Break-up of big-four oligopoly is possible
Change is possible if investors are prepared to step up and be both more demanding of audits and rewarding of quality
How tough can life really be at the top of a big-four auditing firm? They inhabit a world where not only must customers by law buy their product but, happily, one in which the most lucrative also seem wedded to dealing with only the biggest practices — whether out of snobbery, the need for international audit coverage or just the nebulous sense that investors might otherwise disapprove. The one nightmare they have is that a giant accounting scandal could somehow bring retribution. Their size and reach make them a tempting target. But even here, that same oligopoly rides faithfully to the rescue. Since the demise of Arthur Andersen, the fifth pillar of what was until 2002 the big five accountants, the authorities have helpfully thrown a cordon sanitaire around the survivors, fearing the descent into an even more dominant big three. It is why when KPMG was found to be peddling illegal tax schemes in the US in 2005, it was let off with no more than a slap on the wrist by the authoritie...