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Question: Brent Dorsey graduated six months ago with


Brent Dorsey graduated six months ago with a master’s degree in accounting. Immediately after graduation, Brent began working with a large accounting firm in Portland, Oregon. He is now on his second audit engagement—a company called Northwest Steel Producers. Working day to day with Brent on the audit are two other staff auditors, Han Choi and Megan Mills, along with the senior auditor, John Peters. Han and Megan are both second-year staff accountants and are anticipating a promotion to senior in the next year.
John Peters has been with the firm for about five years and has been a senior-level auditor for almost three years. Following this busy season, the partners and managers will decide which seniors to promote to manager. The rumor around the office is that only four or five of the seven eligible seniors in the office will be promoted in the Portland office. Those not promoted in Portland will likely be asked to transfer to other offices within the firm that need new managers or possibly even be “counseled out” of the firm. John has done a reasonably good job on the audits under his supervision, yet he feels he is “on the bubble” as far as the promotion in Portland goes. He has recently received a few performance evaluations that have criticized him for letting his jobs get “out of control” (i.e., over budget and beyond deadline). He believes his performance on the Northwest Steel Producers audit could make a difference in his chances to stay in Portland. John and his wife are both from the Portland area, and neither one is ready for a transfer.
Northwest Steel is one of the office’s biggest clients. The firm has been auditing Northwest for the past 13 years. Because of the client’s reporting deadline, the Northwest Steel audit is notorious for tight deadlines and long hours.
BACKGROUND
With a final click on his laptop, Brent finished his audit work on Northwest’s largest cash account. It was 5:45
p.m. on a Friday evening, and Brent was looking forward to a much-needed day off to spend some time with his wife, Katherine, who had a demanding job as a young attorney. They both understood that the degree of tension they had been feeling at home was probably due primarily to their stressful careers, and they felt a need to discuss their relationship in an attempt to “clear the air” and find a workable way forward. It seemed there had been precious little time for any serious discussion these past few weeks.
The case was prepared by Mark S. Beasley, Ph.D. and Frank A. Buckless, Ph.D. of North Carolina State University and Steven M. Glover, Ph.D. and Douglas F. Prawitt, Ph.D. of Brigham Young University, as a basis for class discussion. All characters and names represented are fictitious; any similarity to existing companies or persons is purely coincidental.
Brent started uploading his electronic workpapers to the firm's cloud-based workpaper system before shutting his computer down, when the door of the small conference room he was using as an office opened a crack. Brent’s work bag partially blocked the door. “Door’s open,” Brent called out. “Just push a little harder.” The door opened wider, pushing the work bag aside slightly, and Han Choi poked his head in. By the expression on Han’s face, Brent had a feeling the news he had was not going to be good. “Hey Han, what’s up?” asked Brent, trying to be upbeat.
“John wants the audit team together for a meeting in 15 minutes,” Han said as he pushed his shoulders through the doorway, knocking Brent's work bag over with a thud.
Brent glanced quickly at his watch. “It’s almost 6:00! Why's he want us to meet at this time of the day?” “I don’t know. He just called from his cell phone and said that he was on his way from another client
and that it was important that we all meet with him before we leave. But I have a feeling it’s going to mean more work,” Han said as he pulled himself back out of the doorway. “I’ve got to run down a couple of things before the meeting, so I’ll see you there.” Han disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared.
Brent picked up the phone and called Katherine, who had just arrived home from work. “Hi, Kate. John just called an emergency meeting. I’m going to be late again.”
“Brent, this is getting ridiculous. Just because your senior doesn’t have a life doesn’t mean we can’t. I picked up a couple movies and some take-out on the way home. Just text John that you had plans with your wife and come home.”
“Katherine, you know I would rather be home with you than in another meeting, but at this stage in my career I don’t think blowing off an urgent meeting would be the wisest thing to do. I’ll get home as soon as I can. Should I invite John over to watch the videos with us?”
“Very funny. Actually, maybe you should bring him along so I can try to talk some sense into him. Our lives are so crazy. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I see the city bus driver more than I see you.” “It’ll get better, Katherine. Once we get through the Northwest audit, things will lighten up. But for
now, this is a good opportunity for me to prove I’m a team player and that I can work as hard as the next guy. I’ve already seen how important a team-player reputation is in this firm. I’ve done pretty well so far, and that’s why they put me on this audit in the first place. If I can prove myself and move up, at some point I’ll have more control over my day-to-day schedule. It is just really important that I pay my dues now so that can happen.”
