As overseer of a publication that has had a ringside seat at many of the monstrous accounting scandals of the past two years, I have no doubt that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is headed in the right direction.
Many of its crucial staff posts, such as chief auditor, were filled by folks with excellent credentials such as Douglas Carmichael, and it boasts other solid members like Charley Niemeier and Kayla Gillan.
And its oft-reported strategy of mandatory registration of accounting firms is revving up in the driveway waiting for the test run.
So it was with some slight amusement that I read that PCAOB registration requirements are requesting SEC accounting firms to request that their auditors reveal any convictions for petty crimes such as shoplifting, trespassing and drunk driving.
Now fortunately, Winona Ryder is an actress, not an auditor for PwC or another of the major firms or else you could have a field day with this one. Imagine the auditors at her favorite, ahem, shopping destination — Saks — when she enters the store? Time to check that floor inventory!
Ditto for any number of country music or rock performers, many of whom have nearly as many DWI citations as Grammy nominations. And I’m not even going to broach the subject of America’s favorite trespassers.
Now to be fair, the above-mentioned are some fairly serious peccadilloes – particularly drunk driving.
But when informed of the PCAOB’s request, several heads of the country’s larger firms were somewhat puzzled as to whether releasing information of that sort affects the quality of an individual’s audit work. And then of course there’s always that thorny privacy issue, which could augur some messy legal action.
A chief executive of a major firm was quoted as saying that everyone makes mistakes, and bringing a past faux pas out in the open that may have happened as long as five years ago raises concerns of an Orwellian nature.
A fair point, to be sure, but where it gets tricky here is more quantitative than qualitative.
Should an auditor be banned because, in a moment of foolish indiscretion they opted for one more beer and their blood alcohol level during a routine traffic stop was decimally higher than that state’s limit? Should they be banned because it was their third offense?
The same with taking liberties at the local shopping mall. If it were a pattern, then you would certainly have reason to believe that their behavior would carry over to their audit work.
Now please don’t send me emails to accuse me of condoning criminal conduct. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But in this case, much like audit work itself, you have to rely more on good judgment than anything else.
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