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Banking Crisis and the responsibility of the auditors

At the moment one day pretty much blends into another, but on one of the evening news programmes this week, another fat cat, fee-earner had the temerity to say, when questioned, that auditors had played no part in the financial mire that is the bane of every UK taxpayer. I have to admit, that I wanted to throw something at him, because I have been arguing for weeks that the auditors have failed in their duty to the shareholders and worst still, shall be one of the few ‘industries’ that will make money out of this fiasco, through company administrations, receivership’s, consultancy fees and so on.

Lets look at the generally accepted definition of a Finance Audit:
The process of verifying a company’s financial information. Auditors are certified public accountants who are independent of the corporation. An auditor examines a company’s accounting books and records in order to determine whether the company is following appropriate account procedures. An auditor issues an opinion in a report that says whether the financial statements present fairly the company’s financial position and its operational results in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

And here is a common definition of an Auditor
Auditor is the person appointed to conduct an examination of the records, to form an opinion about the authenticity and correctness of such records, by verifying the correctness and reliability of the recorded transactions from the evidences available, opinion and inference reachable based on his expertise.

Most, if not all, stock market listed companies in this country and, for that matter, around the world, use the services of one of the so called ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms. These big firms charge huge sums for their audits, often running into £millions, and the audit teams are lead by high ranking ‘fee earners’. In other words, as the businesses, banks and financial institutions they audited expanded, so have the fees earned by the auditors and yet, not one audit firm appears to have asked any questions about what is now being described as “questionable accounting” practices within the financial services and banking sectors.

For example, do we know of any audit firm that qualified a set of accounts within the banking sector because of the heavy reliance on a particular financial model, such as in the case of Northern Rock? Has an audit firm raised any prior concern over the way that ‘bundled’ mortgage debt was traded, sold and then re-sold, with each party taking a profit or commission, without really knowing the risks or true value of the asset.

You would think that after Enron and Worldcom, auditors would be even more cautious, especially given investors and business people alike, will have increasingly come to rely on the expertise and the independence of the auditors before they make financial investment decisions related to the company being audited. It is absolutely essential that the audits of company’s that rely on external investors for funding are wide-ranging, thorough and probing, a failure to do this and ask questions, is, in my impinion a dereliction of the auditors responsibility to the shareholders. If an audit is not indepependent, or in-depth, why on earth do so many companies pay so much money out every year for their audits?

I personally believe that, when the investigation begins, as it surely will, the part played by company auditors also needs investigating. Given they will be the only party to have profited in the ‘boom’ as well as profited out of the ‘bust’, yet they were also the only party, other that the regulatory authorities, that had a duty to ensure that they reported the facts, discovered questionable practices and reported their findings in an open, direct and a frank manner. I do not say that any of these accountancy firms are culpable, because I would have nothing to back this up with (other than logic of course), but I can say that, I believe they have failed, for the most part, in their duty to appropriately and competently assess the risks associated with some of the more questionable practices adopted by the banking and financial industries.

I also believe that shareholders that have lost money should consider individual or class actions against any audit firms that are left wanting in this current mess. For them to be preening themselves in front of the cameras, whilst rubbing their hands with glee, behind the scenes, is stomach churning. If there job was not to highlight risks, operating and reporting practices, asset values and profit claims, what on earth were they charging such massive audit fees for? The Audit Firms must not be allowed to extract themselves from any form of responsibility whilst the rest of us are left to pick up the tab and the pieces of what is left.


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Simon Says:

    Please will someone tell me why…if the British people are, on a percentage basis, highly represented as shareholders in RSB that we have no power to vote against and stop absurd bonuses to higher nmanagement in said bank when the vast majority are, in this country suffereing considerable financial hardhship?

    S

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