Nick Leeson flew back into Britain on Sunday morning just in time to spoil the first birthday celebrations at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The rogue trader’s return highlights a major presentational problem, not just for the world’s biggest business services company, but for partnerships across the professional spectrum.
Last week we reported exclusively that the Joint Disciplinary Scheme would begin its inquiry into Coopers & Lybrand’s role in the collapse of Barings Bank this November. At once, PwC began to explain to anyone who would listen that Coopers was nothing whatever to do with the shiny new firm which shares part of its name.
Technically, of course, they have a point. PwC is indeed a new partnership, a legal entity quite distinct from what PwC refers to as ‘legacy C&L’.
But most clients will look beyond the legal niceties to the glaring fact that two of the former Coopers’ partners accused over the Barings audit are now partners in PwC.
The problem is not unique to partnerships but it is harder for them to resolve. Shareholding owners of a plc could remove individuals from running the business until the case was over. Partners, by contrast, own the business.
No one wants to prejudge the outcome of the JDS inquiry but PwC cannot expect intelligent business people to accept the official line that the new firm has no connection with the firm that audited Barings.
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