From re: The Auditors’ Mailbag: A Selected Sample

I’m getting more mail now than ever before.  Word has gotten out that I will answer personally via email, on the phone, or in person if you like.  In the last three years – this blog’s third year anniversary was October 12th – the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same.  I’ve been writing about cuts and reductions in force at the firms the whole time. I’ve been writing about litigation the whole time.  I’ve been surprised and pleased at the amount of content the firms inadvertently provide every day given their stunts, scandals, silly statements and solipsistic attitude about anyone and anything outside their glass and stainless steel structures.

Some stories have been going on  longer than I have been writing.  Some were completely unexpected.  Some are better than fiction. Some were regrettably predictable.  But in the end, the firms provide more content than I can write about each week and I’ve welcomed new bloggers to the arena to add snark and bite to the mix.

Some of the people who were the first to write me are still writing me, except many of them are no longer working at the firms.  Some of those who disagreed with me at first and called those who were getting cut “losers who couldn’t cut it” are now on the receiving end of the hatchet job and changing their tune.  And others are still disagreeing with me although, in most cases, more conversationally and diplomatically.

Some of those who wrote to me as students are now working at the firms and fearing for their jobs. Others who were on their way out or already on to the next phase of their lives when I started writing can look back at that time and remember a much different, much better time.  Unfortunately, scary things always appear farther away when viewed through the rear view mirror.  

I’d like to give you a small sampling of my mail and my comments. Please keep the cards and letters coming.


Dear Francine:

I just wanted to ask if you have seen any information indicating that passing the CPA exams actually strengthen the position of staff (3 years or less) at big four firms.  I ask because as the economy leaves more of us unassigned, I would expect more people to become certified, but some people do better at it than others.  It seems to me that given the emphasis placed on certification by the firms, that it would actually matter.  I have heard from friends at work who feel that not having passed CPA exams puts them in a bad situation and saw a similar post on your site.   Although I don’t wish for particular people to be let go, I am convinced that (other things being equal) a staff member not scheduled, who has not taken/passed any exams, should be in a worse position than one who is scheduled.  (I also should tell you that at least one of the firms reduces employee salaries of those who do not sit all exam sections within a fiscal year.)

Dear Mr. CPA Candidate,

It must be said that to pass the certification exam, as quickly as possible and as well as possible, is always better, if not for your future within the firm than for your future in the future.  I have said and so have many others many times:  The CPA, or CA or whatever professional designation is applicable in your country, is the best thing you can do for yourself if you want to stay in the finance/accounting/audit profession. Even if you eventually become a freelance writer, paid speaker, and top secret consultant to legal stars (like me!) it’s worth it to pass the exams even if you are never licensed or never practice. It’s an accomplishment no one can ever take away from you and adds a credential that is unique and valuable.

I would suspect that any staff member who is not only not scheduled but who is not making a concerted effort to pass their exams as expeditiously and successfully as possible will be looked upon as a non-productive asset. Even if the firm has no work for you and has no patience to wait for you to pass, just looking at a bored frown every day is enough to decide that they’d be better off sending you on your way.  And there’s always the chance that if you’re busy studying and taking the exams you can’t be found to be cut. Although I have heard that in Canada some firms got really lousy and cut staff the day they walked in after completing their UFE exam.  

How tacky.

I suppose that if you’re paid a bonus for joining plus given the incentive of a bonus for passing the exam, it’s enough to make a firm think you would be in a hurry to pass the exams.  They are in a hurry to have you qualified, for sure.  So if you are lazy and lackadaisical about it with no reasonable explanation such as a life threatening illness or 150% utilization, I suspect that a lower salary is the least of the punishments they might inflict.  However, the legality of lowering your salary if this was not written in to your contract may be questionable in some jurisdictions.  I would check on that.


Dear Ms. McKenna:

I have heard that most firms no longer sponsor international students – including the ones that previously did. Is there a logic to this?  Is there a logic to letting such employees (already employed) go?  Is it happening?

Dear Mr. Seeker of Logic:

I would be surprised to hear that offers to visa holders are anywhere near the numbers in previous years. These students were warm bodies that could fill seats and perform Sarbanes-Oxley work as a kind of “indentured servant,” beholden to the firms for their jobs and the privilege to stay in the host country after graduation.  I started hearing about significant cuts first at Deloitte and the first cut were the visa holders in early 2007.  The phenomenon is not limited to the US as the UK firms accepted many foreign students from Asia, for example, after they had attended UK universities.

The cuts and ruthlessness of the firms have gotten worse each month.  I’ve seen secondments sent back, others who moved to US or UK as permanent transfers cut by their firm with no thought as to how they would get back or get their old jobs back.  And I even heard that all of the Bearing Point visa holders that originally thought they were going to PwC had their offers rescinded.  Most of those were from Latin America and India.

