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Auditor musical chairs isn’t something that happens too often but Reuters reports that more and more U.S. companies are looking to save a little extra scratch on their audit fees:
Bucking a long-standing preference by most companies to stick with the same auditor for years, some companies are putting their audit work out for competitive bids to win better deals on fees, or to get fresh teams looking at their books. “It’s a change in the competitive landscape among the audit firms where they have the ability and desire to take on more clients,” said Mark Grothe, an analyst at consulting firm Glass Lewis. Public companies also seem to be more willing to switch auditors, as long as one of the “Big Four” firms will be doing the work, he said.
The article cites Apple (dropped KPMG for E&Y) and Tysons (kicked E&Y to the curb in favor of PwC) as two prominent examples. We’re also aware that Credit Suisse is slowly transitioning a good portion of the audits performed by KPMG to PwC, according to sources familiar with the situation. Companies of this size willing to change their auditors demonstrates that some companies aren’t too concerned with the learning curve that may face their new auditors. In fact, some CFOs are more than okay with it, including Linster Fox of Shuffle Master who claims, “There’s no degradation in service — the service is actually higher.”
PwC’s Tim Ryan, however, doesn’t buy the idea that fees are the driving force behind the auditor switcheroo, “When a company does go through a change, it is almost always driven by something other than fees,” he told Reuters. Instead, a change is more likely to happen when, for example, a major fraud gets missed or there’s a difference of opinion on a crucial issue OR the CEO is a finicky character OR some other mysterious reason unbeknownst to all of us.
Regardless, the real concern is that all this auditor swapping puts a lot of pressure on fees:
Fee pressure has been intense worldwide, but especially in the United States, according to the International Accounting Bulletin, which tracks global audit fees. “The U.S. is a very competitive market, easily the largest audit market in the world, and the Big Four have competition from a much larger pool of firms,” said IAB editor Arvind Hickman. “Last year we received reports of fees being cut between 5 and 15 percent on average on audit work, and there were extreme cases where fees were being cut up to 40 percent,” he said. Fee pressure appears to be easing somewhat, “but there will still be fee pressure this year and we don’t predict it will go away any time soon,” he said.
This has Big 4 firms undercutting regional competitors and is no doubt, partly responsible for the parking lot at the Senior Manager level in some markets. With this level of competition and, as a result, a slowly decreasing portion of the Big 4 revenue stream, it doesn’t necessarily mean a career as an auditor is a dead end but it sure doesn’t help.
Evergreen Energy of Denver dismissed Deloitte effective June 23rd according to the company’s 8-K filing. Hein & Associates, a local Denver firm, will take it from here.
It stands to reason that Evergreen didn’t appreciate the going concern opinions that Deloitte gave the company for its December 31, 2009 and December 31, 2008 financial statements but in cordial SEC filing fashion, there are no parting shots from the company.
Evergreen’s press release indicates that this was simply an opportunity to throw some action to another firm (most likely with lower fees), “With the sale of certain Buckeye assets and our exit from the coal mining industry, Evergreen Energy has transitioned into a green technology company. This is an ideal time to switch to a Denver-based regional accounting firm with substantial public company expertise in the clean technology and software industries that can more cost effectively meet our needs.”
Deloitte’s letter to the SEC is abruptly admits that everything is cool rather than flat out saying, “you’ll be sorry you ever ditched us, you losers.”
Similarly, Measurement Specialties, Inc. showed KPMG the door for Ernst & Young. The company says everything was hunky-dory between the two although there was a small matter of the internal controls around a significant joint venture of which the company had no control. Oh, and the effectiveness of internal controls of some recent acquisitions also couldn’t be determined. But it was cool and the company said, “it was in the best interests of the Company to change its independent registered public accounting firm.”
KPMG has NFI what that means saying in their letter, “we are not in a position to agree or disagree with Measurement Specialties, Inc.’s statements relating to the reason for changing principal accountants.”
We wish everyone nothing but happiness.
Accounting News Roundup: Financial Reform Fail; KPMG Wins Latest Round of Auditor Musical Chairs; Philly Tax Amnesty Close to Reaching Goals | 06.24.10
A Missed Opportunity on Financial Reform [WSJ]
Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt is none too pleased with the financial reform bill that’s likely to get approved by the Senate and he says exactly why in an op-ed in today’s Journal, “One of many bad ideas that made it into the bill: Public companies will now have a wider loophole to avoid doing internal audits investors can trust. This requirement was the most important pro-investor reform of the last decade, and it worked. Of the 522 U.S. financial restatements in 2009, 374 were at small firms not subject to auditor reviews.”
But that’s not all! Mr Levitt outlines pic failure including:
• “Chuck Schumer’s wise idea to let the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) become a self-funded agency will likely be killed by appropriators who are unwilling to give up the power of the purse.”
• “Barney Frank’s (D., Mass.) effort to pass a new law to overcome the legal precedent of the 2008 Supreme Court’s Stoneridge decision, which allows third-party consultants, accountants and other abettors of fraud to avoid liability. Again, another sellout of investor interests.”
• “Congress didn’t deal with the massive problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s one thing to fail to see trouble before it happens. Now, there’s no excuse. The central role played by these two organizations in the financial crisis is indisputable. Congress had a chance to fully restrict these agencies from anything but the most basic market-making activities, and it didn’t.”
What does all this (and more!) mean? Oh, nothing really. Levitt says that we’ll just have to wait for the next financial apocalypse to get it right.
InfoLogix Announces the Engagement of KPMG, LLP as the Company’s Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm [PR]
McGladrey resigned on June 10th and the company’s filing stated that were no disagreements yada, yada, yada although McGladrey had identified a material weakness in the company’s internal controls and their most recent audit opinion included a going concern paragraph. It wasn’t enough to spook KPMG, who got the blessing from InfoLogix’s audit committee on Tuesday. Enjoy.
BP Relied on Faulty U.S. Data [WSJ]
“BP PLC and other big oil companies based their plans for responding to a big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on U.S. government projections that gave very low odds of oil hitting shore, even in the case of a spill much larger than the current one.
The government models, which oil companies are required to use but have not been updated since 2004, assumed that most of the oil would rapidly evaporate or get broken up by waves or weather. In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank, real life has proven these models, prepared by the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service, wrong.”
Leadership changes at Wichita Grant Thornton office [Wichita Business Journal]
“Lori A. Davis is the new managing partner at the Grant Thornton office in Wichita, the company announced Wednesday.
Davis will take the place of Jarod Allerheiligen, who will become the managing partner of the Grant Thornton operations in Minneapolis. The change in responsibilities is scheduled to take place Aug. 1.”
Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick indicted by feds on 19 mail fraud, tax counts [Detroit Free Press]
“Despite Kilpatrick’s repeated claims to the contrary, the indictment says he used fund money for campaign and personal expenses, ranging from polling to yoga and golf lessons to college tuition for relatives.
Prosecutors contend he failed to report more than $640,000 in taxable income while mayor that he received in the form of cash, flights on private jets and perks paid for out of the civic fund.”
$2 million payment to Phila. tax-amnesty program [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Philly’s tax amnesty program received a $2 million payment on Tuesday, it’s biggest since the program started on May 3. Collections so far have reached $18 million, according to city officials. They also expect to reach their goal of receiving between $25 and $30 million by the end of the program on Friday.
Feinberg to quit pay czar post to focus on BP fund [Reuters]
This guy is a glutton for punishment.