The Big 4 And Pending Litigation – Can They Fight The Law And Win?

By • Feb 9th, 2009 • Category: Pure Content, The Case Against The Auditors

In preparation for something else, I attempted to do a quick summary of the pending litigation against the Big 4.

It’s not easy.
As I mentioned in the webcast on January 6 for Securities Docket, there are a lot of of  lawyers and legal oriented sites that track and summarize litigation, but it’s not easy to search on the audit firms or find anyone who is tracking cases against this industry specifically.
Each firm, of course, has a list and their estimate of exposure.  (Think they’re following FAS 5?)  And they’re not telling. And no one is making them do so. Even while still babbling on about liability caps.

Kevin LaCroix at D & O Diary does the famous job of making all the lists, compiling from all sources including Stanford’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse. There are others who report and discuss litigation and sometimes mention the auditors such as Bruce Carton at Securities Docket, Paul Karlsgodt at the Class Action Law Blog and J. Robert Brown at Race To The Bottom.

I’m getting questions every day now, via email and in comments on the blog, about whether to stay at one of the Big 4 given the realistic potential for one to fail within the next year to eighteen months. The issues are more acute at the next tier three, Grant Thornton, BDO Seidman and RSM McGladrey.  Between Refco, Banco Espiritu Santo, and Madoff exposure for all three, they may be on their last legs.
The question is: Which one first?  I bet BDO , whose BDO International goes on trial for their part in the BES fraud in about a week.
I had never told anyone not to join a firm until last week.  I may tell someone to join a different firm or to be sure that joining a Big 4 firm is really “the fulfillment of my lifelong dreams, the best way to realize my talents, and the only way to please my parents.”
In the most recent case, I agreed wholeheartedly with a mature professional who was offered an opportunity to rejoin a Big 4 firm as a partner.   He has a great position in industry that is relatively secure.  There is no way in hell I would go into the partnership, given the investment required, the tangible risks that are out there, and the particular issues the firm he would rejoin has.  Thank God I was not helping him decide whether to accept partnership as a Senior Manager in same firm.  That’s a tough one and right now would have to come down to personal finances and a spouse’s tolerance for great risk and ongoing uncertainty.
The exposure and the control over what happens to a firm as a result of litigation increases as your level and years in the firm increase.  At the beginning of your career, you are fungible.  A few years of experience is the same all the way around and a valuable thing.  Getting cut after at least one year and before five-six, or pre-manager, is not the worst thing in the world for most.
Except for those on work visas and those whose mobility is limited due to mortgages and family issues, young professionals have an opportunity to look at other smaller, regional firms who appreciate the training they have received or to go into industry.  Many of both are still hiring. Some even hire visa holders.  But you must either act fast or decide to do something else productive during your time off, such as returning to school or obtaining professional certifications.
Once you reach the manager level, you have both the constraints of your level/salary and, potentially, personal constraints that start limiting your choices and the number of jobs open in any particular geographic location.  You may have an industry expertise.  That’s good and bad as it makes you less fungible and more readily identified to that industry, an advantage or disadvantage depending on the economic realty at the time.
As a Senior Manager or Partner, you most likely have both personal and professional constraints. I don’t need to tell you that.  You may have been at the level to have had a hint of the cuts coming, and you may have received a healthier severance, outplacement assistance, and overall strong support from your network, in and out of the firm. But the numbers of jobs at your level and meeting your criteria are limited.
So let’s look at the litigation risks that threaten the viability of the firms while you’re still there or that threaten the firms you may consider switching to or may consider staying with and continuing to invest in.
The Center For Audit Quality, the lobbying organization for the six largest firms, gave the US Treasury some data in April of last year, on a total basis, not broken down by firm or with specific cases named for those firms:
(This info is pre-summer/fall financial meltdown, pre-Madoff, and pre-Satyam.)
6 largest auditing firms are defendants in 90 private actions with damage claims in excess of $100 million.
41 cases seek damages in excess of $500 million
27 cases seek damages in excess of $1 billion
7 cases seek damages over $10 billion.

Notable suits that have lingered with multiple settlements and actions for firms: Deloitte/Parmalat and Grant Thornton/Refco.

