No More Excuses Follow-up – On Becoming an Auditor

I received a nice note in the mail from Dr. Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex in the UK. Professor Sikka writes,

“I have recently published a paper that might interest you. The full title is:

“Professionalising Claims and The State of UK Professional Accountancy Education: Some Evidence”,
Accounting Education, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2007, pp. 3-21.

The paper primarily refers to the UK professional accountancy education and may well be relevant to the US. I have always argued that Enron, WorldCom etc start in the classroom and that accountancy education is generally poor. It produces monolinguals in an increasingly multilingual world. Accountants who are greyhounds at rules but slow-caches for any social analysis and relevance.”

Well, Professor, I couldn’t agree more!

The educational process for business/accounting majors, especially at the undergraduate level, is lacking in an emphasis on critical thinking skills and what I would call a “global view”. This means, the schools are not enabling the development of an understanding of the dependencies and interrelationships between communities, industries, various actors in the markets, as well as the fact that the world is big and complex and goes beyond your home state and home country.

I was reminded of this recently when going back to look at my own University transcript. I didn’t have a strong desire to be an accountant when I entered the University. I had wanted to be a lawyer. I switched before starting my first year due to pressure from high school teachers to study something, “that can give you a job.” Fortunately, due to testing out of some entry level courses, I was able to supplement the mainly vocational-style accounting curriculum with other humanities and liberal arts courses and still be able to graduate in four years.

If I hadn’t I would have had a very plain vanilla, rote-style college experience, albeit a rigorous one grounded in quantitative methods. But the accounting classes were drudgery. I almost switched to Finance in the middle because the jobs they were describing sounded much sexier. But as the oldest of six children my job was to finish as quickly as possible, get out and get a job, so I could make room in my parents’ budget for all that followed me.

Yes, this was twenty-plus years ago, but looking at the graduates that are coming out today, I feel that this focus on heads-down rote learning has gotten worse. My former firm hires only the best and brightest for their internships (the golden ticket that 99% of the time leads to a full time job the following year.) They often start out as a bright, shiny Cathy or Elizabeth but they all seem to turn out eventually to be a white guy named Bob, John, Greg or Bill who has a hard time cracking a natural smile…

To be allowed a spot on the interview schedule, the student must have a 3.5 to 3.75 out of 4.0 grade point average from one of the only dozen or so schools that are deemed good enough to produce qualified graduates. Out of that list, recruiters select only those with additional accounting club officer roles, charitable activities and other overall “well-roundedness” indicators. But these “well-roundedness” indicators are a cliché. It’s like they’re drowning but they’re still looking for a description of water. Someone who had to work to put themselves through a local school and lived at home would have a hard time making the cut.

I saw very few interns last summer that owned a valid passport. I saw very few that had done much in the way of enjoying the arts, literary, or other cultural activities of their large universities. I saw many who were not very comfortable living in a large city on their own for the summer and usually stayed with their parents. I saw almost all who were obsessed with not taking any time out or having any bump in the road to accomplishing the single-minded goal of obtaining the internship and obtaining the job the next year (or being accepted for graduate school), but then had no clue what was next.

They usually had no idea how they wanted to live their life once they arrived. They had their eye on the prize which is joining the firm and the inevitable climbing of the ladder to make partner. They had very few other interests or conversational topics, save the occasional discussion of a vague boyfriend or girlfriend who they might marry maybe when they are 27-28 or so. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the requirements have been increased for credit hours needed to qualify take the certified public accounting exam, so most need at least five years now to obtain their degree. The emotional and financial burden is large for many students and yet this additional time and money can not be devoted to getting a fuller, richer educational experience instead.