Audit choice and competition in UK and G8

Jeremy Newman of BDO Stoy Hayward, highlights a key finding of the British Oxera Report on Audit Choice and Competition:

According to the report by Oxera on Competition and Choice published in April 2006 more than 70% of FTSE 100 companies had not held a competitive tender for the last 15 years. The incidence of companies switching auditors is even less frequent. According to the Oxera Report it is around 4% on average for listed companies and less than 3% for FTSE 350 companies.

It’s not just a problem in the UK, however. Grant Thornton researched the global audit market:

The levels of audit market concentration across the world’s eight largest economies are dangerously high, with the Big 4 firms responsible for up to 99% of large public company audits, according to research by leading accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP in the UK. […] Analysis of auditor concentration among the G8 economies revealed a high of 99% in Italy, followed by the UK (98%), the US (97%), Canada (96%) and Russia (90%).

That, after Grant Thornton’s US boss issues a call for a study to be performed on the US audit market. Not sure what a study of the US market would reveal since the above quote references a 97% concentration of Big 4 firms on public company audits already. Clearly there is a problem.

Investors and businesses are not being well served by the current situation. I hate to advocate increased intervention by governments of any kind, but it’s clear that public company audit committees also hate to advocate for shareholders’ best interests in terms of rotating audit firms and/or partners.

Maybe the solution is increased coverage of public companies that switched their audit to a non Big 4 firm. I would love to hear from any company in Canada that made the switch and is happier and better served for it.

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