“I know, but I worry that it'll never change. There will always be another client, another promotion. If we don’t establish a good pattern now, when will we? Well, you do what you’ve got to do. I’ll put your dinner in the fridge, and I’ll tell you how the movie was.” A cold “click” sounded in Brent’s ear.
Brent slowly put the receiver back on the hook and stared at the small picture he had saved as his phone's wallpaper.The picture was taken on Brent and Katherine’s wedding day over a year ago.They were now expecting their first child, due in another five months. Brent knew he had been working long hours lately, but he felt he had to prove himself in the firm. He felt challenged and fulfilled by his work, and he believed that some sacrifice now would open up more opportunities in the future. He would be able to spend more time with his family sometime down the road. Speaking of family, why did this baby have to come along now, of all times? He and Katherine had wanted children, but not quite this soon. They would soon be facing the difficult issues that come with balancing two careers and a baby. As if they didn't have enough to deal with already...
Brent realized nearly 15 minutes had passed, and the meeting was about to begin. Jumping up, he grabbed his planner and ran out the door, tripping over his work bag. Han and Megan were already there, looking glum, when Brent arrived at the spare office that John was using as his on-site work space. Just as Brent entered the room and shot a questioning look at Han and Megan, John came into the room.
“Sorry to call a meeting so late, but we have something we've got to talk about,” John said. “So far on this audit we are more than 30 hours over budget.” He slumped into his chair. "We absolutely have to make some of this time up. We need to come in pretty close to budget, and we’ve absolutely got to get it wrapped up in time for the client’s scheduled earnings release at the end of next week--we cannot miss that deadline!” John shuffled through some papers on the table. He finally came to the one he was looking for. “I’ve been looking over the budgeted hours for the remaining segments of the audit. One of the remaining areas is accounts payable. That section’s got a budget of 42 hours, but I’d like to see it completed in no more than 35 hours. We’re running out of chances to bring this audit in close to budget. Do a good job, but I really think it should take 35 hours max to do payables. I want it wrapped up by Monday afternoon.” Megan and Han exchanged a glance.
John stood up and paced around the room. “I know I said I thought we’d be able to take Saturday off. But this is an important engagement and we need to deliver. We all stand to gain on our performance evaluations if we come in looking good on this audit. So let’s keep our heads down a few more days. I need your help on this, guys.” John stopped pacing and put his hands on his hips. “Han, I want you and Brent to start on payables first thing in the morning. Megan, you make sure you get receivables tied down by the time you go home tomorrow. You’re still on track for coming in under budget on receivables, aren’t you?” John stared until Megan nodded hesitantly. “Good. Well, that’s it. I’ll see you all tomorrow morning.” John gathered up his things and walked out of the room, looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“Great...there goes the weekend,” said Megan as soon as John was out of sight. “Yeah, my girlfriend and I had plans,” muttered Han, glancing down at the stack of folders on his lap. Just then, Han’s cell phone went off, playing a few notes from one of the latest "twenty one pilots" songs. “Now what?” said Han as he started for the door. “Maybe my house is on fire," he mumbled through a wry smile. "At least then maybe I could take the weekend off.”
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Brent sat slumping in his chair, wondering how on earth he and Han were going to finish accounts payable in 35 hours. Rumor had it that last year’s team may have “eaten time” to get some parts of the audit done within budget, and this year’s budget was even lower than last years’ reported time. Brent looked up at Megan, who sat in her chair looking bleary-eyed. “How on earth are Han and I going to get payables tied down in 35 hours, Meg?” “We’ve been auditing this firm for years, so you’d think by now we would know how long it takes to
audit accounts payable, wouldn’t you? Last year it took over 45 hours. I don’t know why we insist on lowering the budget every year,” said Megan. “I worked on payables last year and there weren’t any problems with them at all. Or the year before, for that matter. In fact, I don’t think there has ever been a problem with payables in all the years we’ve been auditing Northwest. I say if they want to cut the budget they should change the audit plan. For example, last year we pulled sixty invoices. Maybe this year we could pull thirty.That would save some hours. Maybe that’s what you and Han should do. Why invest the extra time when you know there aren’t going to be any problems anyway?”
