Big Five splits not good for profession, says Andersens

Richard Bolton, Andersens’ partner for worldwide strategy, told ‘Clients want all round services. Separation of skills is not a good thing and they believe multidisciplinary practices are in the public interests.’

Bolton did however acknowledge that non-audit services could impair independence of firms and said there was a need to manage conflicts of interest.

The SEC’s inquiry into audit conflicts of interest has helped drive firms – including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG – to separate their audit and consulting services in recent months.

Bolton said: ‘Andersens is always prepared to work with the SEC but more public debate is required.’

Bolton’s stance was echoed by Bob Elliot, chairman of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, in his keynote speech at the International Federation of Accountants conference in Edinburgh today.

Elliot said if big firms are forced to sell off their consulting arms he foresaw the reinstatement of consulting services within the next five years.’Consulting is an integral part of the consulting profession,’ said Elliot.

Both men called for the development of a broader skills base and a financial reporting framework that accounts for intangible assets – such as relations with employees and suppliers and the ability to provide reliable and up-to-date information – to respond to the new economy. Most countries’ accounting and auditing standards are based on industrial economies where assets on the balance sheet constitute bricks and mortar.

Today’s balance sheets no longer represent the real value for companies in light of the growth of e-commerce, Elliot and Bolton said.

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