KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers hit back as probe attacks audit ‘closed club’

 

The Competition Commission has found that the audit market has “systemic” issues that have led to a closed club of the Big Four accountants dominating the sector.

Senior figures at KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers have reacted angrily to the findings of Laura Carstensen, the commission’s inquiry chairman, that the market is suffering from a lack of competition. Between them, the Big Four run the numbers of more than 95% of the FTSE 350, a market worth almost £800 million in fees.

After 16 months of investigation, Carstensen’s provisional report says corporates should be compelled to re-tender audit work more regularly. They could also be forced to change their auditor every seven, 10 or 14 years, depending on further findings during consultation, and prohibit loan terms that specifically say a Big Four auditor must be used on the accounts.

Carstensen told the Evening Standard: “This is systemic. There’s a stickiness in the market — the fact is that companies stick with an audit firm for decades, which can potentially lead to quality issues. There would be price benefits from switching around.”

The commission also wants audit committees and shareholders to have more of a say than management over who runs the rule over company accounts and the fees that they are paid. “Management interests might diverge from shareholders — they would want to present things in a favourable light while shareholders might want warts-and-all accounts,” she added.

Richard Sexton, PwC’s head of reputation and public policy, dismissed this argument, saying: “We believe that the Competition Commission has grossly underestimated the critical role that audit committees play in protecting the interests of shareholders.”

Ernst & Young denied the audit market was failing to serve shareholders, saying it believed “competition between audit firms is healthy  and robust, and that the evidence supports this”.

Mid-tier accountants have long called for reform, with BDO, Grant Thornton and Mazars among the most vocal. BDO senior audit partner James Roberts said: “Although these findings are game-changing, I don’t see a landslide of work coming our way soon.”

However, Roberts believes the reforms could mean the Big Four’s hold of the FTSE 350 market will slide to as low as 80% within five years. The commission’s final report is due in August.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence