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On Wednesday, November 30, the Internal Market Commissioner, Michel Barnier, suggested that radical changes are needed for auditing firms. Barnier said recent apparent audit failures at AngloIrish and Lehman Brothers banks, BAE Systems and Olympus “would strongly suggest that audit is not working as it should”. Under Barnier’s plan, the four top firms will have to separate audit activities from non-audit activities, such as tax and other advisory services — “to avoid all risks of conflict of interest”. It appears that the world’s top four audit firms will have to split up and rename themselves under a far-reaching draft European Union law to crack down on conflicts of interest and shortcomings highlighted by the financial crisis.

1. Just four audit firms — Ernst & Young ERNY.UL, Deloitte DLTE.UL, KPMG KPMG.UL, and PwC PWC.UL — check the books of 85 percent of blue-chip companies in most EU states, a situation the Commission said was “in essence an oligopoly”. What is an oligopoly?
2. What does the EU plan propose to ban in relationship to loans? Explain.
3. Barnier, under pressure from some fellow commissioners, has decided to drop which part of the plan? What is the reaction by some, including BDO, an audit firm in the second tier firms?
4. What is your reaction to the proposal and the move by regulators in the U.S. to consider more auditor rotation regulations?

Jones, H. (2011). Big Four Auditors Face Breakup to Restore Trust, Reuters, Nov. 30 (Retrievable online at