“We have had Paige & Gentry as our auditors for many years, haven’t we, Jane? They have been here since I became president two years ago.” “Yes, Bob, I have been the CFO for seven years, and they were here before I came. Why do you ask?” “Well, they were really tough on us during the recent discussions when we were finalizing our year-end audited statements—not at all like I was used to at my last company. When we asked for a little latitude, our auditors were usually pretty obliging. Frankly, I’m a little worried.” “Why, Bob, we had nothing to hide?”
“That’s true, Jane, but let’s look ahead. We’re going to have difficulty making our forecast this year, and our bonuses are on the line. Remember, we renegotiated our salary/bonus package to give us a chance at higher incentives, and we have to be careful.”
“Looking ahead, we’ve got a problem with obsolete inventory that’s sure to come to require discussion for a second year in a row. We’ve got the warranty problem with the electrical harness on the mid-range machine, which is going to cost us a bundle, but we want to spread the impact over the next three years when the customers dis-cover the problem and we have to fix it up. And don’t forget the contaminated waste.
spill we just had—how much is that going to cost to clean up, if we ever get caught?”
“These are potentially big-ticket items. Bill Paige, the guy who is in charge of our audit, is not going to let these go by. He said the inventory problem was almost material this year, and we had to argue really hard. You are a qualified accountant; how can we handle this?”
“Well, Bob, we could have some informal discussions with other auditors—maybe even the ones at your old company—to see how they would handle issues like these. The word will get around to Bill, and he may be more accommodating in the future and will probably shave his proposed audit fee for next year when he meets with our Audit Committee next month. If you really wanted to play hardball, we could talk the Audit Committee into calling for tenders from new auditors. After all this time, it’s logical to check out the market anyway. We would have advance discussions during which we would sound them out on how they would assess materiality in our company’s case. Our audit fee in getting pretty large—almost $50,000 this year—so some big firms will be really interested.”
“Jane let’s play hardball. Get a list of audit firms together for the tender process, and I will approach the Audit Committee. Be sure to list some small firms, including Webster & Co., the firm auditing my old company.”
1. Who are the major stakeholders involved in this situation?
2. What are the ethical issues involved?
3. Is this situation unethical? Why and why not?
4. What should Jane do if Webster & Co. looks like the choice the Audit Committee will make and recommend to the board of directors?
5. Do you think that it is ethical for a company to change auditors if there is a difference in opinion on how accounting issues should be handled? Why or why not?
6. What actions should Jane take if there is a change in auditors?