“I see what you mean, but the program step says we have to pull sixty again. Can we make that decision?” Brent asked.
“I don’t see why not. They want us to finish on time and to work another Saturday. What do they expect?” responded Megan. "Pull thirty, sign the step off, be done with it."
Brent walked slowly back to his conference room, thinking about what Megan had said. Most of Northwest’s people had gone home almost an hour ago. At this time of the evening only the custodial crew was in action. As he reached his office, he saw Han coming down the hall.
“Hey Han, got a minute?” “Yeah, what’s up?”
“I’m wondering what we’re going to do to come in under budget on payables—that's not going to be easy.”
“Well, I’ve found that in times like this, you just have to work until it’s done. If we put in a full day
tomorrow, we should be about halfway through. Then we can get in here early Monday and get going again. My wife and I were thinking about going to the coast for the weekend but now it’s going to be me, you, and piles of invoices, P.O.s, and receiving reports. Romantic, huh?” Han waved a handful of papers at Brent. “And, frankly, given this audit program, not only will we not get payables done in 35 hours, who knows if we can get them done in less than 40 or 45.”
“What’s John going to say when we come in over 35 hours?”
“Nah, you’re not getting it. I just work as much as I need to, to get the work done. Then I report that it took me the budgeted amount of hours—in this case 35, I guess. As long as the work gets done and we look good on our performance evals, I figure a few hours won’t kill me. I just figure I’m donating a few extra hours to the firm. Plus, the way John is stressing out lately, it is not worth even thinking about coming in over 35 hours. Well, I’ve got to get some hotel reservations cancelled and get home and tell my wife all about how great the next trip is going to be. I’ll see you first thing tomorrow morning to get started on those lovely payables.”
Brent stepped into the conference room and sat down. He wanted to do the right thing for the client, the firm, himself...and, well, everyone. But how? What Megan and Han had said kept bouncing around in his mind. His old auditing professor’s sermons about an auditor’s duty to the public and the importance of integrity seemed so long ago and so far removed. “Are there other alternatives?” he asked himself. “On the other hand, maybe I’m being too idealistic.” He glanced at the clock and decided he’d better head for home and warm up his dinner. By the time he fought the traffic it was going to be late enough as it was. He gathered up his things, headed out the door and into the nearly deserted parking lot.
On his way home Brent began to think of all the issues he had been putting off. Katherine had not been feeling well lately and he had planned on stopping to get her a little gift to cheer her up, show her he cared. Suddenly the car made that funny grinding noise again, and Brent remembered for the twentieth time that he needed to get it into the shop before it died completely. Then he thought of his long-abandoned exercise program. “Yeah, right, exercise,” thought Brent. “Maybe I’ll start doing jumping jacks and push-ups at the office, between audit memos.” On top of the long hours and mounting pressures at work, Katherine was insisting that Brent help more around the house and spend more time with her, and he had to admit it was only fair. He hardly noticed the traffic...he had a lot to think about.
REQUIRED
[1] What alternatives are available to Brent in regards to the audit of payables? What are the pros and cons of each alternative?
[2] Identify at least three specific things John, Brent, and the other auditors could do to better handle the demands of career and family life and proactively manage their work/life balance?
[3] What consequences for Brent, the auditing firm, and others involved, may arise from “eating time,” as Han suggested? Similarly, what consequences for Brent, the auditing firm, and others involved, may arise from not completing but signing off on audit procedures, as Megan suggested?
[4] In your opinion, which of Brent’s alternative courses of action would provide the best outcome and why? What should Brent do? How would you handle the ethical issues involved in this situation if you were Brent...what would you do and who would you talk to?
PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT QUESTIONS
It is recommended that you read the Professional Judgment Introduction found at the beginning of this book prior to responding to the following questions.
[5] [a] How might the confirmation tendency influence Brent's decision?
[b] How might the availability tendency come into play in Brent's decision?
[c] What could Brent do to mitigate the effects of the confirmation and availability tendencies to improve his professional judgment?
[6] Consider what judgment frames Brent seems to be focused on. What other frames might be useful for Brent to consider in making a well-considered decision in this case?

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