Did you know you can learn audit lessons from a brain tumor? Here’s my story.
One day while driving, I said to my wife, “Am I weaving?” I did not feel in control, and I was hearing clicking noises in my ears. My conditions worsened and the mystery grew over the next two years as I visited three doctors. They stuck, prodded, and probed me, but no solution.
As time passed, I felt a growing numbness on the right side of my face. So one night I started Googling health websites (the thing they tell you not to do) and came upon this link: Acoustic Neuroma Association. I clicked and read, having never heard of an acoustic neuroma. While reading about the symptoms, it was as though I was staring at my diary. My next thought was “it can’t be a brain tumor.” I turned to my wife behind me and said, “this is what I have.”
The next day I handed the acoustic neuroma information to my doctor, asking, “Would you please order a brain scan?”
Two days after the MRI, I received my doctor’s call while on a golf course. He said, “Mr. Hall, you were right. You have a 2.3-centimeter brain tumor.” (I sent him a bill for my diagnosis, but was never paid–just kidding.) My golfing buddies gathered around and prayed for me on the 17th green, and I went home to break the news to my wife. We had two children at the time, ages two and four. Having just started my own CPA business six years before, I was forty-one years old. So, as you can imagine, I was concerned about my family and business, but strangely, I was completely at peace.
Shortly after that, I was in a surgeon’s office in Atlanta. The doctor said they’d do a ten-hour operation; there was a 40% chance of paralysis and a 5% chance of death. The tumor was too large for radiation–or so I was told.
I didn’t like the odds, so I prayed more and went back to the Internet. There I located Dr. Jeffrey Williams at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I emailed the good doctor, telling him of the tumor’s size. His response: “I radiate tumors like yours every day.” He was a pioneer in fractionated stereotactic radiation, one of the few physicians in the world (at that time) using this procedure.
A few days later, I’m lying on an operating table in Baltimore with my head bolted down, ready for radiation. They bolt you down to ensure the cooking of the tumor (and not your brain). Fun, you should try it. Four more times I visited the table, and I kept noticing everyone left the room–a sure sign you should not try this at home.
Each day I laid there silently, talking to God and trusting in Him. And my wife sat outside, lifting me up in prayer.
Three weeks later I returned to work. Twenty-two years later, I have had two sick days.
I’ve watched my children grow up. They are twenty-six and twenty-eight now–both finished college at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!). And a year and a half ago, my daughter had our first grandchild. My wife is still by my side, and I’m thankful for each day. Here’s a recent picture of my family at one of our favorite places: Cades Cove, Tennessee.
So what does a brain tumor story tell us about audits? (You may, at this point, be thinking, “they did cook his brain.”)
It’s easy to overlook the obvious. Maybe we don’t want to see a red flag (I didn’t want to believe I had a tumor). It might slow us down. But an audit is not purely about finishing and billing. It’s about gathering proper evidential matter to support the opinion. To do less is delinquent and dangerous.
If you can’t gain appropriate audit evidence one way, seek another. Don’t simply push forward, using the same procedures year after year. The doctor in Atlanta was a surgeon, so his solution was surgery. His answer was based on his tools, his normal procedures. If you’ve always used a hammer, try a wrench.
If one answer doesn’t ring true, see what someone else thinks, maybe even someone outside your firm. Obviously, you need to make sure your engagement partner agrees (about seeking outside guidance), but if he or she does, go for it. I often contact the Center for Plain English Accounting. I find them helpful and knowledgeable. I also have relationships with other professionals, so I call friends and ask their opinions–and they call me. Check your pride at the door. I’d rather look dumb and be right than to look smart and be wrong.
Fractionated stereotactic radiation was new. Dr. Williams was a pioneer in the technique. The only way your audit processes will get better is to try new techniques: paperless software (we use CCH Prosystem Engagement), data mining (we use TeamMate Analytics), real fraud inquiries (I use ACFE techniques), electronic bank confirmations (I use Confirmation.com), project management software (I use Basecamp). If you are still pushing a Pentel on a four-column, it’s time to change.
Finally, remember that work is important, but life itself is the best gift. Be thankful for each moment, each hour, each day.
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Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.
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