Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Do We Have the Busy(!) Season?

Barely two months before Christmas, a lot of the Big 4 offices around the world are preparing for the busy (tax) season.
It’s always the same year in and year out. Planning starts middle of the year, then interim work, then finalization of interim work (going to the year-end audit) and then, the busy season. And then the late nights, overnights, week-end work starts. After the tax deadline, the cycle starts all over again.

It's always the same every year for the 8 years I worked in the auditing firm. And every year I also hear the same things: (1) that we’re going to start planning early to finish the audit early; (2) that we’re going to prepare everything during the interim so that during the busy season, we’ll just plug in everything; (3) that we are targeting an early deadline for all our clients so that we will not have to work late nights or even overnights when the deadline draws near; and (4) that we’re going to be more efficient this year and reduce our overtime hours to the ‘minimum’ (yeah, right). And these things are coming from the mouth of my partner – boss!

So, we start early. Planning, preparing, interim reporting, interim auditing – all these are done early. But what the heck! Once the busy season starts, our nose are still on the grind from 8 am up to whatever time we can still keep our eyes open! Darn it! Everything that should be done was done early on, everything worked as planned. Correction, everything worked as planned, EXCEPT, for the busy season.

Why is this happening? Why do we always have to work double time during the busy season? Why do we have to come in on week-ends to do our jobs? Why, why, why?

This was the question that always plagued my mind. It got to the point when a lot of us no longer believed the promises that the next busy season will be a much better one than before (actually it got worse!).

What do I think could be the reason? Let’s see.

One, there’s just too many things to do, too many stuff to document, too many things to consider during the audit that everything just get clogged towards the end.

Two, even if you did your interim work diligently, there are just some things you could not capture during your interim work and you have to play catch-up towards the end. I’m being nice here. On to the next reason.

Three, your juniors resigned at the end of the interim work and all your subsequent juniors are new to the team! So you have they have to spend more time familiarizing themselves about the client (and the audit, as a whole) and you (as their senior or manager) have to spend time cleaning up their mess (I mean work) before your partner finds out about the mess.

Four, you did not really do the job well during the interim audit, resulting to a lot of audit notes from your partner and manager, resulting to more work for you during the busy season because other than the year-end audit you have to do, you also need to clear their notes! Or you procrastinated during the interim work (because well, there’s just no pressure then) and you left out a lot of things that your manager or partner actually wanted you to do! So, to get back at their good sides, you are now working double-time (during the busy season) to finish all your year-end work plus all the interim work you failed to do!

Five, if you are the senior, your manager suddenly resigns before the busy season started and you ended up suddenly becoming designated as the senior in-charge or a super-senior because it’s already too late to find a replacement for your resigned manager. So now you are wearing two hats, a go-to senior for your juniors and a go-to manager for your partner. This happened to me during my first year as a senior (and it was a public company!) and that was one of the worst busy seasons I ever had.

Sixth, there was an audit issue that you consulted with expert partners during the interim but the issue was not immediately resolved. It was resolved only during the busy season and your client no longer wants to accept the resolution and blames you for your lateness! So you scramble to get everything fixed before the deadline, which means more meetings, more conference calls, more consultations and more documentation.

Seventh, your client suddenly changes their internal deadline before the busy season started and you have already scheduled all your juniors for the original deadline! So you scramble to re-schedule them (good luck) or, failing that, getting new juniors to fill in for the new time frame. And you go back to number three up there (and no, you can’t blame your client, customer is always right, right?).

Eight, you’re already finished with substantially all your year-end work. And then suddenly, the firm’s top management released memos on stuff that you still need to do before you can finalize everything. And you have no choice but to do all of them because failing to do so will mean no sign-offs on the financial statements! Gggrrrr. This is rare but it happens.

What’s my point then? Well, if you hear promises of no overtime / overnights / week-end work during the busy season, don’t believe them. Even if you do everything humanely possible to avoid those overtime and overnights,  busy season has already become a fact of life for the auditor (whether in the Big 4 or not). The only way to avoid all these things during the busy season is to resign from the auditing firm and live a quieter (less busy) life. And that's a fact.


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