Sarbanes-Oxley — also known as the “Accountants Full Employment Act” — has led to a doubling of audit fees by the Big Four accounting firms, according to a new study.
PricewaterhouseCoopers saw an increase in audit fees averaging 134 percent, thanks in large part to work related to Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, reported the Financial Times, citing the Corporate Executive Board, a consultancy. KPMG’s audit fees rose an average of 109 percent; Ernst & Young’s, an average of 96 percent; and Deloitte’s, 78 percent.
The results were based on a Corporate Executive Board survey of 43 businesses — 40 of them Fortune 500 companies — that had to comply with Section 404 last year. Earlier this week the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it would hold a rare roundtable discussion to consider that section of Sarbanes-Oxley, which guides how companies assess their internal controls and how auditors report on those assessments.
The study found that the 43 companies spent an average of $5 million to $8 million to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley last year, according to the Financial Times.
PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that it believes “the overall audit fee increase is in the 80 to 100 per cent range, with significant variation depending on the specific client and the complexity of the work,” according to the FT. Deloitte told the newspaper that average figures were difficult to compute, though the increase was the highest that the firm had seen. E&Y and KPMG declined to comment to the paper.
Companies had expected that the cost of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance would be high (see CFO magazine’s September 2003 cover story, “Sticker Shock“), but just how high seems to have been a surprise.
In a separate survey of 60 member companies by the CFO Executive Board, a division of the Corporate Executive Board, at the beginning of 2004, participants most often responded that they expected their Section 404 fees to account for between 20 percent and 60 percent of their total financial-statement audit fees.
At the end of the year, for 58 percent of the participating companies, that ratio has reached 60 percent to 120 percent. For 2005, nearly three-quarters of respondents are projecting Section 404 fees to range between 20 percent and 80 percent of their total financial-statement audit fees.