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An urban myth for accountants

Sep 9th 2010
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By Carol McLachlan

An urban myth is an apocryphal, second-hand story, told as true and just plausible enough to be believed, about some horrific, embarrassing, ironic, or exasperating series of events that supposedly happened to a real person.

It's likely to be framed as a cautionary tale and, let's face it, our profession is rife with them. From tax loops to arithmetic enigmas to the oddity of the individual, we've got them all.

If you're not sure whether the story you're hearing is an urban myth, look out for the following characteristics:

  • It's a narrative
  • It's alleged to be true
  • It's just plausible enough to be believed
  • Its veracity is unproven
  • It's of spontaneous (or indeterminate) origin
  • It varies in the telling
  • It's likely to take the form of a cautionary tale
  • It circulates by being passed from individual to individual, either orally or in written form
  • It's attributed to putatively trustworthy second-hand sources
  • Finally, it may not be false!

Big Four folklore

There are too many Big Four fairytales circulating to count, but I'll share my favourite one below. It's rather chilling, but alleged to be true... although aren't they all?

Once upon a time there was a brand new graduate trainee. On his first day in the field, he was sent to a portacabin on an industrial estate to report for duty. He joined a team of six who'd already been working on the audit for two weeks. Keeping to himself, doing what he was told, he kept his head down and got on with his work. Nobody bothered him, not the team, nor the office.

It was only at the end of the fourth day when he was checking in with a fellow trainee on the phone and he mentioned the name of the audit that he realised something wasn't quite right. "What do you mean you're on the Widget and Digit audit?" his friend questioned. "That's not one of our clients. I know for a fact that they're audited by another firm, my dad's a shareholder."

Oh the shame! Our poor auditor had joined the wrong Big Four team and had been beavering away for the wrong firm for the best part of the week. He didn't notice, but then neither did anyone else in the team. Our hapless hero slunk off during lunch break, never to be heard from again.

Feel free to share your favorite accounting-related urban myth in the Comments section.

About the author:

Carol McLachlan supports the accountancy profession - both individuals and organisations - in a wide variety of professional and personal development areas such as career planning, work-life balance, performance enhancement, leadership skills, team building, assertiveness training, confidence building, managing change, improving communication, and managing conflict.

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