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Intellectual Capital Deflation

balloonBearingPoints Chapter 11 filing represents a watershed type event.

The filing by the global consulting firm BearingPoint puts it on life support or at the very least in an intensive care unit. BearingPoint the bulge bracket consulting firm that was spun off from KPMG due to regulatory mandates concerning the separation of accounting and advisory businesses is in serious trouble. It has been struggling under a mountain of debt and the bankruptcy filing will give the firm protection from creditors while it seeks to reorganize its business.

BearingPoint’s filing is an interesting metaphor about the deflation of intellectual capital.  Ideas, creativity, knowledge, productivity and innovation are some of the words that that we closely associate with intellectual capital.  Once we may have even thought this form of capital to be immune from the vicissitudes of the banality of markets.  I surmise that the recent business cycle exposes that idea as based more in our narcissistic prejudices then the cold objective realities of efficient markets.  As we witnessed radical capitalism’s continued drive of extreme rationalization through monetization we discovered the price of anything but seriously lost sight of the value of everything.

During the 1990’s I remember always being impressed and astonished by the reports of the rising productivity of the American workforce.  Year in year out the rising productivity was the proud boast and confirmation of American managerial brilliance.  But today that claim looks spurious at best.  Rethinking this proclamation may reveal this was accomplished not by brilliant management innovation but by outsourcing operational functions to subsistence based economies; and some artful balance sheet wizardry that aligned business performance ratios to maximize shareholder returns; particularly senior managers whose stock options were critical design considerations as to how those ratios were engineered.  Indeed if productivity is a proxy for innovation, the productivity of  American capitalism was outpacing the most aggressive predictions of Moore’s Law.  True technology contributed to massive gains in productivity but in many ways was an economic rent seeking agent that enabled a flawed economy to sustain itself through over leveraged economic and misdirected intellectual capital.

Today we are confronted with the evaporation of massive social wealth that the IMF estimates to be almost $4.1 trillion in the financial service sector.  I suspect a good portion of this value was carried on the balance sheet as good will.  And anyone that has been living close the plant earth the past couple of years can attest to how the good will of corporations has been severely discounted.  Perhaps this wealth never really existed and as the saying goes “you can’t lose what you never had”.  We can take comfort in that and perhaps we can look on the bemused folly of central governments eagerly trying to stimulate economic growth to levels of our recent unsustainable past.  I must admit that my sympathies and conviction stand with the Keynesian but I am beginning to wonder if they are chasing the long tails of ghostly economic shadows cast by AIG’s worthless CDS franchise.  Once considered a revolutionary innovation cooked up by the finest minds of the capital markets financial engineers are now perplexing conundrums wrapped in a riddle and remain valuation Level Three FAS 157 mysteries.

To be sure intellectual capital deflation is a huge subject.  I must also admit that this blogger lacks the time, skill and brain power to elucidate and articulate the numerous nuances and depth this assertion deserves and requires.  I guess we could sum it up in a sound bite like the “dumbing down of America” but I believe that merely addresses the race to the bottom marketers skillfully cultivated to gobble up a greater portion of that ever fickle and fluid market share pie.  In a way the deflation we speak of turns this dumbing down on its head and now claims the purveyors of fine ideas and clever tactics devised by the corporate marketing geniuses who were able to enrich themselves by conceiving the brilliant plans to convince us to buy so they can sell as much useless junk to as many people as possible.

The monetization of intellectual capital by incorporated consultants are increasingly becoming inefficient.  New technologies that are enablers of strategic thinking has large consultancies disappearing into the computing cloud.  Large bull pens of gray matter are inefficient as innovation in small firms are more efficient purveyors of thinking large to solve small problems or thinking small to solve larger problems. The large corporate dinosaurs that protected bloated bureaucracies enmeshed in group think stasis increasing showed an inability to be agents of innovation.  They boldly proclaimed best practices to justify and position themselves in the executive office but now that the large corporations have been decapitalized their value creation mantras dissipated as markets capitalization fell.

In appears that the bulge bracket firms viability were dependent on knowledge transfer initiatives to underdeveloped economies to support outsourcing; and rent seeking business models dependent on regulatory mandates of Sarbanes Oxley, GBLA, COBIT, EURO conversions, Basel II, Y2K, PATRIOT ACT, HIPAA, FISMA etc etc. Their business models profited from significant business drivers of the past two decades the reallocation of capital to emerging markets and the guarantee of market protection due to governmental regulatory mandates.  In both instances value creation from the deployment of intellectual capital proved to be unsustainable.

