Our friends across the pond have put it out there that as it stands, an audit report is an audit report is an audit report. Regardless of the firm doing the work, the end product is the same and the Professional Oversight Board (POB) wants audit firms to produce, “more quantitative data to better equip investors and companies with the tools needed to scrutinise their auditors.”
It’s long been popular to call an auditor’s product a “commodity” and this appears to be the Brits’ attempt to dispel that notion. The talk of asking auditors to somehow quantify quality has already garnered support in the investing community in the UK:
Michael McKersie, assistant director capital markets at the [Association of British Insurers], said he would welcome more comparative information. “The relative lack of hard quantitative reporting data on the audit firms and global networks has been… a concern. Comparability is really important and we have, in the past, seen no n-comparability [sic] here as a problem.”
Fine idea, although there’s not a single indication of how the quality could be measured and the director of auditing at the POB even admits that ‘The challenge is how can auditors demonstrate quality and those that use their services assess it.’
This whole idea of “comparability” came up because of a POB inspection of showed, “some firms were rewarding staff for attracting business at the expense of promoting audit quality.” So the answer to this problem — from the POB’s point of view — is to slap together a “rate this audit from 1 to 10” system and the firm with the highest score has the best audits?
Audit firms will always claim that their work is of the highest quality regardless of the circumstances but now regulators want them to put that in some quantifiable form. And because we like to keep the pace with our friends in the UK, it probably won’t be long before an ambitious bureaucrat Stateside (e.g. new PCAOB Chairman) will insist on a similar approach.
If there’s any wonky auditors out there that have some ideas how this could be done, we’re all ears but for now we’re firmly in the skeptical camp.
Clients blind on audit quality [Accountancy Age]
Also see: You mean the Big 4 aren’t transparent? [Tax Research UK/Richard Murphy]