Sunday, December 31, 2006

The "Nobody Cares" Manifesto For Accountants

With thanks to Dennis Howlett:

* It's important to remember debits are on the left and credits on the right - nobody cares. Probably because the system was invented in 1494 and hasn't changed since.

* We work hard to earn letters behind our names - nobody cares. Importance isn't derived from academic achievement but what you do for others.

* ROI is an important concept - nobody cares. ROI calculations are something you do when you really don't want to help your client but to demonstrate to him/her how important you are. For which read 2.

* It's important to keep good records - nobody cares. Clients aren't in business to be administrators. If you can't figure out how to help clients then expect to be outsourced. Probably the day after tomorrow.

* A tidy office implies a tidy mind - nobody cares. A tidy mind is often compartmentalised to the point of tunnel vision. You don't see tidy at the edge of innovation. Which is where you should be when your clients come up with great ideas.

* Professionals should always wear top quality suits - nobody cares. How you look may be important if your name's Anina but it sure as heck doesn't matter when you're traipsing around a pig farm. You do that occasionally don't you?

* Your professional status among the community demonstrates integrity - nobody believes you. Professional status is over-rated. Those schmuks from KPMG in court on fraud charges sorted that one out once and for all.

* Adding value is the most important thing you have to do - nobody believes you. Clients can read a 1,000 websites and see that same vacuuous statement. Stuff your website with client stories, preferably written by clients and not some PR outfit.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Vocational Guidance Counsellor Sketch

This is the classic Monty Python sketch about a Mr Anchovy who wanted career guidance.

Mr Anchovy was a chartered accountant who wanted to be a lion tamer but was recommended instead to stick with accountancy.

Why? Well – and I quote - because he was an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful.

And, concluded the report, whereas in most professions these would be considerable drawbacks, in chartered accountancy they are a positive boon.

This sketch was first broadcast on 21 Decemeber 1969 as part of episode 10 of the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Michael Palin played Mr Anchovy and John Cleese was the Vocational Guidance Counsellor.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Parrots in the office

An accountant goes into a pet shop to buy a parrot.
The shop owner shows him three identical parrots on a perch and says, "The parrot on the left costs £500."

"Why does that parrot cost so much?" asks the accountant.
"Well," replies the owner, "it knows how to do complex audits."

"How much does the middle parrot cost?" asks the accountant.
"That one costs £1,000 because it can do everything the first one can do plus it knows how to prepare financial forecasts".

The startled accountant asks about the third parrot, to be told it costs £4,000. Needless to say, this begs the question, "What can it do?"
To which the owner replies "To be honest, I've never seen him do a darn thing, but the other two say he's their Senior Partner."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who does what and why?

A newly qualified accountant in one of the larger firms was having a celebratory drink with some of the partners in his firm.

They were encouraging him to take an interest in professional affairs - as they all did.

''What do you do,'' he asked. One said he was on the local branch committee, another chaired a tax discussion group, a third was a practice support member.

The oldest partner was unusually coy and then announced that his involvement in professional affairs was limited to making regular appearances in disciplinary hearings after clients complained about his work. One of his fellow partners was quite new to the firm and was astonished to hear this. Later the new parter asked if what he'd heard was really true, that the older partner made regular appearances in disciplinary hearings after clients complained about his work. ''Oh no'', came the reply, ''The senior partner's a member of the Urgent Issues Task Force; he's just too embarrassed to admit it!"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Auditors and dogs

The role of the company auditor is commonly misunderstood.
To help clarify the the limited responsibilities of auditors reference is often made to the immortal words of Lord Justice Stopes in the Kingston Cotton Mill case: "The auditor is a watchdog not a bloodhound".

Many yeras ago this phrase was famously corrupted by an aspiring young accountancy student. During an examination where he felt under significant time pressure he wrote in evident frustration: "The auditor is a bulldog, not a bloody greyhound".

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I’m Allan – I’m an accountant

Over ten years ago I met Allan Kutner. Allan was a city-based Chartered Accountant who told a wonderful story about his early years. I encouraged him to send it in to Accountancy Age who duly printed extracts in their ‘Taking Stock’ back cover feature. I recently traced a copy that I must have retained over the years and am delighted to be able to record it on this blog for posterity:

Allan’s hope was that his cautionary tale would help others to overcome the stigma and guilt that society instils in accountants.

After exhibiting an early obsession with maths Allan says that he started going up the city and hanging round Threadneedle Street. “I’d go upto business men and ask if they wanted an audit” he writes. “At first they would just look at me disgustedly and rush off. But gradually some would stop and ask ‘how much?’. I would tell them – for a full audit and typed report, £250. But if they just wanted an interim and handwritten report, I’d do it for £50.”

One thing led to another and soon Allan was asked to do a full corporation tax computation, including group relief. “I’d heard of people doing that sort of thing ended up in institutions! I needed help – and fast.”

