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Regs Want UK To Consider Big Four Accountancy Breakup

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U.K. regulators are encouraging an inquiry into whether the market’s Big Four accountancy firms — KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY — should be broken up and forced to spin off their auditing arms, reports said.

According to The Guardian on Friday (March 16), the Financial Reporting Council’s (FRC) Chief Executive Stephen Haddrill is calling for an investigation into the industry and whether such a breakup would enhance competition and reduce conflicts of interest.

“There is a loss of confidence in audit, and I think that the industry needs to address that urgently,” said Haddrill in a separate report in The Financial Times. “In some circles, there is a crisis of confidence.”

A previous inquiry by the then-U.K. Competition Commission — now the Competition and Markets Authority — introduced stricter rules for the accountancy market, but Haddrill said the measures have done little to boost competition.

“The Competition Commission introduced some remedies to try and encourage more competition,” he told the Financial Times. “But there is no more competition. So, it seems to me that we ought to have another look at [the audit market].”

Several accounting scandals have recently made headlines in the U.K., most recently with the collapse of government contractor Carillion, audited by KPMG. Previously, KPMG faced backlash over its failure to anticipate HBOS’ troubles amid the global financial crisis.

Last year, PwC was fined $6.5 million by the FRC after finding the auditor engaged in misconduct during its audit of Connaught. The regulator has also hit Deloitte with a fine of $5.15 million related to its audit of Aero Inventory.

Reports in the Financial Times last week covered new data from the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators (IFIAR), which found widespread issues in the accounting market in the U.K. and beyond. According to the IFIAR’s report, 40 percent of the 918 audits it analyzed contained significant issues, most often related to independence and ethics.

Most of the problems related to a failure among auditors to “assess the reasonableness of assumptions” or to “sufficiently test the accuracy and completeness of data or reports produced by management,” the report stated.

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