Levitt: regulators at fault during the credit crunch

Arthur Levitt, senior adviser to the Carlyle Group

Arthur Levitt: there is room for ‘audit only’ firms

Arthur Levitt has blamed standard setters and regulators for being ‘inapt’
during the credit crunch.

In an interview with Dutch magazine de Accountant, the former
Securities Exchange Commission
chairman said that the ‘usual number of people’ saw the danger of the credit
crunch ahead of time.

‘But the leverage of power remained with the Federal Reserve Board, the SEC
and the Treasury. And with the standard setters that were so inapt they allowed
mechanisms to develop that enabled businesses to disguise their true financial
condition. So the failures were pretty broadly distributed. But the oversight is
a function, in my judgement, in an administration and a congress that was
committed to deregulation at any cost,’ said Levitt.

Levitt is senior adviser to the Carlyle Group and chairs the US Treasury’s
advisory committee on the audit profession.

The group began deliberations last year following a similar consultation in
the UK on the choice and concentration of the audit market.

The UK has followed the route of creating conditions which will allow firms
in the mid-tier to flourish. The US process has produced powerful proposals to
help manage a large firm on the verge of collapse, and also insists auditors
have a back-up plan if things go wrong.

But Levitt has taken this a step further, suggesting that the market has room
for an ‘audit only’ firm.

‘The profession is better managed today than ever before. But once again,
this is a moving target. The firms are aggressively getting back into consulting
services. I think there is a role for an audit only firm. We don’t see them, but
I think it would be very helpful to have a firm which just did audits.

‘We also need greater transparency, to understand what condition a firm is

We need the firms to provide fully documented audits of their own operation.
They don’t do it at the present time, but I think that clearly is coming,’
Levitt said.

The US Treasury Committee suggests a custodial arrangement if a major firm
gets into trouble.

‘The PCAOB will have the ability to take it over and, almost in a bankruptcy
mode, run the firm in an orderly way. With respect to the failure of an
accounting firm this is probably the most significant recommendation that will
come out of this,’ said Levitt.

Related reading