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Audit chief welcomes debate on international regulator
May, 06th 2010

The head of the UKs largest accounting firm has called for a new attitude to audit regulation amid growing support for an international regulator.

Ian Powell, senior partner at PwC UK, said the establishment of an international regulator is worthy of debate but believes global consensus among nations may prove difficult.

Most countries think their regulation is good and it is their system which should be applied that is going to make it difficult to convince them to give up their system, he said.

If you talk to virtually any regulator in any country they do want to see more globalisation of regulation, but the big problem is there are certain political issues that are diff­erent in different countries.

Audit reform has climbed up the agenda since the release of the Valukas report which brought into question Big Four firm Ernst & Youngs (E&Y) audit of collapsed US bank Lehman Brothers. E&Y has refuted any allegation of negligence.

But the debate intensified last week when Michel Barnier, commissioner for internal markets at the EU, said a green paper on audit reform would be released by autumn and believes the role of the auditors has not really been questioned following the crisis.

I am convinced that it is the right time to launch a real debate at European level on the subject of audit, he said, in a statement released by his office.

Governments have so far focused their attention on the urgent measures necessary to stabilise the markets. Now we are entering a less reactive phase.

Audit firms have ploughed millions of restructuring pounds into remaking themselves as global enterprises. KPMG and E&Y have entrenched international structures, both in their internal and formal set up, while other global firms simply share resources and staff. However these hub and spoke structures have caused headaches for national ­regulators.

Recently the UKs financial reporting regulator, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) had to co-ordinate interview times with a Big Four CEO and other European regulators.

With Barnier putting this on the agenda there are opportunities to formalise and develop further such arrangementsThese are topics that need to be analysed and discussed, said Paul George, director of the Professional Oversight Board with the FRC.

The FRCs US counterpart is also eyeing the issue. Joseph Carcello, a member of the Investor Advisory Group at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), wants a thorough investigation, fearing that US investors are being exposed to risk.

I believe that the top priority of the PCAOB should be to complete inspections of all registered foreign firms that audit one or more foreign issuers or that play a substantial role in the audit of a US multinational company, he said in a statement. The board faces a difficult challenge in this area because inspections of certain foreign accounting firms are being blocked by foreign governments.

Powell said he would welcome debate on the issue.

You have lots and lots of regulators operating in different countries and yet the companies you are auditing goes right the way across those borders, he said. Anything that moves towards consistency has got to be worthy of debate.

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