Several weeks ago in this space, I regaled you with my annual vacation plans, which this year entailed me taking my first-ever cruise.

And while I can proudly say that not once in the week at sea did I reach for the Dramamine, my family and I were treated to a few extra days on the boat courtesy of Hurricane Frances.

Seems the storm forced the closure of the Port of Miami as well as the airport, so I consoled myself with the fact there are worse ways to ride out 150-mile-per-hour winds and horizontal rain, than sunning myself several hundred miles away with an unending inventory of tall tropical drinks.

But alas, Frances wasn't about to let me off that easy.

Two days after my return, the Big Apple got socked with Frances' remnants, to the tune of six inches of rain in a two-hour span that somehow fell directly over my commuter parking lot.

Needless to say, I literally swam with the fishes on the ride home, as the area resembled something from the set of "Waterworld." To compound my aqua malaise I discovered upon my soggy arrival home, a half-inch of water had accumulated in my basement.

Then, following a slew of short circuits in the car's electrical harness -- including both side airbags -- my insurance company obligingly sent me a check as consolation for a proper burial.

After a protracted stream of four-letter words, I resigned myself to the fact it was inevitable.

Inevitable I guess in the way Big Four firms are dropping smaller audit clients in the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance demands.

As the November 15 deadline looms for SOX compliance, Big Four firms have been working overtime with their larger audit clients on their financial reporting systems to meet that date.

As a result, the combination of manpower shortages and cost-efficiency has prompted the global firms to, well, jettison smaller (read: less profitable) clients in favor of their larger blue-chip counterparts.

Now you didn't have to cover, or, for that matter work, in the profession very long to see this trend coming, but apparently, Donald Nicolaisen, the chief accountant the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a bit concerned.

He castigated the firms for "running away from the marketplace" and urged them not to use SOX as "a convenient tool" to manage their businesses.

When SOX was first signed into law, many accounting and financial publications (including ours) featured articles and numerous consultant predictions that this was going to be the future of auditing for SEC issuers.

Why this comes as a surprise to regulators, I'm not exactly sure.

But what it has done is throw a lot of audit business down one or two levels to smaller firms who, say even three years ago, would not have had much of a chance at these size engagements.

Unless I'm missing something here, smaller audit clients summarily dropped by the Big Four would most likely benefit from being serviced by firms whose resources are not quite so strained.

You could say it was an inevitable benefit for some.

Now if only someone would explain to me the inevitable benefit of once again assuming monthly car payments.

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