Amid reports that KPMG is drawing a firmer line between audit and non-audit services in the United Kingdom, the firm has no similar plans in the United States.
KPMG is under fire in the U.K. for diminishing audit performance, particularly in connection with the collapse of British construction firm Carillion. The firm has reportedly advised its partners internally that it would halt all non-essential non-audit services to companies it currently audits that are listed among the largest companies on the Financial Times Stock Exchange.
In the United States, however, KPMG has no plans to make any changes to its mix of services to publicly traded companies because independence issues have already been addressed under Sarbanes-Oxley, the firm said through a spokesman. “We have benefitted from robust independent regulation and oversight to safeguard auditor independence as a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, which clearly outlines permissible non-audit services for public audit clients,” the spokesman said. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board indicated recently it may be taking a fresh look at auditor independence requirements.
The Financial Reporting Council, the U.K.’s audit regulator, said in its most recent inspection findings that audit quality at KPMG has declined over the last four inspection cycles, especially among the FTSE 350, the country’s largest companies. The FRC provides a “target” of 90 percent on audits deemed to have need for limited or no improvement, but KPMG’s rate in achieving that threshold fell to 50 percent it is most recent inspection after 65 percent in the preceding cycle. “There is substantially more for the firm to do to achieve (90 percent),” the FRC reported.
While calling for audit improvements, the FRC report also praised the firm’s work with respect to its internal monitoring and approval of non-audit services and audit firm rotation. It also said the firm exhibits “good practice” in monitoring its compliance with personal independence testing.
The FRC itself, however, is also under fire for its work as an audit regulator in the U.K. The regulator is the subject of an independent review by the government.
A Parliament report on the Carillion collapse said KPMG should have called out any of several warning signs in connection with “highly questionable assumptions” about contract revenue and accumulated goodwill, which were fundamental to the health of the balance sheet. “In failing to exercise — and voice — professional skepticism toward Carillion’s aggressive accounting judgments, KPMG was complicit in them,” the report says.
The same report also calls out the audit regulator, however. “The FRC was far too passive in relation to Carillion’s financial reporting,” the report says. “It should have followed up its identification of several failings in Carillion’s 2015 accounts with subsequent monitoring.”
FRC CEO Stephen Haddrill has said he will resign his post in late 2019, but his exact departure date is not certain, pending the outcome of the review of the FRC, the search for his successor, and any agreed transition period.