Accountants institute’s annual report shows peculiar treatments in accounts

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Illustration: michaelmucci.com

Kim Kardashian is by no means the central character in today’s tale of intrigue, nor will hot-button issues such as “Kim Kardashian pregnant” or “Kim’s baby names” be canvassed in depth.

However, the mere digital apparition of the words “Kim Nude Again – Latest Pics!” and related terms such as “buttocks” are certain to drive online traffic to where it really deserves to be – that is, to our exclusive story about the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

His majesty, King George V,  signed the Royal Charter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia on June 19, 1928. The coat of arms of the institute bears the inscription nec temens, nec favens (without fear or favour), enshrining the principle that members of this august body should serve the public interest above all. A lot has changed since 1928.

The institute’s annual report for this year was released recently. Ironically, it seems the financial statements from the body entrusted with upholding the integrity of financial statements for the nation might not entirely accord with, ahem, industry best practise.

Accounting academic Jeffrey Knapp has kindly reviewed these accounts for us. Knapp, readers might recall, exposed the peak corporate taxation body, the Corporate Tax Association, for errors in its financial accounts pertaining to … drumroll, tax.

Now he has found some peculiar accounting treatments in the institute’s accounts.

First, some perspective. This should be the institute’s final report before the consummation of its much lauded cross-Tasman merger. Henceforth, if you hear the word “CAANZ”, although it might sound like a cry from test cricket, it actually refers to the rebranded Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

Monday is the annual meeting, at which the merger is consummated, though chartered accountants from Melbourne and Sydney might feel somewhat consummated already, because   they have been invited to make their way to to Fraser Avenue, West Perth, to attend the meeting. It is usually held at the main office at Erskine Street, Sydney.

The past year has been tumultuous. While the institute’s suburban cousins from rival peak body CPA Australia have expanded north into Asia, the institute has advanced south into New Zealand. Already, a few casualties have been had. Many of the Sydney office staff have vacated the premises and made way for the rental of floor space to outsiders. The once gloriously equipped Erskine Street library no longer has a physical presence.

The members’ journal is now filled with lifestyle stories about events in New Zealand. In the August 2014 edition, a manager of an undergarment manufacturer told the magazine “there is nothing like a fist pump from the boss to confirm your worth”.

Australian chartered accountants born during the reign of King George V are not happy about the merger though and the ensuing changes to their beloved ICAA. But if they wish to complain, it will cost them.

Younger members have been given a reduction in membership fees, while fees for the elderly have tripled. Retirees can raise their concerns at the national AGM, should they elect to make the 4000-kilometre trip to West Perth.

What sort of example does this venerable institution uphold for its members 86 years after King George V applied the royal seal?  “It could be better,” Knapp said.

The most noteworthy change in this year’s annual report compared to previous years is that non-financial sections have disappeared. The sections on business performance and member feedback, leadership and influence, and sustainability are no longer.

The financial statements show that the ICAA has revalued its headquarters at Erskine Street upwards this year by $9 million (18.77 per cent). Last year, the property was revalued downwards by $1.19 million. Moreover, this is a directors’ valuation that has taken into account an independent valuation.

But the ICAA changed its valuer from Cushman and Wakefield (NSW) last year to McGees Property (NSW) this year.   Knapp said the change in valuation expert, leading to a big revaluation this year, compared to a small devaluation last year,  was unfortunate. “It has the appearance of opinion shopping,” he said.

Another bad look is that auditor EY Australia earned fees of $175,831 for audit services but doubled up on pre-merger due diligence and consulting fees of $315,365.  “This is not a good look for audit independence,” Knapp said.

“It is also regrettable that the ICAA annual report for 2014 does not include the auditor’s independence declaration to members.

“The previous annual reports of the Institute for 2011-2013, audited by EY Australia, do include that declaration.”

His note on remuneration shows that one employee at the ICAA is enjoying the merger. “It appears that one executive at the ICAA has gone from the $550,000-$599,999 band in 2013 to the $750,000-$799,999 band in 2014.

“One Sydneysider seems to have benefited to the tune of at least 25 per cent from the bloodletting and downgrading at Erskine Street.”

Even the accounting disclosures were deficient, Knapp said. In the financial report for last year, other expenses were shown as $16.561 million.  But in the comparative for this year, other expenses are shown as $13.285 million and the difference of $3.276 million has been added to administration expenses.

“The reclassification of $3.276 million of other expenses should be explained, because paragraph 49 of AASB 108 requires disclosure of prior period errors,” he said.

“The ICAA also needs to show some consistency in how they classify expenses for members. The presentation of expenses in the September 2013 Explanatory Memorandum for the merger is inconsistent with the presentation of expenses in the annual financial report.”

Knapp’s analysis of the annual report for 2014 reveals an accounting body that needs to put more effort into walking the walk, rather than talking the talk, for its members.

In light of the predilection for government to offload regulation to the private sector – eg, ASIC rerouting fraud victims to the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Tax Office outsourcing large corporation tax compliance to the audit profession – these peak bodies will require increasing public scrutiny. Particularly so, given the notable failures of the Big Four audit firms in getting financial statements in on time, or sometimes at all.