Improving Auditor Independence and Accountability is PwC’s Strategic Shift

In a bid to fortify trust and bolster accountability, global professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has unveiled a comprehensive three-year strategic plan. This initiative, slated for implementation from 2024 to 2026, marks a significant move to mitigate potential conflicts of interest in its advisory services for U.S. clients.

Wes Bricker, Vice Chair and U.S. Trust Solutions Leader at PwC, highlighted that the policies underpinning this strategic shift are designed to enhance various crucial facets: accountability, quality, independence, openness, and engagement. In a recent interview with CFO Dive, Bricker emphasized the proactive and transparent efforts that will be undertaken to promote auditor independence. This includes a decisive move to cease offering specific consulting services to public business audit clients.

One of the notable changes in PwC's approach involves a restriction on recommending operational system design and implementation to audit customers. While the firm acknowledges its capacity to provide advice and recommendations on management choices in certain contexts, it is aligning its focus more closely with its core role as financial statement auditors.

This strategic pivot comes at a critical juncture, with global regulators increasingly advocating for greater separation between auditing firms and the companies they audit. Recent high-profile accounting scandals involving major firms have further underscored the urgency of implementing measures to address conflicts of interest.

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, for instance, raised significant concerns about potential conflicts of interest, as KPMG issued a clean financial report merely two weeks prior to the bank's downfall. Similarly, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board criticized both PwC and KPMG for audit deficiencies related to China-based companies.

PwC's renewed emphasis on independence is rooted in a steadfast commitment to delivering trust, particularly when confronting issues like fraud, going concern, and financial disclosures. Bricker reiterated that their proposal does not encompass consulting services, reiterating the firm's dedication to maintaining a clear demarcation between auditing and advisory functions.

Moreover, PwC's strategic blueprint includes measures such as compensation at risk provisions and public leadership certifications for their quality control systems. These mechanisms serve to hold leadership accountable for audit quality and reinforce the connection between the firm's multidisciplinary offerings and the stakeholders who rely on their audit reports.

Looking ahead, PwC's forthcoming initiatives will further enhance audit quality, with a particular focus on tackling fraud and going concern issues. This will necessitate leveraging the firm's multidisciplinary expertise, spanning areas such as artificial intelligence, technology, talent transformation, and transformative deal transactions.

In May, PwC made a substantial announcement of a $1 billion investment in generative AI over the next three years. This strategic move aligns seamlessly with their broader objectives, synergizing with advancements in AI, next-generation audits, climate-related services, and tax investments.

As PwC takes proactive steps to recalibrate its service offerings, the industry watches closely, recognizing the pivotal role that auditor independence and accountability play in upholding the integrity of financial reporting and bolstering investor confidence in the market.