The merger of PwC & Lybrand in 1998 formed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the “big four” firms in Singapore and worldwide (Wikipedia, 2010). Boosting a revenue of US$2,935 million in the Asia region for financial year 2010 (PricewaterhouseCoopers Global, 2010), PwC’s principal activities include assurance, advisory and tax services, for its clients, in accordance with the latest generally accepted accounting principles. I am attached to assurance Operating Unit 5 (OU5), where in 2010, the department has achieved the following performance:
Diagram 1: Assurance OU5 Financial Report (Year ended June 30)
Billable hours per month
Billable hours Year- to-date
What guides the organisation and its people lies in the vision, which is to be a leader in rendering professional services, strategically solving problems for its clients, in order to enhance the values for the firm and its clients. Furthermore, the firm aspire to be a hub to attract, train and retain talents from all over the world, where as many as 163,000 competent and innovative staff in 151 countries play an important role in the creation and moulding of the PwC experience.
Diagram 2: PwC Experience
As seen in the PwC Experience’s flowchart above, the firm emphasises on the building the values of individuals and relationships within the staff and with their clients by understanding their needs and connecting with them. They also launched a new identity (logo) on 17 September 2010, which represents a continuing and paramount desire to create values, achieving goals and building great relationships for its people and its clients (PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore, 2010).
The organisation chart of PwC Singapore is attached in appendix A. In an engagement team, the organisation structure would be similar to the diagram below:
Diagram 3: Organisation Structure of an Engagement Team
The culture of the firm also helped in shaping the overall experience. The firm has an open door policy, which I found comfortable approaching my seniors and managers at any time. In PwC, the staff will be assigned to a career coach and buddy, whose responsibility includes guiding and advising their juniors in making choices or simply, to be a listening ear in times of needs. Besides just work, PwC also focus on work-life balance. Activities such as community services and Certified Public Accountants (CPA) games are organised to provide opportunities for networking with some professionals in the industry and also to promote work-life balance.
Roles and Contributions
Diagram 4: Simplified flowchart of work flow
At the start of the attachment, I was tasked with simple tasks such as call-over and casting of figures in the financial statements. Though these tasks may seem trivial to some, they were essential to ensure the accuracy of the figures shown in the financial statements, and for the call-over, to ensure that the two copies were similar and the changes that were previously noted, were reflected in the latest copy.
During the planning for an engagement, I mapped and imported the trial balance provided by the client into the database system so that the team members would be able to extract figures for the sections that they are responsible for. For the walkthrough, I enquired the clients on their system and noted down for example, how a sale transaction would be processed from the start to the end point. Furthermore, I arranged with the corporate secretary to carry out statutory review. Statutory review is carried out twice for an engagement. The first session would be during the planning stage, where the purpose would be to gain an understanding of the changes in key management personnel and the resolutions passed from the end of the last engagement till current year. The second session would be carried out after financial year end, and this would help the auditors to find out whether any subsequent events such as acquisition of a business unit that would affect the audited figures.
After planning, the team would proceed to the client’s place to carry out fieldwork. For the accounts receivable section, I performed accounts receivable ageing test, by vouching the major debtor’s invoices and re-performed the accounts receivable ageing. I took the number of days between the invoice date and year end date, and minus away the credit terms for each individual debtor, to find out the number of aged days. After which, I classified these into ageing bands of intervals of 90, that is, 1 to 90 days, 91 to 180 etc and compared the end results with client’s classification. This step was done to test the reliability of the accounts receivable ageing analysis report provided by the client and this would support the substantive analytical review and other substantive analytical testing that were being performed on accounts receivable.
For the accounts payable section, I performed the test for unrecorded liabilities to assess if there was any understatement of liabilities, by vouching to the paid invoices after year end to determine if they are current obligations and whether they have been recorded in the current financial year. I also traced to the unpaid invoices after year end to ensure that they have been accounted for in the current year. If the liabilities have not been accounted for in the books, liabilities would be understated.
For the fixed asset section, I performed reasonableness test on the depreciation charges, to ensure that depreciation, a form of accounting estimates has been provided accurately. Using the fixed asset cost at the beginning of financial year, I removed the fully depreciated and disposed assets and provided partial depreciation for the new additions during the year. After which, I compared the end results with the client’s amounts. If depreciation charges have been underprovided, it would result in overstatement of the fixed assets’ balance.
