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June 22, 2015

Editor’s letter: Stand naked

By Vincent Huck

"The most successful non-homicidal dictator of the past century," is how British newspaper The Guardian described Sepp Blatter, the president of football’s world governing body, FIFA.

Blatter is in the middle of a storm that could put an end to his 17 years at the helm of FIFA. But a seasoned politician, Blatter could also come out unhurt. However the latest developments at FIFA have raised once again the question of the role of the auditor.

KPMG has been auditing FIFA for nearly as long as Blatter has been in charge of the organisation. With allegations emerging about transactions from FIFA official bank accounts for bribery purposes, one wonders how KPMG gave FIFA a clean bill of health year after year without noticing or questioning the existence of bad practices.

It could be that KMPG did question FIFA’s management on some of these transactions. But at the heart of the problem is the fact that audit documents are not publicly available, therefore we don’t know if they did. And if they did, we don’t know the questions asked and the answers received, answers which were presumably reassuring enough to sign-off the report.

KPMG and FIFA hide behind the ‘duty of confidentiality to audit client’ argument. But as University of Essex professor Prem Sikka points out, if there’s nothing to hide and if there’s no wrong-doing, why don’t FIFA and KPMG agree to lift that privilege and make the audit documents public? (page 4)

The FIFA scandal adds to an ongoing series of scandals and fraud cases that have hit the audit profession in recent years. Such cases do very little to re-establish public trust in the profession. It has been said time and again that since the early noughties and scandals such as Enron, as well as the financial crisis of 2008, public trust has been in constant decline.

Coincidentally, this month the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants held its annual Anthony Howitt lecture entitled "Who can you trust?" (page 5-6).

Keynote speaker and PR guru Robert Philips alluded to the idea that trust is not in decline, but rather that we live in a complex and chaotic world and therefore that trust is in constant flux.

As a result he believes that business leaders should stand naked, metaphorically of course. While leaders don’t have to be transparent about everything, the concept of nakedness requires them to be transparent about their intentions and the impact of their actions on wider society.

Despite Philips optimism we’re still a long way from a society where leaders, businessmen and civil servants alike, stand naked.

For example, as this month’s magazine goes to print, Henley Business School at the University of Reading is hosting a panel discussion entitled: In the Spotlight: Business of the Beautiful Game. The panellists for the event are: David Bell (chair),vice-chancellor of the University of Reading; Adrian Bell, academic expert in football finance; Michael Bolingbroke, chief executive of Inter Milan and former COO of Manchester United; Tom Markham, head of strategic business development at Sports Interactive; and Philip Nash former COO of Glasgow Rangers FC.

International Accounting Bulletin asked to attend the session; however we were told that "one of the panellists has decided he would prefer not to have press in attendance".

The beautiful game is no longer beautiful, the auditor is no longer trusted, the dictator, as The Guardian called him, is still hanging to his seat by his fingernails. Whether Blatter falls or not, it’s unlikely the FIFA scandal will have any major impact on the auditor KPMG. Maybe it’s time for the profession to be one step ahead of the curve, lead by example and stand naked.

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