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TOOLKIT

A toolkit for understanding the biggest issues in accounting

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Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Accounting and auditing can be arcane, hard-to-understand fields, where there are specialties within specialties and even the simplest of developments can require intricate explanations. The people, websites, and other sources listed here are among those that cover and explain these matters best and can help keep you up to date with news and insights on what’s happening. (Some of these links may require a subscription to access.)

People

Francine McKenna, a former reporter for MarketWatch who also has 20-plus years of experience at Big Four accounting firms, is one of the best and most widely followed writers and commentators about accounting and auditing. She just started a new online newsletter featuring her work, The Dig.

Among the other journalists who tackle accounting issues and the accounting industry: Jean Eaglesham at The Wall Street Journal, Tabby Kinder at the Financial Times, Nicola M. White and Amanda Iacone at Bloomberg Tax, and Roddy Boyd, head of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation.

Other accounting-oriented folks worth following on Twitter include accounting-fraudster-turned-fraudbuster Sam E. Antar of Crazy Eddie fame; “Diogenes,” the “secret” Twitter account of famed short-seller Jim Chanos; AccountingWEB, an online community for accountants; Probes Reporter, which uses Freedom of Information Act filings to unearth undisclosed Securities and Exchange Commission investigations of companies; accounting academics Baruch Lev, Mike Shaub, Jeffrey Johanns, Alan Jagolinzer and Prem Sikka; Rick Telberg of CPA Trendlines, featuring news for accounting and finance professionals; and Matt Kelly of Radical Compliance, which features compliance news.

Websites and publications

Audit Analytics, a consulting firm, has a multitude of data about corporate accounting, accounting problems, accounting rules, the accounting industry, accounting firms, and much more. Much of its work is in paid reports, but there’s also a free and public blog that frequently posts articles about accounting issues of interest.

Going Concern is a website which covers accounting news and industry doings with a snarky sense of humor.

Footnoted delves into SEC filings to unearth the kinds of disclosures about companies that they would rather go unnoticed. The site is on hiatus now, but it’s expected to restart soon, and old posts are still available. Footnoted’s Michelle Leder still tweets about interesting filings.

The Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan, independent watchdog that scrutinizes the federal government’s activities, issued a report in September on the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the accounting industry’s US regulator, alleging it had been doing “a feeble job” when it came to disciplining accounting firms. A follow-up report criticizing the PCAOB’s disclosure is here.

Professional and trade news outlets that cover accounting matters include Accounting Today, CFO, and the Journal of Accountancy.

Books

Count Down: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of the Big Four Accounting Firms by Jim Peterson scrutinizes how the Big Four got to where they are now and the issues they’re facing, from the quality of their audits to their push into consulting.

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind traces the Enron implosion that changed American business, to say nothing of accounting.

The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives by Jesse Eisinger is about the federal government’s reluctance to tackle white-collar crime, prompted in part by the prosecution of Enron’s auditor Arthur Andersen that helped doom the firm.

Information and data

The Big Four accounting firms that dominate the industry are PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst & Young. The American Institute of CPAs is the industry’s main US trade group, and the Center for Audit Quality is a group representing public-company auditors.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR repository of corporate regulatory filings is a key source of required disclosure about public companies’ financial information and what they’re up to.

The SEC’s website also has releases about accounting and auditing enforcement actions and guidance about accounting matters from its chief accountant’s office.

The website of the PCAOB has news; a link through which you can find the PCAOB’s inspection reports for any audit firm; and AuditorSearch, where you can find out who the audit-firm partner is in charge of any company’s audit and which firms assisted the main auditor in its work.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is the 2002 law enacted after the Enron scandal that put in place many of the rules and structures that govern auditing today.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board sets accounting rules for US companies, and the International Accounting Standards Board does the same for companies outside the US.