Overview: Thorn in their side

For a firm that is so small when compared to the Big Four, Mazars has
certainly garnered a great deal of attention recently. With its idiosyncratic
calls for joint audits and market intervention, the £69.4m firm has found itself
at the forefront of the Financial Reporting Council’s debate on choice and
competitiveness in the UK audit market.

What’s happened?

The leader of the Mazars campaign is its head of public interest markets
David Herbinet (pictured). The eloquent, enigmatic Frenchman has taken every
opportunity to make the case for joint audits and hardball regulation, and has
been a ubiquitous presence in any press coverage or public meetings on the

Such is the magnitude of interest Herbinet has successfully generated that,
in the eyes of the larger firms at least, his firm can longer be regarded as an
amusing peculiarity, but more a thorn in the flesh.

Powerful figures from big accounting firms privately admit that Herbinet and
Mazars have become a source of almost unbearable irritation to them. And other
industry figures have warned that introducing joint audits into the UK will see
the whole audit system descend into a bun fight.

But as vociferous and influential as the opponents of Herbinet and Mazars
are, their supporters are equally prominent and vocal.

Perhaps the most authoritative lobby group in accountancy in the UK, the
Hundred Group of Finance Directors, has supported Mazars’ views on introducing
joint audit and its chairman Philip Broadley has called for regulators to step
in to facilitate joint audits.

If Herbinet has done anything, he has certainly managed to divide opinion.

What’s going to happen?

One key question Herbinet will have to answer over the coming months is what
his and Mazars’ intentions are. Is Herbinet just challenging and galvanising
existing thinking? Some have suggested his campaign might be more opportunistic,
and that Mazars undoubtedly garners publicity through it.

The critics are probably unfair. It is certainly true that Mazars has
attracted publicity by standing out from the crowd. But the firm has deep roots
in mainland Europe, where the culture of joint audits is far more popular and
established. Herbinet himself has an extensive knowledge of how joint audits
have been implemented successfully in other countries, whether to enhance audit
quality or improve choice for clients.

The big risk for Herbinet and Mazars is that, whatever their intentions may
be, their strong views on the UK audit market could alienate them completely
from mainstream industry thinking on the topic.

At the moment that does not seem to be happening. In fact, joint audits have
proved the most interesting and provocative suggestion to emerge from the Oxera

It should also be borne in mind that those who tend to criticise the firm’s
move have strongly entrenched interests to protect.

Whatever your take on Herbinet and Mazars, the one thing you can be sure of
is that you will be hearing a lot more from the firm and its head of public
interest markets over the coming months.

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