The BDO Seidman and BDO International cases regarding Banco Espiritu Santo were the first to raise the issue of the permeability of the umbrella coordinating office concept for the international arms of the firms.
Subprime. There are a number of suits, but it’s hard to find them as the auditor is not a primary defendant in many cases and some of the tracking sites don’t mention them or file them by auditor name as a cross reference.
Some of the major ones I have posted about are:
KPMG and New Century

There are still options backdating suits involving auditors outstanding.

And now there’s Satyam suits against PricewaterhouseCooppers LLP US (due to the US ADR’s listed on the NYSE) , Pricewaterhouse & Associates LTD India, and PricewaterhouseCoopers International.
And finally the Madoff scandal. P.S.  Given the relative success so far of at least going to trial on the basis of some liability potentially attributable to the international arms of each of the firms in the BDO International and Deloitte/Parmalat cases, why aren’t plaintiff’s lawyers routinely suing the international firms in all instances. In particular in Madoff, one easily could claim lack of quality standards and lack of supervision and control of the affiliate by the international firm.  Just a thought.  Let me help you… (Hat tip to one of my new journalist buddies.)
>Ascot Partners, L.P.; J. Ezra Merkin; BDO Seidman/New York Law School on behalf investors of Ascot limited partnership interests
>Gabriel Capital, L.P.; J. Ezra Merkin; BDO Seidman/ Scott Berrie on behalf of all persons who invested in Gabriel limited partnership interests

>Tremont Group Holdings; Oppenheimer Acquisition Corporation; Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company; Ernst & Young LLP/Yvette Finkelstein, on behalf of capital investors in American Masters Broad Prime Market Fund, L.P.

>Tremont Market Neutral Fund L.P.; Tremont Group Holdings, Inc. Ernst & Young LLP/Group Defined Pension Plan & Trust

>Herald USA Fund; Herald Luxemburg Fund; Primeo Select Fund; Medici Bank; Sonja Kohn; Perter Schelhauer; Bank Austria Creditanstait; Unicredit S.A.; Pioneer Alternative Management; Ernst & Young L.P./Repex Ventures on behalf of all persons who invested in Herald USA Fund Herald Luxemburg Fund; and Primeo Select Fund and Thema International Funds

>Banco Santander S.A.; Banco Santander International; Optimal Investment Services S.A.; Pricewaterhouse Coopers; HSBC Securities Services (Ireland) Ltd.; individual directors and offices of Optimal Investment and Optimal Fund/Inversiones Mar Ocava Limitada on behalf of all personswho owned shares of Optimal Strategic US Equity Ltd

>Banco Santander S.A.; Banco Santander International; Optimal Investment Services S.A.; PricewaterhouseCoopers; HSBC Securities Services (Ireland) Ltd.; HSBC Institutional Trust Services (Ireland) Ltd.; HSBC Bank USA, N.A.; individual directors and officers/ Serol Holding Corporation on behalf of all persons or entities who owned hsares of Optimal Strategic U.S. Equity Ltd. on December 10, 2008

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39 Responses »

  1. Here’s hoping none of the Big 4 go under anytime soon. I’m starting in September . . .

  2. Given all the lawsuits- I just do not understand why the government doesnt have a division that audits public companies?

    The bottom line for any private organization is profit- this always impacts the procedures performed……

    The audit firms can be used to audit private companies- the public ones should be done by the government, how many more failures do we need before this is understood?

  3. oh yeah, you want the government to audit public companies. No thank you. Government intervention is the wrong answer 99% of the time. Why do you think communism failed? You’d get so many below average people working for them and then taking bribes to certify the reports.

  4. @Anonymous:

    Have you looked at the UK’s Financial Reporting Council? Inspects the audits of a number of UK companies every year.

  5. I tend to agree that the government answer is not the best answer — see PCAOB, SEC, FCC, etc. for examples of why. Instead, how about this series of reforms?

    – Change the opinion wording to state something like, “I certify to the best of my knowledge and belief that the accompanying financial statements are materially correct in all respects and present fairly the underlying financial position of the entity.”

    – Create civil and criminal remedies under the United States Code for a knowing and willful false certification — similar to the False Statements Act. Include deliberate ignorance and reckless disregard as being within the definition of “knowing and willful”. Make the penalties sufficiently scary so as to act as a deterrent.