Consider the financial services industry and hedge funds.  Hedge funds claim to offer uncorrelated investment products but most of the hedge funds performance fell in lock step with the market index averages.  Investors pay premiums to participate in absolute return strategies offered by hedge funds.  Fund managers make the claim of absolute returns based on their superior insights that their intellectual capital confers on their investment strategies.  Last year that claim was demolished to devastating effect.

Newspaper publishers are also experiencing a decline in the portfolio value of their intellectual capital.  But many believe that it is more of  a question of their antiquated business model and once they figure out how to Googlize their business model to sufficiently monetize its intellectual capital shareholders will once again be rewarded with an appreciation in its investment and the true value of their intellectual capital will be realized.

The markets are dramatically changing. Today the question is not so much about ideas and strategy its a question of execution. Just as in the recent past it was about raising capital and acquiring assets now its about making informed capital allocation decisions and liquidity. Its true you need the target to shoot at but you also need munitions, a good scope with adjusted cross hairs and a gun. The value proposition of consultants is quickly becoming marginalized.

Its a poor business model. It scales poorly, its racked with inefficiencies, its built on protected markets and knowledge segregation. Now that those barriers are falling and more and more MBAs are out of work the value of this form of intellectual capital continues to fall.

Consultants all to often are beholden to their process biases. They find it difficult to get out of the box and routinely ask their engagements to climb into the box with them. That said it is an absolute necessity that business redefines its business model to address current market realities. It needs to do so with dispassionate dispatch and it needs to create a unique value proposition that differentiates the brand and adds identifiable alpha in an expanded value delivery chain.

Its a big challenge that many professional services firms need to confront. Our firm went through that transition 6 years ago. We went from a strategic sound practices consulting firm to a product creation and marketing firm dedicated to the commercial application of sound practices. For Sum2 creating value was a very different value proposition then delivering value. The need to build equity in our business was our principal concern. Building and marketing tangible product value is how you create a sustainable business model.

Corporations are becoming disenthralled of their self perceived cleverness. Many believe that major investments in applied intelligence create a culture of insularity that hedges all risks and builds enterprise value. In the past it allowed executives to hide behind a wall of opaqueness. They bought the best and brightest minds from our esteemed business schools convinced that this treasure of intellectual capital would protect them. They believed the digital blips of risk models to be sparkling Rosetta Stones containing the secrets that unlock the mysteries of effective risk management, value creation and business sustainability. The codified results of these algorithmic exercises are revered as holy Dead Sea Scrolls that offers the protection of an supernatural mojo. This is the thinking of a bankrupt brain trust.

You Tube Video: Nena, 99 Luft Ballons

Risk: Group Think, sustainable business model, value creation

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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corporate Governance and Financial Health

16414033-abstract-word-cloud-for-corporate-governance-with-related-tags-and-termsThree years ago I did some work for an independent credit rating agency utilizing a quantitative methodology to determine financial health of corporations.  Dr. Patrick Caragata founder of the firm conducted a study of 200 TSX listed firms with high CGI ratings (Governance Metrics International).   Dr. Caragata was seeking to determine the correlation of Corporate Governance (CG) and financial health.  His findings revealed that “CG ratings failed to indicate when a company was in poor health 75% of the time.  In fact, they wrongly identified 32% of weak companies as being highly rated on GMI.”

Dr. Caragata also extended his model to use financial health score as an early warning signal for a listed company’s share price.  KMV, established ratings agencies, Altman’s Z Score were also determined as lagging predictors of share price.  Dr. Caragata’s research on bond pricing and CDS where better predictors of financial health momentum and ultimate predictors of share price but still failed to correlate financial health score as an early warning signal for share prices.  The problem that the model continually encountered was that valuation always exhibited a bias towards share price (market momentum)  not financial health score.  The determination of a “fair value” based on historical spreads of financial health score and share price was overly and overtly price sensitive. Perhaps a signal of an inefficient market?  This was particularly true for bubble stock anomalies and commodity sensitive equities.

Purveyors of Business Process Management (BPM) suggest that listed practitioner’s of BPM trade at a 15% premium to non-practitioners.  I wonder if its marketing boast.  Though BPM is not CG;  it does speak to having CG excellence in the corporate DNA.   A cultural commitment   to sound practices create valuation premiums and sustainable business models.  That’s the message well managed companies consistently deliver as a central theme of their value proposition.  Integrating sound practices and CG excellence into the corporate culture does create valuation premiums because it suggests an intentionality of business process deeply wedded to the enterprise mission.

