The Big Four accounting firms have defended
the role of auditors in the run up to the financial crisis after a
grilling by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

Leaders of Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG
and PwC argued it was not their job to sound the alarm in the
lead-up to the near collapse of the banking sector.

The committee questioned why banks were signed
off as a ‘going concern’ by the auditors in the first place.

According to Deloitte senior partner and chief
executive John Connolly, an auditor’s decision to sign off a bank’s
accounts as a ‘going concern’ was based on the knowledge that there
would be support from the government if this was not the case.

“I can only say that had we concluded that
there was not going to be support, then a different audit opinion
would have been given,” Connolly said.

“I find it absolutely astonishing,” Lord
Lawson retorted. “You noticed [the banks] were on very thin ice but
you were completely relaxed about it because you knew the taxpayer
would support them.”

KPMG senior partner John Griffith-Jones
defended the position that an auditor’s primary role is to “count
the score at the end of the accounting period” and not to make an
assessment of the risk of the business.

Connolly noted that independent inspectors
into the crisis found the qualities of the bank audits by the Big
Four were of a “high” quality.

“At no point have we had to restate the
financial statements, which would have been required if they had
been incorrect,” Connolly added.

The committee’s probe into the role of bank
auditors in the run up to the crisis is part of a wider inquiry
into audit market concentration, which is expected to be concluded
by the end of the year.

So far the committee has heard from academics,
regulators, professional accountancy bodies and the mid-tier
accounting firms.


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