    – Have the Audit Partner personally sign the opinion.

    – Create a certification similar to the following: “I certify to the best of my knowledge and belief that the audit procedures used to evaluate the accuracy and fairness of the accompanying financial statements were consistent with our firm’s quality standards in all respects, and we (name of audit firm) concur with ______ (audit partner’s name here) opinion regarding those financial statements.”

    – Create civil penalties for a knowing and willful false certification, to which the audit firm will be subject. Include “deliberate ignorance” and “reckless disregard” as being within the definition of “knowing and willful”. Ensure that the civil penalties are sufficiently large to act as a deterrent.

    Watch the sea-change in audit firm and audit partner behavior.

    I await the talking point rebuttals telling me why the foregoing cannot be done.

    – Tenacious T.

  6. the issue is the accountancy firms take out their clients to wine and dine them and the line regarding independence is marred as they become “buddies” with the same people they are auditing……

    errrr we do have Government intervention- thats the SEC and why public companies are audited in the first place- the point being made is to have a truly independent body perform the audits, the government have no conflict of interest (theoretically anyway)

    the IRS perform audits on individuals tax returns, are you suggesting that is communism – try wikipedia to understand what communism is!

  7. If you want better audits, repeal 1995’s Litigation Reform Act. This will increase CPA’s liabilities for bad audits.

  8. Bottom line is that when you have someone you are supposed to be objectively auditing writing the check, it is too much of a conflict of interest. With the economy down and important clients more valuable than ever to these firms than ever, you’d have to be joking to think that auditors are in a real authoritative spot righ now. Its all about appearance with these firms, not reality.

  9. We do not live in a perfect world, so some mistakes/fraud will always occur. The system we have in place now, works the majority of the time. Thousands of public audits go just fine with no fraud, there is no proof that a new system would work even as well as the current system.

  10. I think the audit firms will survive. Not because they deserve too but because of the fact that you can’t get money out of a dead auditing company.

    It pays to settle and the audit firms and the plaintiffs will. For example, it is better to have PWC offer 500 or so million to settle the Fairfield case (less than 1/10th of the loss suffered by Fairfield) than to try and bankrupt PWC and possibly get nothing.

    The same applies to all lawsuits. If you destroy the company you are suing, you risk getting nothing as most of the value of these firms is intangible. Most of the partners are also protected by LLP rules.

  11. David,

    The value of the so-called "LLP rules" has not been validated in a court of law, and may be illusory. Similarly, your comment "if you destroy the company you are suing, you risk getting nothing …" is also mostly conjecture. There are quite literally millions (if not billions) in assets to go after, including partner pensions. That's a big prize for the plaintiffs' bar to go after!

    May I suggest you get one of the three or four books on the fall of Andersen and familiarize yourself with how that firm crashed & burned? You may rethink some of your positions …

    Mario,

    Your comments strike me as being as naive as David's. "Thousands of public audits go just fine with no fraud." The point is that many (if not all) frauds go undiscovered for far too long in the current system. Remember, it was MCI/Worldcom's INTERNAL auditors who uncovered that fraud, not the external auditors (Andersen). If it had been left up to Andersen, it is not clear that the illicit capitalization of expenses would EVER have been uncovered.

    When a fraud is (finally) uncovered, we act all surprised, like "gosh, how could that have happened?" It needs to become ingrained in the skeptical auditor's mindset that, not only do frauds occasionally happen, frauds happen a lot. I'm not sure of the current stats, but a quick visit to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners site should provide them for those interested. Audit procedures need to better address this fact, because too much is missed under the current regime.

    Finally, there may be no proof that a new system would work as well as the current system … but perhaps that is only because we haven't actually tried a new system in this country in, what, 100 years? I would suggest the bar is set very low…

    – Tenacious T.

  12. While I’m a frequent reader of this excellent website, Francine, I’m not always prompted to comment.

    But anyone that gets the Clash into a Big Four accountancy article deserves
    a special mention.

    Cheers,

    Rob

    PS – Professor Prem Sikka sat before a Treasury Committee in Westminster the other week, and raised the issue of state-owned audit firms for banks and possibly large public companies as well, AND NO ONE LAUGHED. NO ONE EVEN SMIRKED.Interesting times.

