Unless KPMG is now publicly ditched by a raft of big clients (which is unlikely), we may never know the damage inflicted on its reputation by the insider trading scandal involving the former head of its Los Angeles audit practice.
But for the firm’s chairman Michael Andrew to dismiss it already as “a one-day wonder” in “a slow news week” was silly and premature. There may come a time when Mr Andrew should come out fighting, but it is not yet.
What strikes me about the findings of the UK Competition Commission’s inquiry into the audit market is that in a world of ever more rapid change, a company’s relationship with its auditor is now often the oldest fixture in the boardroom.
Think about it. The commission says 31 per cent of blue-chip FTSE 100 companies have had the same auditor – almost invariably one of the “Big Four” – for 20 years or more. During that period, on average, most companies will have changed their chief executive at least four times, their non-executive board members (assuming replacement at the nine-year mark, when they lose their independence according to UK guidelines) twice, and their computer systems probably five or six times.
European Union commissioner Michel Barnier’s proposals for tough new rules for audit firms have the Big Four professional services firms in a lather.
As the specialist journal Accountancy Age puts it:
Big Four interests are most threatened by Barnier’s proposals. At their size, they will cop the full force of regulation completely separating audit and non-audit services, potentially compelling them to split and trampling on their business model.