Silent Partners

Signs are appearing that auditors and their clients are working out many of their Sarbox-spawned differences.


It's never a happy day when a relationship goes sour. When frosty silence replaces intimate conversation, when friendship gives way to mistrust, when frustrations multiply until the good old days seem but a distant memory, we inevitably wonder who's to blame and where it all went so wrong.

When the relationship in question is that between companies and their auditors, however, the two parties can't be content to ruefully hum "The Way We Were" as they scan apartment listings. Grievances must be put aside, accommodation reached.

Fortunately, that's happening. Three years ago we looked at the client-auditor relationship and found that it had become a "fractured fraternity," with both sides reeling from a seemingly overnight collapse of mutual regard. Today, with confusion over the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act abating, there are signs that CFOs and auditors are working out many of their differences.

But not all. In "Can This Relationship Be Saved?" senior writer Kate O'Sullivan finds that companies continue to long for the days when auditors provided advice and counsel rather than a stamp of approval with an ever-escalating price tag. Meanwhile, in "Auditor Angst" senior writer Alix Stuart opens a sizable file of auditor complaints; could those large fees hinge in part on clients' many shortcomings? We surveyed both CFOs and auditors and found that while the situation isn't as dire as it once was, neither is it a bed of roses. Was it all so simple then? Definitely not. But some days it can certainly feel that way.

Simplicity has never been a hallmark of 401(k) plans, particularly from an administrative point of view, and recent developments may force plan sponsors to confront even more complexity. The issue is fees, and the challenge is how to understand them and explain them appropriately to employees. Both Congress and the Department of Labor are taking a close look at the issue, and so are we. In "Courting Disaster" we describe what may change and how to get more satisfaction from the third parties you rely on.


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