In 1981, Stevens (Sudden Death, 1989, etc.) authored The Big Eight, an enlightening rundown on the pick-of-the-litter partnerships that audit publicly held corporations, government agencies, philanthropic institutions, and other organizations whose books need independent keeping. Ten years later, he's back with an equally illuminating report on what's been happening at the top of the accounting trade in the interim. As his title suggests, there was a full measure of turmoil in the numbers game during the 1980's. For openers, two major mergers have made an elite octet a beset sextet comprised (in order of 1989 revenues) of: Ernst & Young; Arthur Andersen; Deloitte & Touche; KMPG Peat Marwick; Coopers & Lybrand; and Price Waterhouse. Owing to the high overhead required to maintain a multinational practice, Stevens expects at least a couple of the firms still at the top to join forces by the turn of the century. As he makes clear, moreover, all survivors must cope with pressing problems in court, in house, and in the marketplace. Using inculpatory case studies, the author conveys a good idea of the staggering liabilities that threaten CPA firms as a result of slipshod work for S&Ls and other gaudy casualties of excessively free enterprise. He also documents the efforts of managing partners to mollify captive consulting units whose restive, even rebellious, staffers are convinced their contributions are unappreciated and inadequately rewarded. In the meantime, Stevens notes, the once-clubby calling of big-time accounting has turned competitive as ambitious auditors vie to expand their client rosters. Among other consequences, he implies, this increases the risk of conflicts of interest and raises disturbing questions about some practitioners' professionalism (e.g., are they for hireor sale?). An update that stands on its own as a source of valuable perspectives on a business whose for-the-record opinions can undergird (or undermine) public confidence in the integrity of the financial statements issued by commerce and industry.
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