Oracle dumps Arthur Andersen as auditor

Oracle has dismissed Arthur Andersen LLP as its independent auditor, a job the embattled Big Five accounting company held for 15 years.

Oracle decided to switch to Ernst & Young LLP "given the breakup that started to occur within Arthur Andersen's global practice in the past few weeks," Oracle said in a statement Tuesday.

Arthur Andersen provided both audit and non-audit services for Oracle. The practice of having an accounting firm such as Arthur Andersen sell non-audit consulting services -- such as IT consulting -- to clients that it also audits has come under fire in recent months as a result of the Enron Corp. collapse.

Although legal, the selling of non-audit services to audit clients compromises an auditor's independence and leads to conflicts of interest, critics have charged. As in Oracle's case, Arthur Andersen provided both audit and non-audit consulting services to Enron, whose accounting practices are at the center of its bankruptcy scandal.

Oracle paid Arthur Andersen US$700,000 for audit services in fiscal year 2001, ended May 31, 2001, according to a filing Oracle made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in August 2001. Oracle also paid Arthur Andersen $1.1 million for the design and implementation of financial IT systems and $5.3 million for other consulting work, including tax preparation, tax advice and business consulting, according to the filing.

Oracle said that the decision to fire Arthur Andersen wasn't due to any problems and that the accounting company "has done excellent, professional work for Oracle for the past 15 years."

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Oracle will continue giving non-audit consulting work to Arthur Andersen, saying Oracle wasn't commenting on this matter beyond what is said in the statement.

In February, Arthur Andersen said it would stop designing and implementing financial IT systems for clients it audits. More recently, the company has pledged to separate its consulting practices entirely from its core audit business, thus abiding by a mandate from an independent oversight board it created this year to reform its business.

IT and related business consulting services generated about $1.7 billion in revenue for Andersen Worldwide SC in its fiscal year 2001, ended August 31, 2001. That's out of a total $9.34 billion. Chicago-based Arthur Andersen LLP is the U.S. member company of Switzerland-based Andersen Worldwide SC, which coordinates Arthur Andersen member companies worldwide.

Oracle joins a long list of audit clients that have fired Arthur Andersen firms in the U.S. and abroad this year as a result of the Enron scandal. Recent published reports put that figure at around 150 audit clients to date.

Arthur Andersen is trying to survive the Enron mess, but it seems to be getting harder with each passing day. It announced Monday it plans to lay off over the coming months 7,000 employees, a little over a quarter of its work force. It also faces a long list of civil lawsuits, an exodus of clients, a SEC investigation and an indictment on an obstruction-of-justice charge by a U.S. federal grand jury.

The other Big Five accounting companies have taken steps to avoid conflicts of interest arising from the sale of non-audit IT consulting work to audit clients. This year, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP announced it plans to separate via an initial public offering its management consulting business, PwC Consulting, which provides a broad range of IT consulting and services. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu made a similar announcement this year regarding its IT consulting unit, although it hasn't said how it will separate it.

Ernst & Young sold its IT consulting services unit to Cap Gemini in 2000 and currently provides a limited number of IT advisory services. KPMG LLP spun off its consulting business into an independent company called KPMG Consulting Inc. early in 2001, but like Ernst & Young still provides limited IT advisory services. Both Ernst & Young and KMPG have said that the IT services they provide are of an advisory nature -- as opposed to a more hands-on consulting approach -- and don't pose conflict-of-interest concerns.

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