atans1

The trouble with auditors

In Accounting, Corporate governance on 05/01/2011 at 5:25 am

Today’s financial industry may be too complex and too subject to opinions for the accountants to get right, even if they want to. Witness PricewaterhouseCoopers, which audited both Goldman Sachs and AIG. At the height of the financial crisis, the exact same securities on each firms’ books were valued at radically different prices. In other words, there was no way to compare the two firms’ results.

The complexity makes the accountants even more susceptible to pressure from management. That pressure is all too real. And the problem in Enron’s case was never the consulting business. It’s that the accountants forgot who they were working for. They’re supposed to work for investors, not management. Their job is to make sure investors have a fair chance at assessing a company’s financial condition.

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Put simply, the unfortunate truth is that corporate bad behavior often pays. Thus, if accountants always behave like homo economicus — the hyper-rational, purely opportunistic hero of economic theory — rampant frauds are only to be expected.

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NYT article

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