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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Niemeier’

Last year, the Accounting Today published its list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in [American] Accounting on September 9, 2010.  I don’t know that it ever causes a stir, but we talked about it on AECM.  AECM is the e-mail listserv for accounting professors (with a membership of 750).  We wondered why no one from the academic side of accounting made the list (or ever makes the list, for that matter).  Upon closer examination, it turned out that Frank Ross (Howard U) made the list.  Bob Jensen contacted the editor and suggested the names of 20 academics for the 2011 list.

It’s an interesting question, I think, as to who should qualify to be on the list.  The accounting industry in the U.S. is so large, certainly over 1,000,000.  There are auditors, accountants, thought leaders, professors and students who are all directly part of it.  Then there are those who are indirectly related, such as companies/investors that benefit from using accounting information, businesses that serve the accounting industry, journalists, bloggers, government regulators and even tax collectors.  And what about those Europeans who have their IFRS, FRC and the EC?  And should the person’s contribution be for only the most recent 12 months, recent years, or a lifetime of activity?  And what about fraudsters who influence the accounting industry?

For that matter, what does it mean to be to have been influenced?  I look at the list and I wonder how the honorees influenced me?  I have heard of almost none of them.  Does being influential mean having had an impact?

I’m sure the editorial staff at Accounting Today has grappled with these questions over the years, time and time again.

A short while ago, I was asked who I would say are the most influential.  Here are the people in the accounting world who have influenced me the most in the past year.

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Charles D. Niemeier, a member of the PCAOB until a few months ago, has taken a position as partner with Williams & Connolly LLP.  He will practice in the areas of securities, accounting and financial services.   Niemeier was at Williams & Connolly prior to joining the SEC in 2000.

Niemeier is widely respected and admired.  I have fond memories of lunching with him in San Francisco, last summer.

Many might recall the stir made by Niemeier’s speech to the NYSSCPA in September, 2008.  In this speech, Niemeier mounted a spirited defense of U.S. GAAP, and argued against the U.S. moving to IFRS.  Although this position is popular among rank and file accountants in the U.S., as well as many accounting professors, it is squarely against U.S. government policy.  I admire him for having the courage to stand up.

Here is the announcement from Williams & Connolly LLP:

Williams & Connolly is pleased to announce the return of Charles D. Niemeier as a partner practicing in the securities, accounting and financial services areas.

From 2000 to 2002, Mr. Niemeier served as Co-Chair of the Financial Fraud Task Force of the Securities and Exchange Commission and concurrently as the Chief Accountant for the Division of Enforcement. In 2003, he became a member of the Board of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, serving as Acting Chairman for the initial six months, and continued to serve on the Board until 2011. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law School and a Certified Public Accountant.

“We are thrilled to welcome Charles back into the Williams & Connolly family,” said senior partner and Executive Committee member Robert B. Barnett. “His extensive government experience in the financial and accounting realms will be an immediate asset to the firm’s clients and to our future clients. We welcome him home.”

Charley, I’m sure I speak for countless accountants and investors as I wish you well in your new endeavor.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) has released (May 4, 2010) its 2009 inspection report for Deloitte & Touche, LLP, and Deloitte’s response.  The PCAOB is charged, under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, with inspecting each of the largest audit firms each year, as well as smaller audit firms (with public company clients) once every three years (see Note A).

As a basis for this report, the PCAOB inspected aspects of 73 Deloitte audits, and finds 15 significant deficiences, for an apparent error rate of 21% (later on I’ll show that this is not a true error rate).  In sharp contrast to its reaction to previous inspection reports, Deloitte says only, “We have evaluated the matters identified by the Board’s inspection team for each of the Issuer audits described in Part I of the Draft Report and have taken actions as appropriate in accordance with D&T’s policies and PCAOB standards.”

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A panel discussion titled, ” Concerns Over U.S. Adoption of IFRS” will take place on Monday, Monday August 2, 2010 – 10:15 am-11:45 am at the annual meeting in San Francisco for the American Accounting Association (AAA).  The AAA is the primary professional organization for American accounting professors.