I believe the radical reconfiguration of Wall Street offers a telling example of incongruity of good CG practitioners and financial health.  It was always a self evident truth that Wall Street firms that folded or transformed into commercial banks were probably some of the best rated CG enterprises.  CG excellence can do nothing to save an enterprise with a structurally flawed business model.  Though CG excellence does presuppose a board of directors in tune with the vicissitudes of the market; who would have thought that we would be looking at the extinction of the global investment banking business?  Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and the mighty Goldman Sachs were walking dinosaurs with flawed unsustainable business models?  All either folded, were acquired or became FDIC insured commercial banks.  I still can’t believe it but it’s true.  The world is being turned upside down.

Sum2 is a firm believer in coupling quantitative and qualitative risk measures to maintain operational excellence to build a healthy sustainable enterprise.  Effective CG alone cannot assure financial health.  It  must be a critical pillar of the governance, risk and compliance (GRC) triad.

When we speak about the principles of good governance, how about the original dissertation on the ideal of governance excellence.  Seemingly an insistence on an honest evaluation of reality to determine what is good is all it takes.  Its really that simple.

Visit the blog Risk Rap and the Allegory of the Cave post on FAS 157:

Sum2 welcomes the opportunity to speak with partners who share our passion for GRC excellence.

originally published 6/12/13

June 12, 2013 Posted by | Bear Stearns, business continuity, credit crisis, Credit Redi, culture, FASB, operations, risk management, sound practices, sustainability | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRS Audit Risk Survey: Final Results

tax-returnSum2 is please to report the final results of the IRS Audit Risk Survey for Fund Managers. Sum2 has commissioned the survey to determine financial services industry awareness and readiness for IRS audit risk factors. The survey sought to determine industry awareness and readiness to address IRS Industry Focus Issue (IFI) risk exposures for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and corporations using offshore structures.

Survey Background

Due to the pressing revenue requirements of the United States Treasury and the need to raise funds by recognizing new sources of taxable revenue; hedge funds, private equity firms, CTA’s and other corporations that utilize elaborate corporate structures, engage in sophisticated transactions and recognize uncommon forms of revenue, losses and tax credits will increasingly fall under the considered focus of the IRS.

Since 2007 the IRS began to transition its organizational posture from a benign customer service resource to a more activist posture that is intent on assuring compliance and enforcement of US tax laws. Specifically the IRS has invested in its Large and Mid-Size Business Division (LMSB) to enhance its expertise and resources to more effectively address the tax audit challenges that the complexity and sophistication of investment management complexes present. The IRS has developed its industry issue competencies within its LMSB Division. It has developed a focused organizational structure that assigns issue ownership to specific executives and issue management teams. This vertical expertise is further enhanced with issue specialists to deepen the agencies competency capital and industry issue coordinators that lends administrative and agency management efficiency by ranking and coordinating responses to specific industry issues. IRS is building up its portfolio of skills and industry expertise to address the sophisticated agility of hedge fund industry tax professionals.

To better focus the resources of the agency the IRS has developed a Three Tiered Industry Focus Issues (IFI). Tier I issues are deemed most worthy of in depth examinations and any fund management company with exposure in these areas need to exercise more diligence in its preparation and response. Tier I issues are ranked by the IRS as being of high strategic importance when opening an audit examination. This is followed by Tier II and Tier III focus issues that include examination issues ranked according to strategic tax compliance risk and significance to the market vertical. Clearly the IRS is investing significant organizational and human capital to address complex tax issues of the industry. The IRS is making a significant institutional investment to discover potentially lucrative tax revenue streams that will help to address the massive budget deficits of the federal government.

Survey Results

The survey was open to fund management executives, corporate treasury, tax managers and industry service providers. CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professionals, administrators, custodians and prime brokers were also invited to participate in the study. The survey was viewed by 478 people. The survey was completed by 43% of participants who began the survey.

Geographical breakdown of the survey participants were as follows:

  • North America 73%
  • Europe 21%
  • Asia 6%

The survey asked nine questions. The questions asked participants about their awareness of IFI that pertain to their fund or fund management practice and potential mitigation actions that they are considering to address audit risk.