  13. TT:
    I am in partial agreement with you. In statistics there are “Type 1 and Type 2″ errors. You are concerned about the frauds which occur but are not detected. Having been a CPA for a long time, I estimate 10-15% of all audits are defective. Using this estimate, I estimate only 10% of material frauds are exposed.
    There is no plan I have seen to replace the Big 87654 that I have favored. Would an SEC-run auditing “firm” do better than the Big 87654? I have had contact with the SEC for over 30 years. In my judgment, no way. Look at the PCAOB, should this monstrosity do audits? Did it excoriate say KPMG for its 2007 Citigroup audit? What do you think the PCAOB really does?
    Bad as the Big 87654 are, as conflicted as they are, any government audit “firm” will be subject to “regulatory capture” and even worse SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY! At least you can sue the Big 87654. Try suing the SEC. Good luck.
    I think of something Milton Friedman said, “The best is often the enemy of the good”. I’ll paraphrase, “The inadequate (Big 87654 audits) is often the enemy of the irresponsible (Government audits)”.

  14. Independent Auditor, we are not as far apart as you may think. Please see my post (this thread) from 09 Feb @ 4:18 PM — I am not in favor of a Government-run audit entity.

    But something needs to change. And it’s clear that the firms won’t change unless forced to by external factors; the leadership has too much invested in maintaining the status quo.

    I suggested raising the downside risk, thinking that those risk-averse partnerships would upgrade audit procedures in response. There may be other approaches.

    One alternate approach may be to divorce audit fees both from the entities performing the audits and those being audited. (This is not a new concept and other posters have noted the inherent conflict of interest between independence and profit-making.) Have public corporations pay into a central trust account, and have a Federal oversight organization review each audit and award audit fees based on size, scope, and quality. The “review” part would be tricky, I admit. But if the fees available to the firms were tied to objective metrics plus quality (subjective), I bet a workable system could be created … and it might just lead to better quality audits. Certainly there would be more tranparency in the system, which is one of the fundamental problems we’ve got going on today.

    – Tenacious T.

  15. Tenacious:

    How much did Ron Goldman collect from O.J. Simpson after winning his case? Pretty close to zero! And, these guys are at least as savvy financial planners as O.J. (have to say O.J. really got good financial advice.)

    Why do you think the LLP rules that protect PWC are illusory? I think those laws were intended legislatively and will protect the personal assets of partners not involved in the audit. Did AA partners go bankrupt personally? No!!

    Regarding the assets of the firm, what partners will stay with PWC if it gets hit with a 4 or 5 billion dollar judgement in the Fairfield case. Who will try to get new clients? In the case of AA, the partners were allowed to just walk away (a receiver should probably have been appointed to prevent that). IF PWC loses all its clients as a result of the judgement, what is it worth? Nothing!

  16. David,

    I’m going to stop monopolizing this thread but wanted to respond to your cogent points.

    1. Andersen’s litigation was “the first big test of the strength of the LLP structure, which may not hold up in court.” See Final Accounting: Ambition, Greed, and the Fall of Arthur Andersen (2003) page 248, citing “The Buck Doesn’t Stop Here: The Spread of Limited Liability Companies” (Corporate Research E-Letter No. 27, Sept. 2002). Personal research led me to note that “the limit of an individual partner’s liability depends on the scope of the state’s LLP legislation. Many states provide protection only against tort claims and do not extend protection to a partner’s own negligence or incompentence or to the partner’s involvement in supervising wrongful conduct.”

    2. Re: “In the case of AA, the partners were allowed to just walk away …” No. The short period between the initial surfacing of the Enron allegations and the final demise of Andersen was when I first heard the term “cash call.” One partner in the local office had to sell his new car to make one of the (many) cash calls. (Cue tiny violin music.)

    In the previously cited book (page 223), the author (Toffler) notes, “In the end, the collapse of Andersen had uneven effects on its partners and staff. [The worst effects were felt by] retirees, many of whom saw their pensions evaporate, and new partners that didn’t find a new home. Many of them were deeply in debt because they had taken out loans upon becoming partner …” A friend of mine had to pay back the partnership equity loan at the same time she had to come up with cash for the “cash calls”. It was her first year as partner.

