There has been strong support for the Competition Commission's (CC's) final report on the statutory audit market from the Big Four and mid-tier firms, with widespread acceptance that change was needed within what had become a stagnant market.
James Chalmers, head of assurance at PwC, said: 'This is a sensible outcome. After almost two years and a thorough process, the Competition Commission has put forward a significant package of proposals, including mandatory re-tendering every ten years, increased accountability of auditors to audit committees, and additional responsibilities for the Financial Reporting Council (FRC). Taken together, these measures will enhance competition, transparency and quality.'
The CC has scaled back the original proposal for five-year mandatory tendering, which was widely criticised as too disruptive and costly, while the new timescale is welcomed as building on the FRC's work to introduce a ten year 'comply or explain' tendering process.
Tony Cates, EMA head of audit at KPMG, said: 'We believe that a ten-year tender process strikes a better balance between, on the one hand, allowing an auditor to get under the skin of complex, global businesses and provide real insight and management challenge while, on the other hand, ensuring an effective and rigorous tender process to choose the best auditor.'
Hywel Ball, managing partner assurance at EY, pointed out that the CC had not made the case for a lack of competition in the audit market, stating: 'Overall the process and evidence over two years has confirmed that competition between audit firms is healthy and robust and that for the most part audits are done well - the service we provide to our clients is effective and diligent.'
While supportive, ICAEW chief executive Michael Izza said that the underlying requirement is for 'those that buy audit services to recognise that real quality as well as niche expertise exist outside the largest professional service firms'.
Responses from firms in the mid-tier suggest that the CC's measures will support this process. David Herbinet, head of UK public interest markets at Mazars, says: 'The door that was once shut and firmly bolted to firms like ours has now at least been nudged ajar. Only a few years ago we had a truly ossified market, with barely any tendering, let alone change of auditors. We've always accepted that change wouldn't happen overnight, but from today it is now clear that there is no alternative but to change.'
Grant Thornton CEO Scott Barnes said the CC report 'dispels the misconception that there is an issue of quality or capability outside of the largest firms', and has put the issues of competition and choice to the forefront.
With 24 FTSE 350 audits going out to tender over the past twelve months, there is evidence that change is already starting to happen. James Roberts, senior audit partner, BDO argues that 'this essential shift in attitudes to governance, to reject the notion that an auditor can remain in place for 100 years without a competitive tender, should bring about real change in the market and encourage genuine and fair competition'.
However, Roberts warned that 'we are under no illusion that, despite the investigation, the establishment of real and sufficient competition is a long-term undertaking'.
David Barnes, managing partner, Deloitte UK, cautioned that while the CC's report provided clarity in the UK market, 'there will be some uncertainty until the position in Europe is finalised'.
The FRC says it will need to consider the implications for its resource and funding requirements in light of the CC's proposals that it should increase its AQR work, although it says these provide 'more flexibility on implementation than was originally envisaged'.