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Amid the tumult of Sarbanes-Oxley and thorny auditor-client issues lie long-lasting relationships, some that have endured for more than 50 years.
Sarah Johnson, CFO Magazine
May 1, 2010
The relationship between accounting firms and their corporate clients has been shaky over the past decade, to say the least. In the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, accounting firms dumped some risky clients, shuttered ancillary consulting arms, and raised fees. That strained the collegial bond between firms and their clients.
More recently, as we reported last month ("Auditing Your Auditor"), fees have dropped and it has become very much a buyer's market. At the same time, companies are demonstrating a new willingness to switch auditors. Last year, 1,331 public companies changed auditors, according to Audit Analytics; 82% of the time the client initiated the switch, versus the auditor dropping the account.
But amid all that tumult, many unions have endured — sometimes for more than a century. The longest-running relationship on record is between Deloitte & Touche and Procter & Gamble, which has employed only one primary audit firm since its incorporation in 1890. Indeed, to crack the list of the 100 longest-lasting auditor-client relationships, your company would need to have used the same firm for more than 50 years.
Sarbox frowned on cozy auditor-client relationships by instituting the auditor-rotation rule, which requires lead audit partners to move off an account after five consecutive fiscal years. Lawmakers have occasionally toyed with the idea of also requiring companies to switch audit firms every few years, to further increase independence. Companies and auditors have both pushed back, arguing that the costs would outweigh the benefits and further cramp competition by limiting an already small pool of viable auditors. If such a rule ever did come to pass, it would spell an end to some very long-standing relationships.
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