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Accounting News Roundup: Lying and ‘Individually Tailored’ Accounting Metrics | 11.29.16

Social media

You can say a lot of things about Donald Trump's unlikely win in the presidential election, but this is just weird:

Accounting giant KPMG’s ­Social Media Intelligence Group has examined the role social media played in the campaign, how it was used by Mr Trump and how those learnings can be applied on behalf of its clients.

National practice leader Greg Daniel said the campaign should be viewed as a “real tipping point’’ in what the commercial community can learn from the devastatingly effective use of social media.

“You have to question the whole concept of focus groups as a way of understanding what consumers or in this case voters really believed in,’’ Mr Daniel said.

“The fallacy of conventional polling is that it relies on the delusion that people are telling you the truth. I don’t think in the current environment we can rely on that any more. The Trump campaign discarded that methodology.’’

Maybe I'm not understanding this correctly, but I think what KPMG found is this: lots of people lie! Also, "truth" as a "methodology" is pretty, uh, overrated? I mean if a presidential candidate can lie repeatedly and spread disinformation without harm or real accountability, that would suggest that there's something to the idea that dishonesty works as a strategy. How KPMG applies this "on behalf of its clients" will be tricky. It's not like the pitch books can simply read: DISHONESTY 2017: TELL YOUR CUSTOMERS WHATEVER YOU WANT.

Or can they?

Non-GAAP worries: Tesla Edition

The Wall Street Journal's Tatyana Shumsky reports that the SEC has taken issue with some of Tesla's "individually tailored" accounting metrics, which suggests that the company was modifying its revenue in an especially offensive manner: 

“Whenever the SEC uses that specific term it’s a clear indication that this specific adjustment should not be used, it’s very strong language,” said Olga Usvyatsky, vice president of research and CPA at Audit Analytics.

Tesla was also chastised for its slow response to new guidance on the use of non-GAAP figures.

The SEC also remarked that Tesla's explanation of "management uses this internally" didn't cut the mustard, since it didn't address why “a non-GAAP financial measure provides useful information to investors." No one can be expected to be on the same level as Elon Musk when it comes to electric cars, rocket science, solar panels or, it turns out, non-GAAP accounting.

Accountants behaving badly

Not even the largest private company in the US is safe from an ABB. The Associated Press reports that Diane Backis, an accountant for agribusiness behemoth Cargill, Inc., pleaded guilty "to stealing at least $3.1 million […] and causing $25 million in losses to the privately held company's grain shipping operations at the Port of Albany." She pulled this off over the course of 10 years.

Cargill has annual revenues around $120 billion so you can understand why they might not notice a few million missing. Still, the company claims that "this was an isolated incident by one employee at a single Cargill location."

Previously, on Going Concern…

Megan Lewczyk wrote about supersonic jets. I wrote about an auditor's honest response to a stupid question. And in Open Items, someone's wondering about accountants and auditors with ADHD.

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