Visa and MasterCard are commodities, audits are not

For most of the last 25 years, I have been hearing that the audit is a commodity.  The Big 8, I mean Big 4 sure treated them that way, preferring to practically give away the audit and go after the seemingly more lucrative consulting projects.  We all saw what that did for Arthur Andersen.

Sunday night I posted the following on Facebook: 

Is there any real difference between Visa and MasterCard? Other than the name and the logo? 

I got three responses:

  1. I've always wondered the same thing.
  2. Visa starts with 4 and Master Card starts with 5.
  3. MasterCard is priceless, but Visa is everywhere I want to be.

Seriously, is there any other difference?  To me, American Express is still a cut above Visa and MasterCard.  Discover is different - they were the first that I remember to offer cash back rewards.  To me, Visa and MasterCard are one and the same, and a lot of money is being expended by them trying to convince is there is a difference, money that could be used for better purposes.

But an audit is very different.  I guarantee the audit I do on an SEC smaller reporting company is not identical to the one another Firm, be it the size of my Firm, much bigger or smaller.  How could it be?  Each auditor is bringing different biases to the entity on what they consider a major risk and how they want to complete testing.  For that matter my partner Ron and I have different approaches to testing some areas. 

Ultimately, the difference in the audit is the audit Firm, the partner responsible for planning the audit and the team that performs the audit and makes decisions on how to respond to the results.  If the audit ever gets to the point where one is Visa and the other is MasterCard, we are all in trouble.

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Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies. Joel writes observations on different matters and especially on working with and using LinkedIn. He thinks he has a sense of humor.

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