“I’d heard of an institution that helped people like me. I went a long to a meeting of the English ICA. They got me off the backstreet accounting and helped me to lead a decent life. It’s thanks to them I reformed.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tony Hancock - The Income tax demand

Here's a link to a sound file of the half hour radio episode first aired fifty years ago on 4 November 1956.

Tony Hancock receives a tax demand for £14 12s 3d re ten years' back tax. He refuses to pay as that represents 50% of his income over the period! (Even fifty years ago this would have been a tiny amount!) so he goes to see the Inspector - played by Kenneth Williams.

The inspector tells Hancock that most people ignore his letters. Once they've been ignored twice he ignores the taxpayers! He also recommends that Hancock should go to see a Chartered Accountant "you'll probably get away with it then!". Hancock takes his advice but the accountant turns out to be a crooked Sid James and mayhem ensues.

I am indebted to Chris Chadburn for telling me about this.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reflections on the way people prepare their tax returns

Have you ever wondered why
-people are quick to brag about their income, but refuse to list it all on their SA tax return?
-people refuse to drop a pound in the Salvation Army box, but are quick to list significant -miscellaneous cash donations when completing their Income tax returns.
-people refuse to share their age until they get an extra income tax deduction.
-someone refuses to discuss their weight - until they think that the cost of dieting can be considered a medical deduction.
- child support is such a contentious issue when everyone wants to claim everyone they ever knew as a dependant.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Don't tell the joke police

The Colin cartoon strip by Higgins in Accountancy Age today has a good/bad joke (depending upon your point of view). In essence:

So, if you were going to pull a carousel fraud, you'd start a company importing tribal art and keep-fit equipment. Why?

Well tribal art is a growth market and keep-fit ket sells all year round.

And what would you call such a business?

How about "Customs and Exercise"?!

You can access Colin cartoons on the Accountancy Age blog.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Collective noun for tax inspectors

A bunch of bastards

(Allegedly coined by a tax inspector!)

This follows on from an earlier post containing collective nouns for accountants

Sunday, September 24, 2006

3 greatest lies (well, one version of the joke anyway)

The 3 greatest lies:
  1. The cheque is in the post;
  2. Of course I'll still love you in the morning;
  3. I'm an accountant, I'm here to help you.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

All too common?

A businessman has been learning to be a balloonist and takes his first solo flight. Unfortunately the wind gets up, he is blown off course and is forced to land. He is in a paddock close to a road but has no idea where he is. He sees a car coming along the road and hails it.

The driver gets out and the balloonist says, "Excuse me but can you tell me where I am?"

"Yes, of course", says the motorist. "You have just landed in your balloon and with this wind you have obviously been blown off course. You are in the top paddock on Steve Pringle's farm, 8 miles from Stonehenge. Steve ploughed the field last week and sowed barley seeds. Also, there's a bull in the paddock. It is behind you and about to attack you."

At that moment the bull reaches the balloonist and tosses him over the fence. Luckily he is unhurt. He gets up, dusts himself off and says to the motorist, "I see you're an accountant".

"Good Grief", says the other man, "you're right. How did you know that?"

"I employ accountants", says the balloonist. "The information you gave me was detailed, precise and accurate. Most of it was useless and it arrived far too late to be of any help."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes...

This true story may only make sense if you know me, but it's worth recording anyway.

Many years ago when my nephew Zach was about 8 years old he told his mother that when he grew up he wanted to be like uncle Mark.

"An accountant?" his mother asked , a little incredulous that little Zach could be interested in the subject at such a young age. What could I have done to inspire this attraction to the profession she wondered.

Zach's reply was priceless. "Oh," he said, "Is that what you call someone who does magic tricks?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We don't pay staff the National Minimum Wage (NMW)

HMRC recently published a top 10 of some of the more unusual or outlandish reasons given to its enforcement teams.

The top ten worst excuses for not paying the minimum wage are:

10. I only took him on as a favour
9. The workers can't speak English
8. He's over 65, so the national minimum wage doesn't apply
7. She's on benefits - if you add those to her pay, it totals the NMW
6. They can't cope on their own and it's more than they would get in their own country
5. He's disabled
4. I didn't think it applied to small employers
3. I didn't think the workers were worth NMW
2. But she only wanted £3 an hour
1. He doesn't deserve it - he's a total waste of space

Monday, September 04, 2006

3 envelopes

A new senior partner was about to be appointed at a large accountancy firm. His predecessor met with him privately and presented him with three large numbered envelopes. “Keep these in your desk drawer and open them in order as and when you run up against a problem you don’t think you can solve,” he said.

Things went along pretty smoothly, but after six months, a number of key partners resigned and the new senior partner started to take some flak. At his wits end, he remembered the envelopes. He went to the drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.” The new senior partner called a Partners meeting and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous senior partner.

