PracticeAccounting FirmsThe corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

I first met Peter Davis in the early 1990s when he was chairman of the Board for Chartered Accountants in Business. I was delighted when he was appointed regulator of the National Lottery – one of my subjects.

It was an unusual move for a self-professed ‘boring’ accountant.

Life was soon anything but boring. Davis was vilified for accepting free flights around America with Gtech – a member of the consortium to which he had awarded the lottery licence. There were good reasons for doing so, and Davis saw no conflict of interest, but it played into the hands of his enemies. Davis was eventually hounded out of office, but if he thought he was in for a quiet retirement, he was mistaken. He remained a non-executive director of Equitable Life.

If the lottery was tough going for Davis, the Equitable affair must be protracted torture. The accountants’ Joint Disciplinary Scheme is investigating his conduct at Equitable (along with that of Julian Hirst, the chief accountant).

Law firm Herbert Smith has been asked to scrutinise the conduct of auditors, advisers, regulators – and former directors. Sir Howard Davies at the FSA has described Equitable’s former management as ‘arrogant and superior’.

Davis is a decent chap whose ‘crimes’ have been blown out of all proportion.

But even he would concede that he has been unfortunate in his choice of appointments. It may be some consolation that his fellow non-executive directors at Equitable included Jennifer Page, who was sacked as boss of the New Millennium Experience Company in the early days of the Dome fiasco.

Both know how it feels to be used as a political football.

But that does not make it any easier. Equitable Life was just the sort of firm which appealed to Davis’ peers – accountants, lawyers, doctors – and this must make for some uncomfortable discussions over the garden fence.

Did the non-execs contribute anything of value at board meetings? Or were they just there for the port and cigars?

Equitable Life’s policyholders would really like to know.

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