A presentation for TAF: Don’t Forget About the Auditors When Investigating Fraud
Let's not forget about the auditors when bolstering employment and whistleblower protection laws
While researching my most recent webcast presentation to Taxpayers Against Fraud — educating and empowering the next generation of whistleblowers to fight fraud — I found this article. I must have seen it at the time, in 2019, by Madison Marriage at the FT who was their Accountancy Reporter at the time.
Madison interviewed 20 former Big 4 employees in the US, UK, and other parts of the world about their “experience of harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace over the course of a year’s investigation into how these firms treat whistleblowers within their ranks.”
The FT describes a pattern — “disturbingly common” it says — in how complainants were treated:
…most initially felt ignored, then isolated and were eventually pushed out. Legal clauses aimed at silencing them swiftly followed; nine of those interviewed said they were pressured into signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. Others were asked to sign but resisted.
Restrictive non-disclosure agreements, non-disparagement clauses, non-compete clauses…. All things that are criticized in other industries and under fire by the FTC in the US, because they signal monopoly power, and in this case monopsony power.
If you have been reading my work over the years, you’ll have read many pieces by me about these issues in the accounting/audit industry. They were ignored in the Biden Administration Executive Order antitrust target list in July 2021. The accounting industry was not mentioned. I wrote:
I was told that most have thrown up their hands. Everyone likes to talk about the power and the conflicts of Big 4 but no one knows what to do about it so the policy is “hands-off” because now there are “too few to fail”.
The FTC’s proposal to do away with non-compete clauses has thousands of comments. I looked at them, searching for mention of accounting, audit and CPAs. There are quite a few. Will they be ignored again? This from a partner-level professional is a good example.
More likely the Big 4 will carve out an exception at the last minute using influence at the SEC and within the halls of government where they audit the Fed, the Treasury, the IRS and every major government agency. “Too few to fail” is also too few to restrict their business practices the way any other business would be disciplined by the market, it seems.
Jason Zuckerman, a great lawyer and friend and a member of Taxpayers Against Fraud, asked me to talk about the auditor’s role in corporate investigations and auditors as whistleblowers. There is lots of info about the most recent cases of auditors, former auditors and accountants who blew the whistle. Sadly, they all had trouble finding good, consistent representation willing to go up agains the largest firms and companies.
I am still waiting for suggestions from webcast attendees on how I can help the professionals who come to me all the time looking for help.
Taxpayers Against Fraud
Lunch and Learn Feb. 23, 2023
Don’t Forget About the Auditors When Investigating Fraud – How Auditors React To and May Become Whistleblower
© Francine McKenna, The Digging Company LLC, 2023