Are Big 4 Auditors Irrelevant?

Okay people, the calls for the complete obliteration of the accounting world have begun. Check that. It's more or less the accounting world as it relates to auditors of public companies (i.e. Big 4 auditors).

Steve Goldstein at MarketWatch, for one, is NOT A FAN, "What precise purpose does it serve to have a supposedly independent auditor (paid for by the company) sign off on accounts? From Enron to Lehman to Satyam to Parmalat, it's clear that the major accountants lack either the skill or the determination (or both) to ferret out fraud."

So in case you didn't catch it, he's calling into question the Big 4's (our assumption) integrity, competence and fortitude. Oh and before you start huffing about "it's not the job of the auditor to detect fraud," we'd argue that's not even the point any more. Lehman was engaging in what a former CFO calls "shenanigans" that E&Y knew about for years and went along with it. Why? Because Lehman said everything was kosh.

Goldstein goes on:

Company executives already are forced to sign off on their accounts. When they are caught lying, companies face liability over disclosure.

So the threats that keep (some) companies honest are there regardless of whether the reports are audited. The outside auditors themselves are assigned a negligible value by the market.

A solution? Here's two admittedly out-there solutions that the Securities and Exchange Commission probably won't adopt.

One is quite simple: get rid of accountants. Who cares? They add no value, and their expenses weigh on the bottom line.

The other would be for someone else to hire the accountant. How about the company's top five shareholders? While the likes of Fidelity would grumble about the added costs and the free-rider benefit for smaller shareholders, they would certainly have an interest in securing a far tougher audit.

Okay, Big 4 auditors, here's your homework: explain why auditing for public companies isn't irrelevant. We'll listen, we swear. Or just start shooting off at the mouth if you feel it necessary. Goldstein isn't the first to make this determination. Francine McKenna and Jim Peterson have argued that the value of an auditor's opinion has been nil for quite some time and they're both Big 876454 alums. It's okay if you admit it. Acceptance is the first step.

What exactly is the point of having accountants? [MarketWatch]

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