    After all Andersen’s clients were long gone, a small cadre of folks stayed behind to dispose of the business, including handling the partnership liabilities. (Ref. Inside Arthur Andersen: Shifting Values, Unexpected Consequences, 2003,(page 146.)

    I’ll take a rest now …

    – Tenacious T.

  17. TT:
    We are fairly close. I want the 1995 Litigation Reform Act repealed to increase CPA’s liability for audits. I also would like Stoneridge legislatively reversed. Aside from looking down the barrel of a loaded gun, there are few things more likely to get a CPA’s attention than looking down the barrel of a $1 billion lawsuit.

  18. The real damage to the profession is this idiotic notion that the CPAs weren’t supposed to have uncovered the Madoff fraud when they examined the books of Fairfield, which earned 160 million dollars of its 250 million dollars in fees based on its share of profits from Madoff investments or other hedge funds heavily invested in Madoff.

    There is nothing in the audit guidelines that suggests that the auditors can rely solely on confirmations from a broker or anyone else with respect to values or anything else. When you consider the fact that Madoff’s statements were esentially unaudited or not audited by a firm that could be relied on, then
    how can an auditng firm rely on confirmations from that firm. This doesn’t make sense.

    Anyway, if the auditors are correct in their assertion, what value are the services of a CPA? Markapoous says that it took him less than 4 hours to uncover Madoff’s fraud.

  19. David,

    You seem very interested in the Fairfield Greenwich Group suit. I did a Google search

    http://www.reuters.com/article/governmentFilingsNews/idUSBNG7477320081218

    Is this what you are talking about? Because as far as I can tell, Fairfield Greenwich is considering filing suit against its OWN AUDITORS (PwC) because they failed to warn it about Madoff’s fraud. Essentially, the cause of action seems to be that the auditors should have known more about the viability of the investment firm’s investments than the investment firm did.

    Do I have that right?
    Is that for real?

    I’m not a real big fan of the audit firms but, seriously, who had the superior knowledge here? Whose job description included researching investments on behalf of investors?

    Or perhaps you were thinking about the other firms and not PwC?

    – Tenacious T.

  20. Don’t the investors in the Fairfield Greenwich hedge funds who may have relied on PWC’s reports have a basis to sue PWC even if management does not?

  21. Regarding the comments on Andersen, the firm is still holding the former partners’ capital plus the receivables it collected from clients. It is an enormous mountain of cash, which may ultimately be distributed to the old partners once all of the litigation is resolved (much to the consternation of the Service, as the Andersen partners were allowed a worthless stock loss on their partnership interest).

  22. State of Penn and Deloitte

    Got these in forwards from Deloitte colleagues:
    http://www.pennlive.com/news/patriotnews/index.ssf?/base/news/1234320910270710.xml&coll=1

    From last year:
    http://www.tmcnet.com/news/2008/02/25/3289847.htm

  23. As a former compliance officer of a broker dealer…you don’t really want governmental auditors. The ones I met were not the brightest and there is a whole ‘nother slew of issues.

    The real issue is getting the firms to view their clients in a more adversarial view. Why the firms refer to those they audit as the client and harp on “client service” completely loses me. The “client” should be a group of shareholders or those with financial interest completely separate from the company being audited. A hand picked committee on the board is better than the way things used to be, but still fails in my opinion.

  24. [...] is arguably the preeminent plaintiffs lawyer now when it comes to Big 4. He’s the lead on the Deloitte Parmalat lititgation and also on a Refco case. Busy guy, but he took some time out to talk to me last [...]

  25. I loved The Big 4 And Pending Litigation – Can They Fight The Law And Win?!

  26. It is my submission that no financial misfeasance of the magnitudes involved in above cited cases cannot occur under the very nose of a vigilant auditor – unless the auditor wilfully closes his eyes – or as has been in the case of Satyam (I presume) becomes a willing participant thereof. (Please do not accuse me of pre judging the case on hand. I am only commenting on the evidence that has so far been released into the Public Domain by Indian Investigation Authorities and those that I have come to know from across a study of the various aspects of said case that have been reported by a vigilant section of the Indian Press and Media – and so far they have only strengthened my view point).

