Extreme proof accountants aren't dull
Need a thrill? Try doing your taxes while skydiving, writes Misty Harris.
Misty Harris
The Ottawa Citizen

March 28, 2005

Tax season, with its sophisticated forms, complex equations and underlying threat of federal prosecution, can be intense at the best of times.

But until you've done your taxes while skydiving, you haven't begun to experience number-crunching at its most exhilarating.

"Extreme accounting" is the new sport of choice for financial daredevils. Tongue planted in cheek, the creators of the improbable activity describe it as "injecting the adrenaline rush of accounting into the dull, everyday routine of extreme sports."

It's what happens when brave bean-counters jump off cliffs, dive into shark-infested waters and toss themselves out of airplanes while simultaneously performing mathematical gymnastics on their laptops.

The original marketing concept was devised to create excitement around accounting. But over the past five months, it has grown into a genuine amateur sport attracting finance experts from around the world.

"We want to debunk any myths about accountants being dull, suited people with dull lives outside of work," says Emma Hoyle, a spokeswoman for extreme accounting. "The fact that the sport has become so popular already dispels any preconceptions that used to exist about accountants."

Extreme accounting was conceived late last year by members of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and financial software company CODA, both of which have head offices in Europe. The idea was inspired by the extreme-ironing phenomenon that has adventurers pressing shirts while undertaking risky sporting activities.

What began as "a bit of fun," Ms. Hoyle says, quickly turned into a cult sensation as real-life "extreme accountants" began sending in photos of themselves in action. The official website ( now gets an average 3,500 hits a day.

"This is the kind of thing accountants have been waiting for," says Ms. Hoyle. To date, the site has received snapshots from Baghdad, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Dominican Republic and Britain.

There are no Canadian participants yet, but Ms. Hoyle is willing to "throw down a challenge."

The public face of extreme accounting belongs to Arnold Chiswick, a fictitious character created by accounting institute and CODA. The official story is that Mr. Chiswick -- described as a former member of the Queen's 1st Airborne Insolvency Division of the Royal Infantry -- was mid-skydive when he realized his tax return was due.

According to the website, Mr. Chiswick "whips out his calculator to calculate the petrol rebate he can claim after trading in his Jaguar XJS for a pedal-powered SMART car, and accidentally invents the modern sport of extreme accounting."

In the late '90s, a Simon Fraser University study found Canadian accountants are more "assertive, independent-minded, unconventional, cheerful, enthusiastic, rebellious, experimenting, liberal, self-sufficient, careless of social rules and standards, nonconforming, anxious, independent and impulsive" than samples of the general population.

But according to an associate professor of accounting at Ontario's Wilfrid Laurier University, pop culture has yet to reflect such a dynamic image of the profession.

"The stereotypes just don't seem to fit the reality," says William Salatka, whose accounting colleagues over the past two decades have included a race-car driver and a ballroom dancer.

"There are a lot of interesting things that go on in accounting, and I'm not necessarily talking about WorldCom, or Enron."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

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