After the end of the fieldwork, we will have a follow-up session, to clear outstanding matters such as documents and queries not obtained during fieldwork or to do subsequent reviews after the previous session. I performed accounts recoverability testing by vouching for subsequent receipts after year end. If there were non-recoverable amounts above the pre-set planning materiality, the team would need to discuss with the management to provide for provision.
Audit Instructions and Agreed Upon Procedures
In addition, I assisted to draft the audit instructions and agreed upon procedures for other PwC firms overseas. PwC firms in the CATSH (China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) regions adopt the same audit methodology. This was because our client was incorporated in Singapore, but their accounting records were kept in overseas. Therefore, taking into consideration the time and cost factors, we would request the PwC firm in the country where the records were kept to carry out the audit for us and to sign an inter-office opinion.
Learning Experiences and Achievements
One of the most important lessons I have learnt so far is communication skills. In school, we were so used to communicating with our peers and teachers casually. We do not need to prepare beforehand and could speak from our minds. However, from this internship, I came to understand that the way you talk and your message affects the communication with other people. When we are out for engagements, we need to communicate and negotiate among the team, such as on meeting time and venue, delegation of workloads and to clarify instructions.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the most difficult form of communication lies with the client. Every new engagement brings along a whole new team to work together for the client. We have to be selectively and be aware of how and what we enquire the client on. This is especially important as we are not in the client’s place most of the times, therefore, we rely on the information that the client provides us with. Also, there might be miscommunication if the client misunderstood our queries.
I was assigned to test the controls for payment of expenses. I vouched to the physical supplier’s invoices, corresponding payment vouchers and recorded the payment voucher number and telegraphic transfer number. I found out that the payment voucher was not in the usual 6 digits format starting number 6 and it was in the telegraphic transfer format i.e. TT OCBC SG 123456. Being very confused with the arrangements, I approached the Finance Manager, to clarify my doubts. I remembered using the words “sequential order” and “TT number is different” in my questions. The client immediately rebutted me, “You mean our payment vouchers are not in sequential order?” Fortunately, my team in-charge helped me out by clarifying my questions with the client. My original intention was to enquire the use of TT transfer number that is different from the bank’s reference and to find out the basis on using such formats. After some clarifications, the client explained the change in the use of the formats from June 2010 onwards, a new format for the recording of the payment voucher number, in the way familiar to them. For example, TOS 11 10 07 01 stands for TT OCBC Bank in SGD and where 11 is the currency code for SGD, 10 being year 2010, 07 being the month and 01 being the sequential numbering of the payment voucher. GIRO payment would have the format starting with 65 and payment by cheque will have the numbering starting with 84. From this incident, I have learnt to be tactical with my words and not mention words that might imply that the client was in the wrong. Firstly, we should request the client to walkthrough with us on the system. When they are done with the explanations, we could enquire on the deviations from the general procedures that they have briefed us on previously. I would also write down all the questions that I need to ask on a piece of paper, so as to avoid approaching the client frequently.
Relationship-building is paramount in the line of assurance, because we are not desk-bound jobs and require frequent travelling. I heard that most clients do not like auditors and we would often be scolded by them. However, I would think otherwise. I felt that it all boils down to how we manage our relationship with our peers, colleagues and clients. I really enjoyed the relationships that I shared with my first engagement’s client. Before the official working hours, I loved to join their staff at the pantry to chat and also shared with them my working experiences so far. The times that we have laughed were definitely fond memories. My seniors warned me that the Finance Manager was a fierce person who was unwilling to help. However, I realised that after much interactions with him, he would guide and joke with me. Even now, when I called back to follow-up, the staff recognised my voice and sent me the outstanding documents within a short time. I never felt uneasy been recognised as a student. The relationship that I maintained with my seniors was also more like a friend. We would play hard and work hard at the same time.
