For now at least accountants have persuaded government and regulators on this side of the Atlantic that not all the industry’s current problems are of its own making. That said, the Big Four especially are very much on probation.
With civil servants already preparing the government’s final report on the future of UK audit, any sniff of a London audit firm failing in its duties and the status quo will not be allowed to prevail.
Thanks in no small part to Peter Wyman (it’s not just his head that has been above the parapet, the ICAEW president has put his whole body very much in the firing line in recent months by insisting there is no endemic problem with accountancy in the UK), ministers currently appear convinced that an eye-catching sweeping reform of accountancy is not necessary.
However, they do want to see non-executive directors play a more active role in policing corporate governance. It’s not surprising.
The only formal investigation currently being undertaken by the ICAEW into the Enron collapse is that being conducted into Lord Wakeham, chairman of the fallen energy giant’s audit committee.
The former Tory minister is too high-profile for regulators to ignore.
And non-execs all over the country will feel the repercussions of the inquiry – whatever the outcome.
Many firms, to their credit, are not acting as though they got off the hook. This week KPMG launched a UK audit committee institute designed to give corporate audit committee members the support and information they need in the post-Enron world.
Meanwhile, the move by Chantrey Vellacott to appoint a non-executive chairman – believed to be the first such appointment by an accountancy firm – is also a step in the right direction.
If accountancy is ever to be restored to anything like its former standing, firms must practice what they preach whether it’s in terms of publishing their own accounts (broken down to country-level, for a market as significant as the UK), or, in this instance, by taking advantage of the insights the right kind of non-executive director can bring.
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