Auditors in the Spotlight

Date April 7, 2017
Authors Sean Kocan

Auditors might never again achieve such fame as when they accidentally sent the wrong envelope to the podium at the 2017 Oscars. The announcement of the wrong movie as Best Picture of the Year put the two auditors charged with overseeing the awards process in a very bright and very embarrassing light.

It might seem a simple task, handing an envelope to a presenter, but there is a lot more to the process. Auditors tabulated the Oscar votes, assuring they were added accurately and the winners identified correctly. The two auditors in the wings that night were the only two people who knew the winners. In fact, their assignment included memorizing the names of the winners, presumably to be able to complete the awards were the envelopes somehow misplaced or stolen. And they maintained possession of the envelopes until handing them over to the Oscar presenters.

As head of the accounting and assurance practice in the Pittsburgh office of the Penguins’ Official Accounting Firm, I was recently assigned a similar task in overseeing the Penguins’ Golden Ticket Giveaway. Maybe not as glamorous as the Oscars, but a Giveaway prize valued at a quarter of a million dollars required just as serious and vigilant oversight.

The Golden Ticket Giveaway was an innovative idea conceived by Penguins’ management in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary. The winner was drawn randomly from a drum of 50 lottery-type balls each representing the entry of one of the 50 fans who qualified by winning earlier contests sponsored by the Penguins and its corporate sponsors.

As the official accounting firm of the Penguins, HBK was a natural choice to serve as auditor for the event, and our first step was to honor our selection by ensuring there were no conflicts of interest, that is, any HBK relationships with candidates that could question our independence and impartiality.

On the evening of the Giveaway, contestants gathered in a Penguins management office at PPG Paints Arena where each was assigned a number, one through 50, and a correspondingly marked lottery ball. Penguins’ Director of Partnership Marketing Jack Tipton held up each ball, had the contestant with the same number recognize it, then handed it to me. I examined each ball to ensure it was marked properly, that all balls were sized and weighted consistently. I then placed the balls in the drum, each in the same way, and closed and locked the drum. My role was then to maintain control of the contents, to carry the drum from the office to the rink and see it placed on the ice as the 50 contestants filed into the arena and waited in front of 18,000 fans for the winner to be drawn. From placing the balls in the drum to the moment of the drawing, the balls and drum never left my sight.

It was a great experience being behind the scenes on game day and trusted with the job of providing credibility and fairness to a process with such a substantial reward. Moreover, it was an honor to be charged with protecting the reputation of the Penguins organization and the interests of the 50 people contesting for such a valuable financial asset. Our role as independent, impartial overseers is one we take very seriously at HBK. The trust placed in us to instill credibility and confidence in a subject matter provides me and everyone in our practice the inspiration to work diligently at all times.

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