The panel discussion will feature internationally renowned accounting experts who have expressed concerns over some aspects of U.S. adoption of IFRS.  Tentatively scheduled participants are Ray Ball (University of Chicago), Shyam Sunder (Yale University), Charles Niemeier (PCAOB), Robert Jensen (Trinity University, retired), David Albrecht (Concordia College).  The session is moderated by David Albrecht (Concordia College).

The American Accounting Association’s 2010 Annual Meeting will be held in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and the Parc 55 San Francisco in San Francisco, California, July 31 – August 4, 2010.  Registration for the annual meeting is required to attend this panel discussion.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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I don’t know how much credibility to attach to the following reports from the UK’s GAAPweb.

The first, dated Monday, June 8, claims that sources close to EU politicians are suggesting that the EU have its own standard setting body.  The second, has a brief recap of a meeting between Tweedie and Council of the EU, in which McGreevy claims that some EU politicians question if the IASB is out of touch.

In my opinion, in these reports, reporters are just message carriers.  They reflect real political concern in Europe about the IASB.  Since I’m not over there talking with politicians myself, I can’t judge how much juice these rumors have.  There is enough smoke, however, to make me conclude that the EU dropping IFRS is a reasonable possibility.  It is way too early to tell if it is probable.

The major factor working against the IASB is its independence.  The EU wants the IASB to be independent of everyone but Europe.  The EU wants the  IASB to be subservient to Europe’s wishes. European politicians just have to be getting tired of lobbying in the financial press for certain provisions in IFRS.  It would be much easier if Europe had a standard setting body that answered directly to Charlie McGreevy, Finance Minister.  The result would be more acceptable standards and less debate in the public spotlight.

There have been other interesting things that have come out.  Tom Selling has a very interesting blog post today, in To Catch a Chief Accountant, in which he confirms my suspicion that the tide has turned against IFRS in the US.  If so, Charley Niemeier and Jack Ciesielski are more likely candidates than previously thought.  I wonder, though, if Jane Adams is still the favorite. She doesn’t have the Big-4 ties, although she does have AICPA work.  Her view on IFRS is completely unknown, as she has not spoken publicly about it.

The controversy over IFRS has both sides pushing with everything they have.  The final decision will be political.  I think it likely that the flexibility of IFRS principles/guidelines will largely be lost as a result of all the politics.  Accounting standards will inevitably become more like hard and fast rules, the result of hard fought political compromises. Both sides (national GAAP vs. IFRS) will argue for clearly defined rules, to limit gains from the other side.

Debit and crecit – – David Albrecht

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I’ve done a little research on the final candidates for Chief Accountant at the SEC.  Tom Selling of the Accounting Onion has handicapped the candidates in yesterday’s post, Handicapping the Chief Accountant Contest.  It is worth a look.  I lack enough inside contacts to be able to offer an opinion as to each candidate’s chances. However, I can rate each candidate on the major issue confronting U.S. accounting–whether or not to switch to IFRS.

Jane B. Adams, labeled the front runner by accounting pundant Tom Selling she is rated as having a 50% probability of being chosen), has some, but not a lot of, prior SEC experience.  She served as Deputy Chief Accountant in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of the C hief Accountant from 1997 to 2000.  She was also Director of Accounting Standards at the AICPA from 1996 to 1997 and a Project Manager at the Financial Accounting Standards Board from 1987 to 1996. Recently, she has been a member of the user community as an analyst in equity research: 2 years in sell-side equity research at CSFB as Director of Accounting and Tax Policy and the last 6 years on the buy-side at Maverick Capital.  Maverick invests globally in liquid, primarily larger cap, equity securities based on in-depth fundamental research.  She was contributed less than $2,000 to President Obama’s campaign.

In a brief 2001 paper, Identical Companies, Different Financial Statements, she comments about a proposed accounting standard on derivitives, “Such changes do not improve the quality of earnings if they provide substantively different accounting results for the same instrument and exposure.”  From this statement, it is possible to project that because of IFRS flexibility in accounting standards she might oppose their adoption in the U.S.  However, she has made no public comments in the past eight years, so far as I can see.  Although I have no proof, my inclination is to rate her as IFRS friendly, given she has worked on analyzing global companies trading in numerous international markets.

Wayne Carnall, currently chief accountant of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance and a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, is touted by Selling as having a 40% chance of being selected.  Carnall, given his lengthy association, is thought to be  big firm candidate.  He has been assigned on numerous occasions to explain the proposed SEC roadmap.   Supporting IFRS and moving toward a single global accounting language seems consistent with his background and public comments.

