it clear to an independent third party what has been performed? Or are they illegible chicken scratches that are inconsistent and make no sense at all? Trust me when I say that you DO NOT want to work with an accountant who does not have a good tickmark system in place. An accountant who cannot properly tickmark is not an accountant in any sense of that title, period.

#10 Document Retention Boxes

ironmountainboxA fashion staple for accountants is the document retention box. You will find document retention boxes all over the place at offices and homes of accountants. Nothing says “I have lots of work to do” as clearly as stacks of boxes filled with binders, workpapers, and office supplies.

Document retention boxes help meet the requirements of mandatory storage. Accountants may be required to keep documents for seven years. An example of a popular, highly fashionable document retention box is the Iron Mountain box. It is always in style, and you can tell who is the most popular simply by who has the most boxes.

Bonus tip: Accountants may refer to document retention boxes as CYA boxes. While people may tell you CYA stands for things like Current Year Audit or CompanY Accounting, don’t be fooled. CYA actually stands for Cover Your Ass. When in doubt what is required to be retained, accountants pretty much toss everything into CYA boxes.

school_bus

For accountants, getting thrown under the bus ranks somewhere on the scale between daily and weekly. If an accountant is not currently being thrown under the bus, you can rest assured that: 1.) they will soon be under the bus or 2.) they are actively throwing other people under a bus. This is easy for you to remember since there are no exceptions.

Throwing someone under the bus means to blame somebody else and have them take the fall. It is important to note that this does not mean the person being blamed actually did anything wrong. Also, people generally throw the people working for them under the bus, and not the other way around (though it does happen).

Many problems that accountants have (work is incomplete, budget is catastrophically blown, hatred towards fellow officemates, etc.) are addressed by throwing people under the bus. It is important to note here that this doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Some managers have a reputation for throwing people under the bus, which they’ve earned for good reason.

What can you take away form this lesson about accountants? When working with accountants, you will get thrown under the bus for no good reason and probably often. So if you can’t avoid working with accountants, you should make sure that you are the person in-charge, and that way you can opt to throw or not throw your team under the bus.

#8 Eating Hours

cakeWhile accountants are known workaholics, the time charged for work doesn’t reflect this if they are in public accounting. While an accountant may routinely work 12 hour plus days, they may only charge 9 hours. This is known as eating hours and is done to maintain the illusion of efficiency.

Let’s be clear that eating hours is wrong and may be illegal. Accountants, like many professions, are under immense amounts of pressure due to time and money. Specifically, there is not enough time nor money. Accountants pride themselves on their work and are given a small fraction of the time needed to do a proper job.

How does everything work with a budget of 4 hours and a realistic timeline requiring 16 hours? Answer: eating hours. It allows accountants to overwork and appear to only have worked a few hours. The extra time spent working is simply ignored as if it never occurred. This maintains the illusion of efficiency.

As one of the foundations of public accounting, eating hours will not go away anytime soon. It’s simply not possible when you are given 8 hours for equity (at a public company, which includes memos, testwork, and clearing comments) to stay within the budget. As each quarter/year/fiscal cycle passes, the alloted time for budgets manages to further shrink.

#7 Post-It Flags

postit218029Among office supplies frequently used range from the everyday pen and paper to more specialized tools like the Post-It Flag. These flags are thin strips of adhesives used to denote special pages. Accountants depend on post-it flags and will easily go through decks upon decks of flags to remind themselves that there is still lots of work to be done.

Post-it flags run the gamut of colors and are beloved by accountants for their ability to blanket binders of workpapers so that they more closely resembles the NBC peacock than books of financial record. Flags are different from regular post-its in that their use is much more limited to – as their name implies – flagging pages of interest rather than writing out notes.

As with everything an accountant does, a hierarchy or system of post-it flag colors needs to be established. This is important once again because it allows accountants to have a false sense of choice and being able to make a difference.

Not only the color, but the position of the flag is also crucial. Accountants cannot be expected to get work done with post-it flags placed on the wrong corner.

#6 Workpaper References

bindersAlong with indexes, leadsheets, and tickmark legends (all stuff for future posts), accountants believe in workpaper references. Workpaper references are an important part of an accountant’s system and much care is given to setup the appropriate structure. Having a good setup can reduce the number of binders and help accountants locate work faster.

Workpaper references are the unique identifier for each document (e.g. FR-1). Often each subsection or page will have a different workpaper reference. Examples include having a section of workpapers be ‘A’ and subsections as A-10, A-50, A-100, and so on.

Accountants cannot consider work to have been done without putting a workpaper reference on it. Typically, signoff and dates are also attached. As workpaper references are extremely important to accountants, accountants have highly developed systems of workpaper references and are proud of their own unique setup, which was basically copied from preceding accountants. These workpaper reference systems, while intended to be straightforward, often change over time, and you will frequently find white out where workpaper references reside.

Accountants won’t refer to a workpaper with a name that makes sense (e.g. AP Reconciliation); instead they must use an ambiguous workpaper reference (e.g. G-30.2). If you were to eavesdrop on accountants, half of the conversations would involve ‘Are you sure that’s the right workpaper reference?’

Workpaper references are important to accountants because it demonstrates that there is order to the chaos that typically engulfs the profession. It allows accountants to organize information in an orderly fashion and be creative in their naming scheme (e.g. use ‘Q2C’ instead of Quote to Cash).

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