    It may be worthwhile for me to direct you to the following sites:

    http://trac.syr.edu/tracirs/latest/127/ (National Profile and Enforcement Trends over Time) (Corporate Audit Rates -Wide Disparities Found for Different Industries)
    And
    http://trac.syr.edu/tracirs/highlights/v10/ (Graphical Highlights)
    And
    http://goodwinprocter.com/~/media/D363D2909D24444397C9447722311F1B.ashx (Trends in Corporate Fraud Enforcement) and I quote from the above:

    Quote:
    GATEKEEPERS’ REMAIN ON THE HOT SEAT
    The focus on so-called “gatekeepers” —attorneys, auditors and boards of directors — also remains intense. Post-SOX, both DOJ and the SEC have filed charges against Lawyers who allegedly knew about or participated in corporate fraud….
    Auditors and audit firms also remain under scrutiny, as the SEC continues to bar and suspend accountants from practicing before the Commission.
    Unquote.

    You may also please refer to:
    1. The Oversight Systems Report On Corporate Fraud Five years after the conviction at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/DownloadDoc.aspx?doc_id=2919564 ,
    2. RSA online Fraud Reports and Auditors – A monthly Bulletin of RSA. And
    3. Corporate Fraud Data at http://www.law.com/jsp/ihc/PubArticleIHC.jsp?id=1193821435603

    In the last stated website I have come across just one instance of auditors having been convicted – that of Arthur Anderson LLP, for having instructed employees to destroy Enron related documents and for obstruction of justice.

    In every other instance of the numerous cases discussed above, the auditors have not even been negligent, not to speak of colluding with the perpetrators of fraud, (actively or passively – by winking and letting go of their findings?)

    It would also be worthwhile carrying out a survey on the Following Suggested Pattern:
    In any Financial Year of any Domain:
    (a) Companies that are Compulsorily Subject to Audit
    (b)Companies Actually Audited
    (c)No. of Clean Reports Issued
    (d)No of Qualified Reports Issued
    (e)Nature of the Qualification – Whether
    a. Serious
    b. Less Serious
    c. Matters of Material Violation Reported
    d. Action Taken upon the Qualification
    (e)Percentages of Each of (b),(c),and(d) to (a)

    I am afraid that the said study would lead to some startling discoveries and revelations.

    In the present scenario, I consider that we should be dwelling, more appropriately so, upon the wider implications of checks and balances that are built into the present financial regulation around the world; and the role of the auditor vis-à-vis the prominent Corporate stakeholders – than worrying about the fate of the Big Four Audit Firms and those of their partners and other constituents.
    If the Big Four Audit Firms fail and sink into oblivion – let them do so – and the financial world will be better off without them. An alternative will surely emerge, and it will hopefully better and far more stable and transparent – one would pray.

    The genesis of the present financial crisis lies – in the words of the Indian Economist Swaminathan Anklesaria Iyer (Refer: The perils of Inclusive Loans – Times of India dated September 28, 2008) is as follows:

    Quote:
    The (present global) crisis arose from the bursting of a housing bubble. That bubble was created, fundamentally, by (American) government policies and institutions seeking home ownership for all Americans, including low income ones. Politicians rooted for such inclusive finance. But this ‘inclusion’ extended finance to ever more borrowers with fragile and low incomes, causing disaster.
    ……..Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac held mortgages totalling $5 trillion, five times the size of Indian GDP..(and)…Although they had private shareholders; these firms carried an implicit Government Guarantee. So they could borrow much more (quantity) and more cheaply than their rivals. This implicit subsidy was justified as reducing the cost of loans for all. These institutions bought and underwrote mortgages originated by the whole banking system.
    Now as the mortgagers of last resort Fannie and Freddie should have kept a watchful eye on the housing market. If a bubble grew and burst they would be left with worthless mortgages. But instead of being watchdogs, the mortgage twins became active participants in inflating the bubble…………..
    Next came, “Financial innovation – Securitization”. Instead of keeping the mortgages in their books, banks sold these to Wall Street firms – (which in turn) chopped them into bits, bundled top grade mortgages with dubious ones, and sold the bundles as mortgage – backed securities to investors. These securities gave relatively high returns and yet appeared safe because they were backed (and bought) by Fannie May and Freddie Mac.
    As securitization grew explosively, banks lowered lending standards to shovel out more sub prime loans to poor borrowers – without verifying their incomes, assets or ability to repay……
    Why did the banks take such risks? Because the risk was transferred to investors who ( Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) bought the loans and mortgage – backed securities, including (those of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)……The buying spree of the supposed watchdogs yielded them high profits when home prices rose but made them bankrupt when house prices started falling.
    Unquote.