The only logic associated with these moves is the one that says cutting costs to retain partner payouts above all else is the most important thing.  It costs money and takes time to sponsor a foreign student or an expatriate.  It costs money and takes time to help them with tax issues and relocation and family complications.  The upside is a larger pool of talent to draw from, development oppportunties for professionals on both sides of the borders, and encouragement of diversity and a global world view.  

But these are all longer term goals and objectives.  The global audit firms are in a short-term, “do the most expedient thing” mode. Reputation, brand, hard feelings, family hardship and loss of already trained talent is not at the forefront of their thinking.  

HR and leadership are managing by spreadsheet. Costs asociated with the rows on the spreadsheets are plugged in (the rows are people, you see) and the costs sliced, diced, grouped together and summed up until today’s cost savings goals are met.  Then those rows are lopped off the spreadsheet, moving others to the bottom (or top) as the case may be.  Until the next round is needed…


Dear Fran,

Hard to believe how long we’ve been talking.  Is it almost three years? Time flies since we saw each other last in Chicago.

As you can see below, I left Deloitte.  It’s a long story, but you know that I was looking to leave and had been looking for a while.  Long-short; I had a client throw me under the bus, creating a number of false allegations against me.  Sure, Deloitte performed an “investigation”, sending a superior who disliked me out to interview the client. They interviewed the client and a few other “independent” people such as a family member of the client, a subordinate of the client who was sleeping with the accuser, and other so called “independent” parties, all of whom had a vested interest one way or another in continuing the lie.  

Deloitte did not interview me, nor did Deloitte interview my team, who had been privy to a number of inappropriate actions from the client, ranging from propositioning the team to leave Deloitte and go independent so he, the client, could save money on rates, to suggesting that Deloitte run our bills through another consulting firm to “keep Deloitte off the radar.” Bottom line, Deloitte took the easy way out and instead of searching for the truth, took a client’s tainted word and dismissed me. 

So anyway, the good news is that I am with a family business for the time being and am enjoying every minute of it.  I am actually out on the east coast at the moment, meeting with a client to assist them with a better understanding of their sales cycle and to assist them with the development of a stronger “go to market” approach.  While I am here, I am meeting with some associates in an “interesting” industry, to discuss potential assistance with some SOX readiness work for them.  I am having so much more fun than I was at Deloitte. While I am not at all pleased with the manner in which I left, I am happy to be where I am now.  I have to say though, not knowing where the next pay check is coming from is a little scary, but that is part of the fun too!


Dear Mr. Marmaduke,

So good to hear from you. It’s a shame to hear you were squeezed in the client vise.  There’s a saying in the consulting world, “This would be fun if it weren’t for the clients…”  

It’s pretty clear to me that your Partner/Director was not on the job, present, and in touch with this client and their team on an ongoing basis or else they would have known what was going on. They would have dismissed silly unfounded accusations and done their most important job: Managing the client relationship while getting the job done well.

You are very fortunate to have a strong supportive family.  I wish that for all of your colleagues who have to make the transition out of Big 4 and next tier firms, whether voluntarily because of frustration and lack of opportunity or involuntarily because of a myriad of reasons typically not of their own making.

Deloitte veterans especially can take heart.  You can always go work for the government.  One of your own, a former senior consultant aged 29 if you can believe it, was just appointed COO of the Enforcement Division at the SEC!


3 replies
  1. flycat
    flycat says:

    I think there are legal issues with supporting visas for foreign workers when you have had layoffs in the past x months. One of the partners from my former firm approached me to try and hire someone whose visa they couldn’t sponsor because they had done layoffs. Maybe one of your other readers can confirm this?

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    My limited experience is that hiring people with visas or sponsoring people for a visa is all about whether there is a US citizen who is willing to, available and able to do the job. If you layoff person A and open a job req for person B — the skill set for the job req is rarely exactly the same (some would argue that is the reason for the layoff — to reposition and in so doing retool the staff). So I believe it is an independent question — if the job req has no US citizens with the proper qualifications willing and available for the position then they can go to others. The game that is often played — write the job req so specific that there could be no US citizen that would meet the requirements. I believe this trick is done at all times, whether there have been layoffs or not.

  3. De Minimis
    De Minimis says:

    Re: The CPA exam. I think anything goes now, and passing the exam won’t help much if they’ve decided to cut people. I actually got criticism for studying when I was unassigned, and my passing of the exam was not even mentioned on the evaluation form that they gave to me the day they let me go.

    Still very glad I did it, though…it’s about the only positive thing I got from my Big 4 experience.

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