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Whistleblowers at KPMG and Barclays—a contrast in style

Tom Fox | April 17, 2017

The recent termination of five audit partners at KPMG and one other employee for receiving improper advance information of Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) audits and failing to report that leaked information internally to the appropriate persons point several lessons to The Man From FCPA. The first is that receiving confidential information from a government employee about upcoming government investigations, in this information about which KPMG audits would be tested by the PCAOB, is illegal.

Auditing is largely built of the two foundations of the Ronald Reagan maxim, Trust, but verify. If the trust is broken, the verification validity is called into question. One of the functions of the PCAOB is to randomly review public company audits performed by their outside auditors for both deficiencies and conflicts of interest. Receiving advance knowledge of a PCAOB review can damage the credibility of such review.

Yet, there was some positive news out of this fiasco, as KPMG acted to quickly terminate the five audit partners and the other person who had received the inside information. Moreover, an internal whistleblower reported the conduct at the firm, which led to the terminations. The swift terminations stand in stark contrast to the events which have played out at Barclays Bank where the CEO Jes Staley had personally interceded to demand the bank’s corporate security determine the name of an anonymous whistleblowers who made allegations against a close friend Staley had brought to the bank.

In addition to seeking to unmask the whistleblower through internal channels, Staley sought to have U.S. law enforcement personnel involved in the search as well. All of this was in violation of the Bank’s Code of Conduct and internal policies around whistleblowing. The bank’s Board of Directors docked Staley’s compensation for this conduct, and now British regulators are investigating the matter.