A team of five female accounting students from The University of Texas-Pan American was the "last team standing" when it recently won a national audit case competition sponsored by KPMG, one of the four largest accounting firms in the world, and the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA).
Judged by accounting professionals from KPMG, the Government Accounting Office and Halliburton, the UTPA team defeated regional team winners Florida State University, Baruch College and San Diego State University as well as the top regional runner up institution - the University of Arizona. They also competed against 2003's national winner DePaul University and runner up Queens College. The UTPA team advanced to the nationals held in Chicago Aug. 7-11 after winning the Southwest regional competition held in Houston in March.
UTPA team members, each chosen by the accounting faculty, included Delia Gutierrez, Alaina Lerma, Rebecca Martinez, Laura Mira and Elizabeth Ramos. All graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in business administration with a major in accounting except Gutierrez, who is completing two classes this fall and will graduate in December.
The team members said they thought one of the keys to their victory was recognizing an unintentional "flaw" in their audit case, which was given to them in May to prepare, and how they reacted to the flaw when presenting their case to the judges.
The group said the case, involving an energy company wanting to formulate a contract to hedge against losses in mild winters, called a weather derivative contract, was defective.
"It was backwards. It took us a while to figure out what was wrong - it was a loss, loss situation for both companies as it was presented so we amended the contract," explained Mira. Using authoritative literature on accounting and auditing standards and procedures, they corrected the error, which Gutierrez said "is what auditing is all about."
The winning group of students, who admitted learning a lot about teamwork since virtually living together the past five months, said they also took a risk in how they presented their case.
"We had a lot of graphics. We had a lot of humor. Since our case involved an energy company and cold weather we joked about it coming from down here," Lerma said, citing one of their quips about only knowing about snow in the Rio Grande Valley from "snow cones."
Dr. John Darcy, assistant professor of accounting and business law, assisted the team in the tax implications of the case. He said when the students were prepping for Chicago, they found the tax issues complicated with literally no real IRS rules applying to their particular case.
"They came into my office with a well-prepared, succinct case in an area where no rules had been established. I told them then that if they presented their case at the competition like they just presented it to me, they would win the championship in Chicago," he said.
Besides winning another trophy for the growing body of awards garnered by College of Business Administration students, each team member won $500 and an opportunity to pursue a full-time position with KMPG. Three graduates have already landed jobs locally. Mira plans to relocate and get a job in KPMG's Denver office. The team victory also earned next year's UTPA team an automatic berth at the 2005 national competition in Florida.
All agreed that they appreciated the significant support they had from their families, faculty and community. Advisors for the team are Dr. Wig De Moville, chair of the Department of Accounting and Business Law, and Dr. Ray Landry, assistant professor of accounting and business law, who accompanied the team to Chicago. In addition to Darcy's help, the Valley CPA firm of Burton, McCumber, and Cortez assisted them with the necessary authoritative literature.
The UTPA team members took advantage of their first trip to Chicago. They were able to visit several noted Chicago attractions and enjoyed outdoor air that felt "air conditioned" Guiterrez said.
She also said that KPMG arranged for the participants to help serve food to the homeless in a Salvation Army shelter while there.
"Since we were doing this with some high-level KPMG executives it helped us to understand the company and not be timid around the KPMG executives," she said.
As for what the victory meant for UTPA, the team members voiced a unanimous wish that the victory will put an end to some of the stereotypes people have of the University and bring more recognition to the quality of its business programs, especially the new master's in accountancy program.
"Maybe this will mean that some of the top ranked high school students who are interested in accounting and the business department will take a second look at UT Pan American now," Martinez said.