Opinion – Marcos de Vasconcellos: Audits in the dock?


It was impossible to go through the week without noticing the chaos created by the hole in the Americanas accounts. AMER3 shares melted, its now former CEO, Sérgio Rial, also former CEO of Santander Brasil, made headlines with explanations that were difficult to understand. His presentation, after the announcement of the billionaire failure, reminded him of a son who gets a red mark and blames the new school.

In nine days in office, he says he encountered a problem that made the entire national retail sector shudder, but he did not want to lead the ship in correcting the route, which, according to him, would be perfectly feasible, depending on the contribution of “more than a few million “.

On Friday, days after the explanation tailored to “calm the market”, the company went to court to prevent its creditors from making a rush to collect what is owed to them. And those investors who believed in a recovery got another scare, which will take its toll this week.

In addition to the company’s management – ​​current and former – the questioning will again knock on the door of the person responsible for evaluating the accounts and telling the market that everything was fine: the audits.

To enter the Stock Exchange, companies need to present the approval of their accounts by external auditors. This would be a “seal of quality” for investors to know they are not getting into a leaky boat. Or at least no visible holes.

But recent history has shown the inefficiency of the current system in finding holes. As I listed here, fraud and embezzlement by Petrobras, discovered in the Lava Jato operation; the unsustainable situation of Evergrande, which collapsed the Chinese real estate market; and the “error” of billions in the Americanas’ accounts went through the “fine-tooth comb” of the same auditing firm: PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC. And they had their bills approved.

It is one of the so-called “Big Four”, that is, the four largest auditors in the world, which are responsible for analyzing the accounts of almost all companies listed on the Stock Exchange. The others are KPMG, Deloitte and EY.

The concentration of the independent audit market is a problem for investors. With each such event, a new wave of distrust is generated in the accounts of all other audited companies. If there’s a hole like that, what else doesn’t show up in the lens?

About nine years ago, the Justice of São Paulo condemned PwC to pay BRL 25 million in compensation for negligence in an audit carried out at the former Banco Noroeste. Former controllers of the bank accused the company of failing to point out, in checks carried out before the sale to Santander, in 1998, deviations of US$ 242 million.

Now, as Brazilian law prevents the company itself from being liable for damages caused to its shareholders, investors are looking for who will foot the bill for the historic devaluation of their shares. Everything indicates that the audit will return to the dock.

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