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Big 4 Firms Shouldn’t Count on Government Help If Things Take a Turn for the Worse

Just something for the ol’ memory bank, Big 4 risk managers.

[Professor] Michael Power from the London School of Economics told the conference that big audit firms were “probably” not “systemic” in nature, in the same way as banks, and that it was unlikely government would step in to save one on the edge of going bust. Power said the lesson from the collapse of Andersen was that the crisis facing the audit market was relatively shortlived when a big firm collapsed, and that a global firm in trouble will break up into its national components to find a solution. He added there was no real evidence of market failure as a result of Andersen’s demise.

Big Four are ‘not too big to fail’ [Accountancy Age]

Will the Solution to the Big 4 “Too Few to Fail” Problem Come Out of China?

Adam Jones at the Financial Times takes a look at the Big 4’s too few to fail problem, noting that the recent green paper from the European Commission is a combination of A) lame ideas:

Its flakier suggestions included getting a regulator or another third party to appoint auditors to ease fears about their independence – a move that would disenfranchise shareholders to an unacceptable extent. A European quality certificate for auditing was also mooted as a way of helping second-tier firms show they could handle the biggest jobs. Such a badge would have limited credibility.

And B) points of discussion that need to be explored further, “[A] call for international talks on a contingency plan for the possible failure of one of the Big Four,” “enforced work-sharing also merits further discussion,” and “Brussels says it may also loosen rules requiring auditors to own the majority of an audit firm.”

All this talking gives us a headache and Jones admits that by allowing all ideas on the table it allows those happy with the status quo to distract from any real solutions:

The surfeit of ideas makes the debate comprehensive. But it also creates easy targets for those who want to preserve an inadequate market structure, detracting from more sensible suggestions made by Michel Barnier, EU internal market commissioner, and his team.

Despite the haters out there, the most interesting solution mentioned by Jones is the possibility of China – albeit a longshot – coming to the rescue:

Some think the danger might be eased by a Chinese accountant teaming up with a second-tier firm to create a new rival to the Big Four. Such an entity would face suspicion in the west, though, and it may be too soon to look to Beijing for answers.

For the market enthusiasts out there, this has to be the best idea you’ve heard even though it comes at the exception of the Chinese.

Think WeiserMazars but on a much, much larger scale. Maybe BDO’s U.S. firm is a target because of their legal troubles. Maybe Stephen Chipman will use his connections in China to parlay into some mega-international merger. We realize it’s hard to use your imagination when you’re staring at spreadsheets all day but ideas are needed people.

Solutions provided by the market will be a far better than something mandated by governments. China’s economy is still growing at a ridiculous clip and some say that’s good for the us here in the States.

Bottom line – we’re happy to entertain the possibility of China getting in the mix because as Jones says, “[W]hile this risk is broadly acknowledged, I have so far seen little evidence of a plan to deal with it.” And as it stands now, the bureaucrats are leading the discussion.