October 23, 2021

The Big 4’s Stranglehold on the Audit Market Is Worse Than You Thought

In a speech entitled "Accountability: Protecting Investors, the Public Interest and Prosperity," PCAOB member Jeanette Franzel shares some numbers:  

Currently, about 2,360 firms are registered with the PCAOB, including about 915 non-U.S. firms located in 85 jurisdictions.
Not all PCAOB-registered firms regularly issue audit reports for issuers, but we inspect those that do — approximately 714 firms, including more than 240 non-U.S. firms. Additionally, approximately 118 registered firms do not regularly issue audit reports for issuers; however, they report that they play a substantial role in the audits of issuers.
Accounting Today picked out the little nugget from her speech that stated 923 registered firms do not currently conduct audits that would subject them to PCAOB oversight, therefore the Board is "examining the extent of this practice and the risks that may arise from gaps in expectations about what a PCAOB registration may signify."
So that's interesting. But it's not quite as interesting as this: 
Together, these firms audit or play a substantial role in the audits of the previously mentioned more than 9,755 U.S. issuer companies that have approximately $26.4 trillion in global market capitalization.
Based on 2012 year-end data, the four largest registered public accounting firms and their global affiliates audited more than 98 percent of the global market capitalization of U.S. issuers. The next three firms and their global affiliates audited another 1.1 percent of this market capitalization.
This level of concentration, which has increased significantly since the 1980s, has been studied extensively. The dynamics of this market provide complexities for the Board's oversight programs and present challenges within the market for choice among audit firms.
You can crunch those numbers if you want.
Anyway, I think Member Franzel showed considerable restraint here by simply stating that this "level of concentration" results in "complexities" and "challenges."
Some in the UK haven't been so reserved and they have been much aggressive in discussing the Big 4 oligopoly. Meanwhile, here in the States our legislators are passing bills that abolish policies that aren't even being seriously considered.   
"Too Few to Fail" doesn't even do this justice. 

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