The top global firms are facing an uncomfortable time fending off various
business-threatening litigation claims by arguing, among other things, that
their member firms aren’t really all that joined up.
Set that against
structure of shared profits and potential liabilities, then the Accountancy
Age Large Firm of the Year’s structure seems counter-intuitive to the
anti-litigation arguments posited by the other big players.
Yet with storm clouds gathering for the profession, and on a cold and windy
day at Mazars’ City of London office, president Patrick de Cambourg could not
cut a more serene and contented figure.
His relaxed manner belies a determination to spend the interview making it
very clear that the firm’s way of working is the most forward-thinking and
risk averse, compared to its counterparts.
‘We started a process prior to 1995 where we were a French-based firm with
some international links,’ says de Cambourg.
‘We realised that to retain our large clients and service them properly we
needed to be international.
‘But that wasn’t enough. We introduced the international partnership in 1995
then moved on a path to globalisation.’
The firm’s management then took its most important decision in creating the
Mazars we know now should it try and grab a slice of the US market, or not?
No, was the decision.
‘Most would go to the biggest market, we said the contrary,’ says de
Setting up an Asia/Pacific region, along with South America and Africa/Middle
East, the firm forged ahead to a point where it has grown by a factor of ten
compared to 13 years ago.
So why not the US? Because of the threat of litigation.
Following the Andersen collapse and post-Enron, with the PCAOB watching over
the firms and Sarbox looking to limit the ability of individuals to get up to no
good in a business, de Cambourg says there was an attempt to sort out the
litigation threat that haunts auditors of US clients.
But, as de Cambourg notes, with the current financial crisis leading to
another spate of litigation, it hasn’t worked out.
‘When I see what’s happening in the North American market, I think the option
we took was not wrong,’ he says in a very French, understated manner. ‘The
litigation issue in the US is not solved.’
But Mazars hasn’t set up a US exclusion zone. It does offer services just
not to US-listed businesses. This work is often in cooperation with regional US
More importantly, this cooperation is usually undertaken with associate firms
of accounting ‘alliance’ Praxity, of which Mazars was a founding firm.
If you imagine the closeness and linked-in business operations of Mazars,
then Praxity works in an almost directly opposite way.
Praxity is definitely, without doubt, not an accounting network, insists de
Cambourg. Instead it is essentially a loose cooperative, a definition that de
Cambourg argues separates it from the networks that other global firms operate
Firms wishing to join the alliance provide details of their business across
15 criteria, explains de Cambourg, where they ‘self assess’. A membership
committee, which he chairs, take decisions on allowing firms into the
association based on the answers given to the criteria. De Cambourg is joined by
a number of experienced professionals on the committee, including IFAC chairman
‘So we take decisions on what people tell us we might ask some more
questions… then we know that if we have a need for a service in an area where
we’re not present, we can operate with these people because they’ve been chosen
in a selective process, in terms of referral, or building a team etc.
‘If we take the US, we have our own teams… and we have located them in some
of the Praxity members, because we knew the infrastructure, ethical approach,
risk management, technical excellence was of a very good quality from the self
assessment and our prior experience [of their businesses]. We feel it’s better
to operate with risk averse, cautious regional players with a good reputation
and track record, so we feel more secure.’
The integrated firm and loose association models ‘complement’ each other, de
Cambourg explains, and the future of the profession lies in these ways of
‘Our personal belief is that the profession will move towards more
integration for some players and move towards alliances for the rest,’ says de
‘In the long term, the level of accountability that networks can offer is
possibly not sufficient, because there’s so much common ground and there’s a
strong element of convergence and global governance.
‘In the other networks, my question is are they able to deliver a fully
shared and fully harmonious level of technical excellence that the overall
regulators, clients and public expect? [There’s] a question mark.
‘If you look at what we have done over the past 25 years, we have always
taken the position that we’d be better off following the integration model, and
then decided we’d be better off as one of the significant members of Praxity [as
He sees it as impossible for global firms to operate under a single brand
then explain that the firms are independent: ‘Because the people are led to
believe there’s more than that, so the profession as a whole has to think to
consider the way forward for more accountability, transparency and possibly
But with all the big business failures and associated litigation, de Cambourg
expresses sympathy for other firms’ plight.
‘We see today [firms] that are unable to meet significant liabilities….can
you name one that can cope with a significant claim, such as what we hear today?
‘No organisation can go through a crash of that magnitude. Frankly, reducing
the number of players is not a solution as the market expects more quality
players. We also see that when there’s a major crash like in the banking sector,
all of a sudden governments play a significant role nationalisation. That’s
not a long-term solution, but a short-term reaction to a crisis situation – but
when the level of responsibility becomes too high, who can cope with it? Only
Liability, an issue covered at length in the UK and which saw legislation
introduced to allow for discussions between auditors and clients to limit their
exposure, is ‘not solved’.
But Mazars is patient, he adds, and likes to build on ‘stone not quicksand’.
‘We want to offer a relationship to the market that’s different
transparency, a one-team concept.’
At a Federation of European Accountants conference in December, de Cambourg
laid out the five types of networks firms could operate within, and why he
believes full integration or loose associations are the best choices for the
1. A fully internationally integrated firm, which Mazars has
2. Very strong, highly recognised networks: The Big Four and
possibly a couple of other firms below them [operate like this]. Networks that
have significant substance because of the level of international work that is
shared and the recognition of the brand.
But at institutional level they’re networks, created under the umbrella of a
very strong economy, north America and Europe. In this category there is an
interest for the creation of levels of integration – KPMG for instance. This is
the beginning of a trend.
3. Those networks that declare themselves as networks but
the level of commonality is low. Sharing a certain number of aspects of
4. A new category: the ‘alliance’. Firms don’t declare
themselves as within networks, probably wouldn’t use the brand as a flag, but as
a badge or addition. Possibly no territorial exclusivity and won’t guarantee the
quality of the members. A strong type of cooperation, based on the quality of
the selection process. The alliance is as strong as its members.
5. Firms on a standalone basis, which have a case by case
relationship with other players.
Such was the ground covered on discussing US litigation and the future of
international accounting networks, that talk of Mazars’ latest global annual
report, which is fully IFRS compliant, was almost a side-issue.
However the firm posted strong results for 2007/08. Fees grew by 16% (13.4%
after currency conversion) to €745m (£662m).
Set to operate out of 50 countries in 2009 compared to 47 last year, it also
increased average employment from 7,742 in 2006/07 to 9,459 in 2007/08.
De Cambourg says he expects single digit growth for the group this year, and
that the firm is doing everything it can to stop jobs being cut.
‘We’re growing quickly internationally, so there’s scope for people who might
be affected by the certain situation in current markets to move. I was in India
a fortnight ago and there’s lots to be done there. Mobility for us is one of the
key tools to manage talent in a difficult period of time in uncertain markets.’
De Cambourg’s CV
58 years old, married father of three
1995 to present: president of the Mazars Group; chair of the group
executive board; chairman of Mazars in France
1978: Mazars partner
A member of Praxity’s Executive Board
Honour chair of the Département Appel public à l’Epargne
Member of the Conseil National de la Comptabilité
Member of the corporate and company law working party of the
Federation of European Accountants (FEE).
National honours: Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur
Chevalier de l’Ordre National de Mérite
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