    For long we have been defining our role in Corporate Governance based on the obsolete (in my humble opinion) judgment based on the decision referred in re Kingston Cotton Mill Company (No.2) (1896).
    We have been limiting our liability in respect of Corporate Audits by deluding ourselves by saying – “we have been appointed by the shareholders of the company to protect their interest and to them alone are we therefore responsible.” And by saying: Inaccurate information was furnished to us by the Management: What could we do – we relied upon the said ‘information and Reported thereon’ – subject to the normal disclaimers that constitute part of every Audit Report (thereby implying: I have not even bothered take the trouble of drafting my own disclaimers!) (Emphasis mine!).
    As a corollary thereof – have we have been washing our hands away from our fiduciary responsibility to the public at large by allowing ourselves to be willing tools of the Company Managements – my answers is yes! – Who are in turn are (supposedly?) appointed by a wider body of shareholders to be their trustees (?) in the Management of the Company’s Affairs?

    Very often this fine legal distinction is illusory and does not exist in the REAL (Practical) World.

  27. [...] audit “plane crashes” you have so clearly documented:    Stanford Satyam Madoff Banco Espiritu Santo and BDO Seidman  Lehman and Ernst & Young,  Deloitte and Bear Stearns,  Deloitte and WaMu, and  KPMG and New [...]

  28. I didn’t see any mention of the lawsuit against PwC regarding overtime for associates. This lawsuit is similar to the one that was settled in Canada. The last I had heard was that it is going to court in March. Does anyone know if enough people got involved to make it a class action lawsuit?

  29. @11:28 I can’t believe I left all the overtime lawsuit off this post. My bad. You’re right. They are still out there and pending. Here is my most recent post on those subjects.
    http://retheauditors.com/2008/09/laboring-in-the-big-4-a-labor-day-special-report/

  30. You might as well add Deloitte’s latest mess to your list now.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09060/952436-28.stm

  31. Ms. McKenna– Big-Four plane crashes: I would suggest you peel the onion behind Judge Kaplan’s ruling against Deloitte and its claim that Parmalat was simply an Italian client. I suggest you review recent and ongoing litigation in Italy.

  32. [...] about twelve of his audit clients.   Mr. Ray is on the middle of the controversy regarding auditors and their judgment and application with regard to fair value accounting. (Although no one from PCAOB or the audit [...]

  33. I don’t think the Big 4 will crash down, they are pushing our profession forward.
    Big litigation of course for the Big 4, but there must be “small” litigation for smaller ones.
    And to be honest, I think the problem comes from (in Europe) IAS 32 and IAS 39 and the fair value valuation of financial assets.

  34. It all comes down to pure unadulterated greed. It’s a shame. I wanted to work at a Big 4 but I am starting to reconsider that. I’m not too sure I want to be linked with companies that have so many issues. I prefer mid-tier firms but even those are in the doghouse too.

  35. [...] I have detailed it all before and some of the above are new even since [...]

  36. [...] BDO’s exposure in regard to Banco Espiritu. Some of us armchair quarterbacks believe that BDO is at risk of failure – along with others. He was unequivocal: “It will be dealt with and we’ll [...]

  37. [...] this conclusion is drawn is before you even consider the considerable litigation threats each one faces.  RSM and Grant Thornton both have Madoff exposure and Grant Thornton also has [...]

  38. [...] one of the Big 4 (and the next tier) has a handful of lawsuits on their desk related to their audits of the banks and other financial institutions that failed, were taken over [...]

  39. [...] McGladrey is the next tier public accounting firm with the alternative practice structure and exposure to Madoff and Petters fraud litigation as well as responsibility for the Sentinel [...]

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