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Return to: Home > Comments > Editor's letter: Big four, Big spin

Editor's letter: Big four, Big spin

Tourists roaming the South African national parks generally have stars in their eyes at the mention of the Big Five. In safari terms, the Big Five are the poster boys of tour operators: the lion, the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros. The term Big Five originates from hunting; those five animals were considered the hardest to hunt on foot in Africa.

Their hunting is now extremely controlled for conservation purposes, although illegal poaching, especially for rhino horns and elephant tusks is still a major issue. In August this year, John Hume, a South African rancher who breeds and dehorns rhinos, managed to organise an online auction of 264 horns after winning a legal battle overthrowing a 2009 moratorium on buying and selling rhino horns within South Africa.

The news made global headlines as the stated goal of the auction was to prevent rhinos from being poached for their horns in South Africa and to raise money to further fund the breeding and protection of rhinos. This sparked a debate on whether breeding and dehorning could be a plausible solution to fence off poachers and save the endangered rhinos, thus preventing the Big Five from becoming the Big Four.

In accountancy, the Big Five has faded long ago and only the Big Four remain. And, although there are no apparent threats at the moment for this to go down to the Big Three, it seems in recent weeks that hunting season is going full speed, revealing that the big and mighty four may have some chinks in their armour.

In last month’s issue, EY was in the spotlights and, in this issue, it is KPMG that takes centre stage.

As its South African firm brings reputational damage to KPMG, the network’s chairman John Veihmeyer issued an apologetic statement saying: “This is not who we are”.

Considering the long list of settlements and fines KPMG firms have faced in the past 10 years alone, one can only wonder: who is the real KPMG?

But let’s forget the controversies and the heavy stuff for now and go back to the basis. As we enter the second half of the calendar year, financial results are starting to come out. With technology kicking in and automating the simple accounting functions, it seems the Big Four networks have forgotten basic counting skills.

In early September, EY announced combined global revenues of $ 31.4bn for the financial year ended 30 June 2017 compared to $ 29.6bn in FY16. For anyone with basic maths skills, that is a 6% growth year on year, 6.1% at best but, for EY’s “transparency” report and press release, it’s 7.8%… in local currency.

Similarly, later in September, Deloitte released its figures and announced annual global revenues of $ 38.8bn for the year ending 31 May 2017, compared to $ 36.8bn in the previous year. Again, maths would suggest that this is a 5.4% growth, but for Deloitte’s “transparency” report and press release it’s 7.1%… in local currency.

Another amazing spin in Deloitte’s “transparency” report concerns its staff figures. It announced that “In FY2017, Deloitte increased its workforce […] with nearly 70,000 new professionals, an increase of 8% from FY16 – the equivalent of 1 person hired every 8 minutes.”

This time they got the percentage right, but they forgot to account for or to be transparent about those who left. As Caleb Newquist of GoingConcern noted: “The ‘increase of 8% from FY16’ is in its total headcount, from 244,400 to 263,900. That difference isn’t 70,000; it’s 19,500. So yes, Deloitte hired 70,000, but about 50,000 people also left — the equivalent of one person leaving every 10 minutes. Put in a different light, if one new person is walking in Deloitte’s door every 8 minutes, then one person is walking out two minutes later.”

And let’s not forget PwC UK, which announced 5% growth for FY17, but this figures is actually for the PwC UK Group, which includes the Middle Eastern practice owned by the UK firm and incorporated in Guernsey. So, in reality, PwC in the UK grew by 2%.

So much for transparency and accountability… they should just rename their “transparency” reports “marketing” reports. It wouldn’t make them better reading, but at least it would be more honest. Or we could feed them to the rhinos… I doubt they’d want them though.

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