Leader – 21 Jan

With only 11 months still to go before the start of the new millennium, the predictions of computer chaos are multiplying. For the first time this week, pundits were warning people not to go out to parties, but to stay home and wrap up warm.

Whether these predictions of an IT millennium meltdown are exaggerated or not, there can be little doubt that some computer systems will succumb to the so-called ‘millennium bug’. And when they do, who will the corporate world want to sue? Why, the accountants, of course. Unless, that is, the profession stands up for itself in advance.

Ironically, accountants – and audit firms in particular – have increased the risk of becoming the Y2K scapegoats by using words like ‘assurance’ to describe their services. Faced with a crisis, companies tend to behave like New Labour’s tax collectors. Rather than seek justice, they seek money, and always from the easiest target. Accountancy firms, with unlimited liability partnerships, make juicy victims.

The profession must not let this happen. If 1 January 2000 brings computer chaos it will not be the fault of auditors but of a software industry that was content to live for today and pocket the rewards of not thinking ahead. Firms must fight to ensure that if anyone is going to pay for the damage it is the industry that caused it, not the watchdogs who have been sounding the alarm.

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