Survey Says Some CFOs Pressured to Cook Books

August 1, 2002 ( - While most CFOs say otherwise, 17% of 180 respondents to a new survey say they have felt pressured to misrepresent financial results at least once in the past 5 years.

According to the CFO magazine survey, 11% of the respondents have felt pressured at least 3 times during that period from other executives, according to Dow Jones.  The report didn’t indicate if that pressure came from superiors, or in what ways it had been manifested.  

Aggressive Accounting

About 7% said they have engaged in “aggressive” accounting practices at least once in the past five years, while 5% said their firm has violated generally accepted accounting practices at least once in the past years.

CFO Magazine, which sent copies of the survey electronically to 3,000 financial chiefs at companies drawn randomly from its circulation list, says they suspect more may have felt pressured to doctor the results but were reluctant to admit it in a public survey.

More than a quarter (27%) of responding financial officers said a portion of their firm’s debt or other liabilities was not reflected on its balance sheet, and among those 61% said they used special-purpose entities to keep those liabilities off their balance sheet.  Nearly half (42%) said they guarantee or protect the investments of third parties in such entities.

Left Out?

Among the 54% that use pro forma results as part of their quarterly earnings press release:

  • 41% exclude goodwill charges from those results,
  • 67% exclude restructuring costs,
  • 29% exclude gains or losses on asset sales, and
  • 10% leave out pension gains or losses.

About 18% said they don’t reconcile their pro forma numbers with U.S. GAAP requirements.

The survey polled 180 financial officers by email in June, including 141 financial officers at large U.S. public companies – most with more than $1 billion in revenue.