The Big Four: The curious past and perilous future of the global accounting monopoly
La Trobe University Press/Black Inc., $32.99 pb, 260pp, 9781863959964
What’s an accountant’s favourite book? 50 Shades of Grey. But in a world of transfer pricing and Special Purpose Entities, suddenly accounting isn’t funny anymore. A 1976 Congressional report noted that the Big Eight accounting firms controlled ‘virtually all aspects of accounting and auditing in the US’. Multinationals, presidents, prime ministers, and pro tennis players hide their vast wealth in offshore tax havens like Panama and the Bahamas. The message is clear: to keep your dosh from the tax collector’s greedy grasp, you’ll likely need a Big Four accountant.
Who are the Big Four? Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and KPMG are the great survivors of the buccaneering nineteenth-century Gilded Age of silver, wine, art, and gold. Ian D. Gow and Stuart Kells’s book traces the lineage of the original ‘Big Eight’, which became the ‘Big Five’ until Arthur Andersen’s sudden demise in 2002 in the aftermath of the Enron scandal. In 2018 the Big Four employed one million people globally, with 25,000 in Australia alone.