James Kroeker is acting SEC chief accountant and a former partner at Deloitte & Touche.  After reading numerous comments and reviews of his speeches, it seems clear to me that he is an IFRS advocate.  Although he seems to prefer a complete turnover to IFRS, he has suggested that adopting some, but not all, of IFRS would be a plausible first move.  Selling rates him as having an 8% chance of being named.

Jack Ciesielski and Charley Niemeier are definitely not IFRS proponents.  I cannot find evidence that either will support a single world standard, let alone a move to IFRS.  Both favor strong accounting standards, tight regulation and vigilent enforcement.

SEC Chair Mary Schapiro certainly has choices.  On one end of the continuum would be Ciesielski and Niemeier, who favor tight regulation, U.S. tailored accounting standards and protection of investors.  On the other end are Kroker and Carnall, who have strong ties to the traditional big firm establishment.  They seem willing to promote the big firm party line on IFRS and other issues.  Adams seems to be the compromise candidate but is inexperienced.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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It has taken an extremely long time for SEC Chair Mary Schapiro to decide on a Chief Accountant.  It is rumored that she is about to name her choice.   It has been passed along to me by a trusted source that the short list of candidates for SEC Chief Accountant includes:

  • Jane B. Adams, a former deputy chief accountant of the SEC and former longtime staff member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, who worked until recently at Maverick Capital, New York.  Ms. Adams was a financial contributor to the Obama campaign.
  • Wayne Carnall, currently chief accountant of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance and a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
  • Jack Ciesielski, president of R.G. Associates, Baltimore, a current member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Investors Technical Advisory Committee and veteran of several standard-setting panels, who also is publisher of Analyst’s Accounting Observer.
  • James Kroeker, acting SEC chief accountant and former partner at Deloitte & Touche, who joined the SEC staff in early 2007 as a deputy to former Chief Accountant Conrad Hewitt.
  • Charles Niemeier, a member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and former chief accountant of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  Niemeier has chosen to remain completely independent from partisan politics.

ELVISThe accuracy of this list is not confirmed, and probably should be accorded no more credibility than rumors of an Elvis sighting.

It is my belief that Niemeier was an early front runner, but heavy lobbying prevented his naming.  Charlie McGreevey–European Union Treasury Minister– is rumored to have sent a personal envoy to Washington and an audience with SEC Chair Mary Schapiro to argue his case against Niemeier.  The large accounting firms and AICPA also lobbied strongly against him.   Niemeier caused strong opposition because of his September 10, 2008 speech against U.S. adoption of IFRS.  Schapiro is rumored to have said, “With so much opposition I simply can’t appoint him.”  It is precisely because of that opposition that he should have been appointed.

Tom Selling, consultant and author of The Accounting Onion, has conjectured about odds of appointment on AECM, the listserv for Accounting Professors:

  • Adams: 1:1 (even money)   The right background; may not have staked out a position on IFRS yet; would be the first woman chief accountant.
  • Carnall: 3:2   Perhaps the world’s most knowledgeable person on foreign private issuer matters. Nice guy, could be a very popular choice with the SEC Staff (just guessing on that).
  • Ciesielski: 99:1   Same political baggage as Niemeier (see below).
  • Kroeker: 23:2   Don’t know him. Association with the Cox/Hewitt era could be a plus (political compromise), or a minus (guilt by association).
  • Niemeier: 99:1  Much too candid, rigorous in approach, and independent-minded.

Who know if this is an accurate handicapping?

The Chief Accountant of the SEC has a tremendous influence on accounting policy in the U.S. In essence, the Chief Accountant is responsible for the strategic directions of all matters related to accounting and auditing. In essence, he is the First Accountant of the United States. He is at the center of the accounting universe. Specifically, the Chief Accountant is responsible for:

  1. Oversight of the FASB as it develops and maintains U.S. GAAP.
  2. Oversight of the PCAOB is it regulates auditors and develops and maintains audit/auditor standards.
  3. Coordinating U.S. relations and communications with international organizations that have an impact on accounting standards and practices.

It will be a real shame if Charley Niemeier is not appointed.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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