About a year later, the firm was again experiencing some problems. Having learned from his previous experience, the senior partner quickly opened the second envelope. The message read, “Blame your management committee.” This he did and a couple of members of the committee duly stood down and were replaced. The firm’s fortunes quickly started to improve again.

After a while however the firm was once again experiencing problems. The senior partner went to his desk and removed the third envelope. The message inside read, “Prepare three envelopes.”

Friday, August 18, 2006

Monty Python's accountancy shanty

Here are the two key verses followed by the whole song with the verses in the middle.
I've also included a link so that you can hear the song in all it's original glory. Click here.

It's fun to charter an accountant
And sail the wide accountancy,
To find, explore the funds offshore
And skirt the shoals of bankruptcy!

It can be manly in insurance.
We'll up your premium semi-annually.
It's all tax deductible.
We're fairly incorruptible,
We're sailing on the wide accountancy!

Full speed ahead, Mr. Cohen!

Up, up, up your premium. Up, up, up your premium.
Scribble away!
Up, up, up your premium.
And balance the books.
Up, up, up your premium.
Scribble away!
Up, up, up your premium.
But manage the books.
Up, up, up.

It's fun to charter an accountant
And sail the wide accountancy,
To find, explore the funds offshore
And skirt the shoals of bankruptcy!

It can be manly in insurance.
We'll up your premium semi-annually.
It's all tax deductible.
We're fairly incorruptible,
We're sailing on the wide accountancy!

Oh, this is fun, Mr. Cohen!
Sail away!...
Up, up, up...
Fetch me another exotic salute. To port! Bring her port to shell out! And the medium guys shell out to port! Balance the books! Bring me another small shellfish, Mr. Cohen...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Accountants in films

These films featured accountants - not all of them were boring either!
  • The Producers - Zero Mostel ropes accountant Gene Wilder into collaborating with him on a scheme to rip off old ladies. In the remake Nathan Lane persuades Matthew Broderick to abandon his accountancy career in favour of becoming a theatrical producer.
  • Ghostbusters - Rick Moranis is an accountant who, although possessed by evil spirits, asks who does monstrous Sigourney Weaver's tax return.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums - Danny Glover plays accountant Henry Sherman, Angelica Huston's dependable second husband.
  • The Closet - French superstar Daniel Autueil plays an accountant who pretends to be gay to keep his job in a condom factory.
  • Dave - Charles Grodin plays the president's accountant and solves the budget deficit in one overnight session, leaving the White House at dawn in his prudent small car.
  • Midnight Run - Charles Grodin again. Here he plays an accountant who steals from the rich and gives to the poor . Robert De Niro tracks him down when Grodin jumps bail.
  • Schindler's List - Ben Kingsley's bespectacled accountant helps save lives.
  • Erotica - the lead character is a bearded and gentlemanly accountant who gets increasingly hung up on a sneaky lap dancer whom he is forbidden to touch.
  • Jurassic Park - a weasel accountant spurns Jeff Goldblum's advice and gets devoured by a dinosaur.
  • Shedevil - Ed Begley Jr plays a sleazeball accountant upon whom Rosanne Barr wreaks a hideous revenge.
  • The Untouchables - Charles Martin Smith plays accountant Oscar Wallace and conceives the idea of nabbing Al Capone for tax evasion.
  • Hitch - Kevin James plays tax accountant Albert Brennaman, who woos and wins Amber Valletta just by being his booty-shaking, inhaler-snorting, passionate self.
  • Shallow Grave - Christopher Eccleston played chartered accountant David Stephens who gets drawn into the grisly goings-on in a shared Edinburgh flat.
  • The Apartment - Jack Lemmon's character CC Baxter introduces himself: "I work on the 19th floor. Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, desk number 861."
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Danny Kaye stars as a day-dreaming beancounter.
  • The Sea Change - Sean Chapman played a 'handsome, dashing and funny KPMG accountant named Rupert Granger.'
  • Local hero - Denis Lawson plays Gordon Urquhart, the hotel proprietor who is also the local accountant trusted to meet with the locals on behalf of a Texas oil company that wants to purchase the Scottish fishing village. .

Saturday, August 12, 2006

When something needs fixing...

...a layman knows he has to kick it;
an amateur knows where to kick it;
a professional knows how hard.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Finance Director type

How can you tell when the Chief Accountant is getting soft?

When he actually listens to Marketing before saying "No".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An acccountant and his frog

An accountant was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess". He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week". The accountant took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket.

The frog then cried out, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I'll stay with you and do ANYTHING you want." Again the accountant took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket. Finally, the frog asked, "What is the matter? I've told you I'm a beautiful princess, that I'll stay with you and do anything you want. Why won't you kiss me?" The accountant said, "Look I'm an accountant. I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog, now that's cool."