Picture the scene – you’re the senior auditing partner of KPMG in America with more than 30 years of experience serving some of KPMG’s most prestigious clients. There are over 9,000 KPMG people in the US who look up to you as the boss.
You receive some leaked information about which of your audits the US audit watchdog is going to examine as part of their annual inspection of how well KPMG perform audits.
(a) Disclose this unethical breach immediately, or
(b) Try to keep things quiet and make sure that the audit files of the audits selected are perfect?
Unfortunately for Scott Marcello, the (now ex) head of KPMG’s audit practice in America, he didn’t choose option (a).
The background to the issue is that every year the US audit regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) selects a sample of audits to inspect and ensure they have been performed properly.
A former employee of the PCAOB had joined KPMG. A friend of his who was still working at the PCAOB tipped him off about which audits would be selected for inspection this year.
The confidential information was then passed up the KPMG hierarchy until it reached Mr Marcello.
We can only guess what Mr Marcello and 4 other KPMG partners were planning on doing with the leaked information but one thing was for sure and that was they didn’t disclose the leak.
Whilst the 5 partners clearly weren’t very ethical, KPMG as an organisation acted quickly once they found out about it.
The 5 partners were fired and Lynne Doughtie, the chairwoman and chief executive of KPMG was quoted as saying “KPMG has zero tolerance for such unethical behaviour. Quality and integrity are the cornerstone of all we do and that includes operating with the utmost respect and regard for the regulatory process. We are taking additional steps to ensure that such a situation should not happen again”.
The PCOAB publish the results of their inspections and the previous results of the KPMG inspections perhaps give a reason for why Mr Marcello was keen for any help, whether it was ethical or unethical.
In 2014 and 2015, KPMG had more deficiencies in their audits than any of the other Big 4 in America.
38% of their inspected audits in 2015 were found to be deficient whilst in 2014, 54% were found to be deficient.
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