Competition Commission
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Audit market not serving shareholders

Competition in the audit market is restricted by factors which inhibit companies from switching auditors and by the tendency for auditors to focus on satisfying management rather than shareholder needs. This is the Competition Commission’s (CC) provisional conclusion in its market investigation into the supply of statutory audit services to large companies in the UK.

In a summary of its
provisional findings published recently, the CC states that because companies find it difficult to compare alternatives with their existing auditor, prefer continuity and face significant costs in switching, they are reluctant to change auditor and so lack bargaining power. Audit firms outside the ‘Big 4’, which dominate the market, find it difficult to show that they have sufficient experience and reputation to win the audit engagements of FTSE 350 companies.

Additionally, although auditors are appointed to protect the interests of shareholders, who are therefore the primary customers, too often auditors’ focus is on meeting the needs of senior management who are key decision takers on whether to retain their services. This means that competition focuses on factors that are not aligned with shareholder demand.

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