The survey posed the following questions:

  • Are you aware of the Industry Focus Issues (IFI) the IRS has developed to determine a fund managers audit risk profile?
  • Are you aware of the organizational changes the IRS has made and how it may effect your firms response during an audit?
  • Are you aware of the Three IFI Tiers the IRS has developed to assess a funds audit risk profile?
  • Are you aware of how the Three IFI Tiers may affect your audit risk exposures?
  • Have you conducted any special planning sessions with internal staff to prepare for IFI audit risk exposures?
  • Has your outside auditor or tax attorney notified you of the potential impact of IFI risk?
  • Have you held any special planning meetings with your outside auditors or tax attorneys to mitigate IFI risk?
  • Have you had meetings with your prime brokers, custodians and administrators to address the information requirements of IFI risk?
  • Have you or do you plan to communicate the potential impact of IFI risk exposures to fund partners and investors?

Survey highlights included:

  • 21% of survey participants were aware of IFI
  • 7% of survey respondents planned to implement specific strategies to address IFI audit risk
  • 6% of survey respondents have received action alerts from CPA’s and tax attorney’s concerning IFI audit risk
  • 26% of survey respondents plan to alert fund investors to potential impact of IFI audit risk

Recommendations

Sum2 believes that survey results indicate extremely low awareness of IFI audit risk. Considering the recent trauma of the credit crisis, sensational fraud events and the devastating impact of last years adverse market conditions; fund managers and industry service providers must remain vigilant to mitigate this emerging risk factor.

These market developments and the prevailing political climate surrounding the financial services sector will bring the industry under heightened scrutiny by tax authorities and regulatory agencies. Unregulated hedge funds may be immune from some regulatory issues but added compliance and disclosure discipline may be imposed by significant counter-parties, such as prime brokers and custodians that are regulated institutions.

Market and regulatory developments has clearly raised the tax compliance and regulatory risk factors for hedge funds and other fund managers. Issues concerning FAS 157 security valuation, partnership domiciles and structure, fund liquidation and restructuring and complex transactions has increased the audit risk profile for the industry. Significant tax liabilities, penalties and expenses can be incurred if this risk factor is not met with a well considered risk management program.

In response to this industry threat, Sum2 has developed an IRS Audit Risk Program (IARP) that prepares fund management CFOs and industry service tax professionals to ascertain, manage and mitigate its IRS risk exposures within the Three IFI Tiers. The IARP provides a threat scoring methodology to ascertain risk levels for each IFI risk factor and aggregates overall IFI Tier exposures. The IARP uses a scoring methodology to determine level of preparedness to meet each of the 36 audit risk factors.

The IARP helps managers to outline mitigation actions required to address audit risk factors and determine potential exposures of each risk. The IARP calculates expenses associated with mitigation initiatives and assigns mitigation responsibility to staff members or service providers. The IARP links users to issue specific IRS resources, forms and documentation that will help you determine an IFI risk relevancy and the resources you need to address it.

The IARP will prove a valuable resource to help you manage your response to a tax audit. It will also prove itself to be a critical tool to coordinate and align internal and external resources to expeditiously manage and close protracted audit engagements, arbitration or litigation events. The IARP product is a vertical application of Sum2’s Profit|Optimizer product series.

The Profit|Optimizer is a C Level risk management tool that assists managers to uncover and mitigate business threats and spot opportunities to maintain profitability and sustainable growth.

The IARP product is available for down load on Amazon.com.

The product can also be purchased with a PayPal account: Sum2 e-commerce

Sum2 wishes to thank all who anonymously took part in the survey.

If you have any questions or would like to order an IARP please contact Sum2, LLC at 973.287.7535 or by email at customer.service@sum2.com.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | compliance, CPA, CTA, FASB, hedge funds, IARP, IRS, legal, NP, private equity, regulatory, risk management, Tax, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Level Three Sinks Lower at GS

Interesting piece at CFO Magazine concerning fair value deterioration of Level Three Assets at Goldman Sachs during the month of August. Goldman Sachs reports that valuation of Level Three Assets dropped by 13%. It would be interesting to understand the impact of this collateral erosion had on GS’s largest counter-party AIG?

Was this the trigger that precursors the radical interventionist moves by the Treasury to purchase a controlling stake in AIG?

This insight will become most constructive as the Treasury begins its purchase program of toxic level three assets. Hammering Hank has hired Neel Kashkari one of his mentees from GS to head up the repurchase program. Mr. Kashkari is said to be a quantitative wiz kid and a real life rocket scientist to buy Level Three Assets from GS and other banks and create and manage a portfolio of toxic assets on behalf of the American taxpayers.

The CFO article can be viewed here.

You Tube Video: Goof Troop Level Three

Risk: collateral valuation, counter-party default,

October 8, 2008 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, EESA, FASB, TARP, Treasury | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment