Back in work

Back in work two weeks now – I was aggressive with the rehab, physio and medication, and saw a good amount of improvement in pain and range of motion. Initially, the pain was difficult to manage, even with medication and breaks every 45 mins, but it’s now reaching a manageable level. Because I am a fucking spreadsheet jockey, I even made a workbook that I use to track my pain, activity and symptoms, on a scale of 1-10. I have been averaging out at 3 these past 7 days.

There have been a few spikes past 6, mostly when there’s stress in work, and I have to sit in a lecture hall after working all day.

I am no longer taking the strong NSAIDs or valium, and am only taking ibuprofen when needed.

But I don’t think that low level of work is sustainable professionally – I’m leaving most days having worked 9AM until 5.30. My colleagues are getting out at 7 or later. I think sooner or later I have to get back to the reality of audit: 50+ hour weeks are thought to be necessary. I don’t currently have the capacity for work that I used to, even working 8 hours daily. If I work my ass off or hammer on something for a while, I start getting pain and spasms. When I start getting into the senior level, I just don’t think it’s going to be physical possible to complete the work assigned. Besides, we don’t get recognised for efficiency at staff level, only the hours charged.

For now, “get it done, at all costs” is an action movie mantra, and not something I want to live my life by anymore. This is a compliance job about volume and project management, and not a job about understanding, analysing and synthesising something useful. I applied for advisory roles, but was offered asset management audit instead. 

The work of a funds auditor is so compliance based because of regulation – we really don’t want our audits investigated if the regulator thinks we missed some issues. So the approach we take is to cover EVERYTHING. I spend most of my time ensuring that our hedge fund clients financial statements comply with regulations, or that their financial statements match what’s in their bank and investment portfolio.

I’ve learned how to use vlookups, Pivot tables, and nested sumif functions, but I thought I would be using SQL to understand how clients generate their reports and reconciliations.

We already greatly rely on a client’s internal control environment when conducting an audit, as their portfolio might consist of 6 trillion USD. As its, one of the fundamental assumptions we operate on is materiality: we only test a fraction of the clients portfolio.

Even taking 2% of their total net assets above testing threshold gives us 100,000+ records over 30 spreadsheets. An audit of this size takes a team of 6 about 3 months, working 55-70 hours weekly, to complete. That’s only 2% of their portfolio. A set of confirms covering 70% of the positions might be 500-600 A4 sheets, with 30 positions per page. To check all these securities and financial instruments exist and are valued correctly, even without getting the client/brokers to explain variances, would take a week.

If I am lucky, and the formatting aligns like the planets, we can hand it to an IT consultant team who will tie it all together in an hour with computer wizardry. Then our audit time could much more usefully spent by analysing the data, getting assurance over it, and giving financial advice. But I don’t think we’ll see that for another 5 years. In the mean time, we will do it with pen and paper, and manual entry in Excel.

In the investment managers office, all this data is generated by computers, and I imagine it is analysed using better tools than Excel. But Big 4 audit seems to be behind the curve.

When I researched the industry, I was excited to be using their tools and buzzwords to make projections and build real skills. I’m reviewing the year I’ve spent here, and I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to do any of that yet. The industrial audit we learn in the evenings and weekends doesn’t apply to asset management. I’m looking for other work, because I feel like I’ve lost interest, and I don’t want to make myself sick for the sake of financial statements.


One thought on “Back in work

  1. Yeah, the neurosis desk jobs give you. It feels exactly like you’re in elementary school and given sheets of long division problems to do for 6-8 hours.

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