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You’ve already seen me rail on SOX and I’m not the only one.
I am not classically trained in recognizing Service threats but this certainly feels like one.
The Internal Revenue Service today reminded tax-exempt organizations to make sure they file their annual information form on time. In 2010 the tax-exempt status of any non-profit that has not filed the required form in the last three years will be revoked.
The Pension Protection Act of 2006 requires that non-profit organizations that do not file a required information form for three consecutive years automatically lose their Federal tax-exempt status. This requirement has been in effect since the beginning of 2007.
The costs of compliance begin to add up and suddenly it starts to reek of 404(b); compliance for the sake of compliance does not equal nor even assist transparency.
I spoke to Chris Leach, a former not-for-profit auditor who has served on several NFP boards, who gave some insight into the problem with the 990. Let me tick off just a few “concerns”:
• Some of the smaller non-profits don’t have anyone on their board qualified to do the 990. It’s not a 1040 and problems are numerous.
• NFP board members are exposed to liability, being forced to “sign off” on 990s. That should sound familiar to any auditor who has been at the job for longer than ten years or so.
• Increased regulatory pressure has been proven to distort true financial condition, not necessarily make it any more transparent.
Any of this sound eerily familiar?
Many boards do not have members equipped to adequately review and sign Form 990, so they are still exposing themselves to liability as a result of improperly filed forms. “Bad publicity is the largest implication in my view, especially for organizations facing financial stress, and even more so in this economic environment,” Chris told me. “Beyond that, from a board member’s perspective, the biggest problem would be misstatements on the Form 990, which could potentially lead to personal liability for the board.”
Chris is slightly more reasonable than yours truly, saying “Just the simple day-to-day administration of tax issues puts pressure on smaller not-for-profit organizations. [However], when a not-for-profit organization isn’t a worthy steward of its donors’ trust, donors feel betrayed, so they want more transparency.”
Fair enough. Bring on the transparency (and the headaches?)!
A former Grant Thornton partner in Hong Kong is facing two writs from clients that total $12.1 million, according to the Financial Times.
Gabriel Azedo was reported by Grant Thornton Hong Kong*, after the allegations were made, to the HK commercial crime bureau for ‘inappropriate’ conduct.
Of course, when we hear “inappropriate conduct” we automatically imagine something lewd but alas, it’s about money:
Angela Gardner, a Hong Kong resident, is suing Mr Azedo and Senning International, registered in the British Virgin Islands, for breach of contract and breach of trust and demanding $9.8m. Grant Thornton is not mentioned in this suit.
Arthur and Betty da Silva, prominent local racehorse owners, have filed a writ against Mr Azedo and Grant Thornton Hong Kong seeking an account of trust assets allegedly held on their behalf by the defendants.
Mr and Mrs da Silva are demanding the transfer of “all such trust property” to them or restitution of not less than $2.3m.
On October 20, GTI realized that this guy was a liability, reported him to HK Fuzz and promptly terminated their relationship with him. Gabe, “a pillar of the city’s financial establishment”, was on GT’s global leadership board as recently as October 21, although he had not technically been a partner in the firm since 2008.
Oh so mysterious, Mr. Azedo. What were you doing over there in HK? The FT, being the bastions of journalism that they are, tried reaching him for comment but sounds like he’s is on the lam.
*Everybody knows that the offices are independent of each other right? The global firm is just something they say. Sort of like “Global Six Accounting Firm”. Which, for the record, was not mentioned once in this article.
The British government has denied a change in the law there that would limit audit firms’ liability. The Big 4, who seem to enjoy a far more prestigious and influential existence in Britain than in the U.S., lobbied for a change to the law but it was ultimately dismissed by the British Business Secretary.
The British government cites existing law that would allow companies to reach agreements with their auditors to limit their liability.
Continued, after the jump
Under present company law, directors can agree to restrict their auditors’ liability if shareholders approve; however, to date, no blue-chip company has done so. Directors have seen little advantage in limiting their auditors’ liability, and objections by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have also been a significant obstacle.
Ahh, the SEC, exerting its far-reaching influence another over sovereign government, not to mention their stellar track record . This does not amuse in the UK:
Peter Wyman, a senior PwC partner, who was involved in the discussions, said that the Government’s lack of action was disappointing. He said: “The Government, having legislated to allow proportionate liability for auditors, is apparently content to have its policy frustrated by a foreign regulator.”
The firms are lobbying, not solely for their own survival, dammit, but the sake of everyone, “They warned that British business could be plunged into chaos if one of them were bankrupted by a blockbuster lawsuit.”
We’re not really sure what ‘choas’ would entail. Hank Paulson had his own version of financial Armageddon but we hardly think that’s a plausible scenario if a Big 4 firm were to fail.
Perhaps there would be an army of accountants roaming the streets in zombie-like states offering their excel expertise to anyone that would accept it. While this is a completely horrifying scene, we’re skeptical of true ‘chaos’.
If you’ve got your own visions of chaos in the event of a large firm failure, describe it in the comments.
Audit firms left unprotected against claims of negligence [Times Online]
Also see: No legislated cap on audit liability [AccMan]
As you probably know, BDO Seidman is having a rough year. Tax shelter prosecutions and trials for the
International Global Coordination firm that now falls on the U.S. make for some big liability exposure.
The obvious solution to this conundrum? Spreading the love!
BDO Seidman, LLP, is pleased to announce that 10 new partners have been admitted to the partnership, effective July 1, 2009. Five of the new partners are in the tax practice, four are in the assurance business line and one is in BDO Consulting. BDO Seidman, LLP is a leading national professional services firm providing assurance, tax, financial advisory and consulting services to private and publicly traded businesses.”I am very proud to welcome each of these very deserving individuals to our partnership,” said Jack Weisbaum, CEO of BDO Seidman. “The key to maintaining momentum in our profession is a commitment to recruiting, training and retaining superior client service professionals. Each of these new partners is an example of our commitment to human capital development.”
What are the chances that these new partners are some of the most hated people in the firm? C’mon, $520 million judgment hanging out there, the bigwigs have to be thinking, “well, as long as we’re screwed, we may as well stick it to some people within the firm we don’t like.”
Congrats to the new partners!
BDO Seidman, LLP, Admits 10 New Partners [BDO Seidman Press Release]