These have definitely taught me not sacrifice work for time used for building of relationships. The close relationships that you have forged so far would be beneficial to you in the future. In school, many of us have Innovation and Enterprise (I & E) events in year 3 for our Interdisciplinary Studies (IS) modules. Many of these events require the support of our friends, whether financial or in participation. If we have cherished the relationships with our friends, many of them would be willing to support our events. No one is alone. Therefore, it is important to meet new people, put in efforts in maintaining these relationships and these people could possibly help us even after our studies or internship.
Being Proactive and Taking Ownership
Being proactive in my attitude and be responsible for the tasks assigned to me was another learning experience for me. I am a slow learner and I should not allow this to affect the progress of the engagement team. As such, I read the prior year’s financial statements and checked with my team in-charge at least a few days before the engagement if there is anything that I could be help of and to discuss on my job scopes. These efforts paid off when I realised that I was able to relate what I have read in the prior year’s files to current year’s audit, as we would normally expect the trend to continue. In addition, going through the walkthrough performed by my seniors has allowed me to know the key management personnel that I may need to approach during fieldwork and to familiarise with the filling system, so as to expedite the vouching process.
I believe that taking ownership of the tasks assigned is important. It is being responsible for yourself and others. When someone handles me a task, I would complete it as soon as possible, or if I am busy, I would ask the other interns to assist. This is because the other party have put their trust in you to help them to complete these tasks. If we are not responsible, our seniors would not want to entrust us with tasks and we would miss these opportunities for learning. Similar to the learning experiences in school, when we are assigned projects by our lecturers, we should always put in efforts, and not grumble and submitting substandard work, because the projects are designed to enable us to have a hands-on approach on the concepts learnt in lessons, and to encourage us to do research and explore beyond the lecture notes.
During this internship, I became less reliant on my seniors. For my first engagement, there were only 4 people in the team, including myself. My team in-charge resigned before the end of the engagement and both my seniors took annual leave and study leave, leaving myself to do the follow-up for that engagement. My manager was too busy to guide me. In the end, I was sent to do follow-up at the client’s place alone for two days. As I was tasked to do only vouching for certain sections during fieldwork , I do not have a good understanding of the client’s business and operations, as compared to my seniors and team in-charge who have handled the different sections and have liaised directly with the client’s finance manager and director before. I felt nervous, lost and I tried very hard to remember what my seniors and manager had told me. I started on my work and reported to my manager once every few hours, to update her on my progress and obtain feedback from her on the work done so far. I felt that I was too protected by my seniors and in-charge previously, as they would check my work before submitting my work to the manager for review. For now, there was no one to check my work and I have to think on my feet and complete them with care before submission. As compared with the project work and assignments in school, we could seek our friends’ help and lecturers’ opinions before the final submission and do not need to worry about making mistakes.
Reflection on an Incident
For my first engagement, one of the tasks that I was assigned to was to vouch the credit terms for the major debtors. As it was my first time, I was nervous and stressed up over the deadlines. When asked by my team in-charge if I have completed all the vouching, I told her that I have completed the task and she believed me. However, to her dismay, she realised that the section was not completed when we went back to the office. I have forgotten to vouch that particular section and my in-charge had to call up the client to enquire on the details one by one. This has definitely added on her workloads as I understood that the section was due for review by the director that day.
I thought that I have learnt my lesson from this incident. However, for the same engagement, but for the follow-up session, my team members were not around and my manager took leave and later on fell ill for another 2 weeks before my follow-up sessions. My manager had told me to keep track of the confirmations and correspondences with the client and third parties while she was away. Upon receipt of the confirmations and correspondences, I have to update in the control sheet, whether the confirmed balance is the same as the balance as shown in the accounts receivable and accounts payable listing. When my manager came back from her medical leave, she alerted me that I have signed and filled in a confirmation, which was actually returned to us, without any confirmation of the balances, as the address for the intercompany in Italy was wrong. Since the signing of the accounts was agreed on 13 December 2010, we were running short of time. My manager reprimanded me for the carelessness.
I took immediate action by requesting our client to alert their intercompany in Italy to send a confirmation again, if not, at least, a scanned copy before the signing of the accounts. I regret for not learning my lesson previously as this was a repeat incident. Ever since then, I resolved to be careful in my work and to double check before submission. My manager acknowledged that I have put in efforts in my future tasks ever since that incident.
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Source: (PwC Singapore, 2010)