It has been a great honor to work with you for the past five years. Unfortunately, you are leaving the organization in a few years. However, the prestige and reputation you have contributed to will remain in the foundation of this organization. Both clients and employees will miss you. It is a relief that you will continue helping us in some of the activities of the firm. Most employees and clients would like you to serve for a longer term because your absence will be difficult to fill in. Your concern for the firm is always obvious, and it is in this context that I am writing to share some rumors that I have heard. Although we continue to be the best accounting firm in the region, the recent actions taken by SEC as well as the reviewed auditing standards have made me think about some potential changes may be good for the firm.
Potential Problem – Firms Culture
The reputation of Ernst and Young was damaged in 2016 after SEC government officials fined the company with a total amount of $9.3 million. The officials performed this after noting that there was too much dependence between the firm and its client partners. They failed to remain independent from their clients, and it affects the relevance of E&Ys which governs audit clients. The case occurred on September 22; SEC gave a speech keynote which emphasized on auditing enforcement. Probably you wonder what this has to do with Frendlee & Snopes. Well, that is why I am writing to explain the relevance of the past reinforcement and actions by SEC to our firm.
Over the past years, I have heard occasional rumors regarding romantic relationships between various employees of the company and our audit clients. I would like to emphasize that I have never witnessed this, but investigating the matter is an important step. For instance, the company should find out if our partners are involved in the lives of our clients. The exercise will be a way of taking precautionary measures due to SECs actions in the past year. It is possible that such actions do not exist since they are only rumors but they should not be ignored.
I understand that the core values of our organization are customer service and friendliness. It is good that we hold our customers dearly, but it is necessary to establish the limits. The friendliness might cost us a big deal. We might actually end up losing more than half of our clients if the potential threat is not investigated. It seems that the understanding of the value of friendship encountered misunderstandings all along. I believe that this value was established not to encourage romantic relationships between partners and clients but serve our clients with all dignity and respect. Customer service has been interpreted by some employees, including top managers to mean getting too personal with clients. This is an issue which needs a solution before it can become the culture of the firm. It will be easier to address the situation before it spreads to the entire organization.
Addressing the Possible External Threat
You are the best person to address this threat. Apart from being one of the founders of this firm, you have also contributed much effort to build it, and I believe you want it to continue thriving. Most of our clients and employees like you and your contributions to the firm, which is the reason why they are all likely to listen to your advice. Moreover, you are the founder of customer service and friendliness values in the firm. Therefore, you are in the best position to explain our partners the meaning of those values and the real contribution they were meant to make to the firm development. With your effort towards addressing this external threat, our firm will maintain a good standing with the standards and regulations required in all accounting firms in the region.
Blomberg Company has remained one of the best examples for Frendlee & Snopes. Recently, they emphasized that love and friendship should not mix with public accounting. By pointing out some of the actions and emphasis which have been put forward by SEC, they pointed that sympathy, gifts or even frequent e-mails can be interpreted to mean romantic relationships. A potential culture problem may occur in the company if the friendship, as most partners would call it, is to be misunderstood. In most of your speeches that you have delivered, you quoted lessons, articles, and words of Bloomberg. Since we have always learned from them, we should learn and make changes this time too.
The code of professional conduct by AICPA is also one of the reasons why I believe an action should be taken to prevent culture problems in the organization. The revised version of the conduct has emphasized the importance of remaining independent as an accounting firm. This is one of transparency signs in the firm. To avoid violation of the AICPA Standard in Frendlee & Snopes, we may need some changes in the organization. I understand that change is not always accepted. However, it must be applied where necessary to ensure that our firm follows all the accounting rules and standards. According to the regulations, if PCAOB, AICPA, or any other external party is to trace any cases of auditing standards violations during an inspection, the firm that you have taken so much effort to build could be brought down in a matter of minutes. Therefore, we cannot ignore any threat even when it is unlikely to occur in the organization.
Considering the audit regulations, I have some recommendations to pass to you. First, it is better to be involved to differentiate the meaning of friendliness and customer service in the company. If there are misinterpretations regarding those values, a more precise meaning is required for to the audit partners. We might need to have a training retreat which will involve every member of the organization. The possible culture threat to the company should then be addressed. Although we do not have any evidence that the organization is experiencing a problem, the partners should be made known that customer service or friendliness values in the organization are meant to enhance customer service. By passing these instructions to every partner of the company, the rumors can come to an end in our organization.
Another recommendation is to point out changes and amendments to regulations and standards of accounting firms. Every member of the organization needs to be conversant with the rules and regulations governing the firm. The definition of close relationships according to SEC, for instance, will be taken to mean frequent emails or communications, exchanging gifts, affection, and such actions. Most of the employees are probably not aware of these changes; thus, they should be informed. There is a need to emphasize the importance of reviewing changes in accounting rules and regulations. It will not be possible to hold meetings every time the accounting standards are amended. Therefore, every partner should find out any changes and practice them. They can also inform one another in groups or personally to ensure that each partner is performing according to the right standards.
In case a partner is found to violate the rule of independence, the consequences should be communicated during the training retreat. This will help in preventing any possible threats in the future and the rumors will come to an end. Apart from passing the rules and standards given by SEC, there is a need to communicate the consequences of violating those rules as well. If any of the firms partners is found violating the rule of independence, the entire firm will suffer. Therefore, serious consequences must be defined to ensure strict adherence to the rules. Some of the consequences can include suspension, pay-cut, demotion, and in case of repetition of the violation, the partner should be laid off. During the retreat, the employees should be informed regarding the consequences of rules violation. This retreat will not only help us to stop the rumors and solve any potential issues, but also educate all of us well. I am sure we will all benefit from your experiences and deep understanding of the regulations.
Mr, Frendlee, it is impossible to achieve this important task without your contribution. The respect that every partner has for you in the organization makes me believe they will listen to your concerns and prevent the spread of rumors. We should protect our reputation by learning from Ernst & Young’s incident. If you agree to take actions, Frendlee & Snopes will prevent the occurrence of cultural threats and rumors spread will come to an end. I hope that you will consider my recommendations. If you want me to clarify the recommendation please do not hesitate to contact me. I am looking forward to your positive feedback. Thank you.