The Securities and Exchange Commission voiced concerned yesterday at the growing trend among independent accounting firms to perform management advisory services for the companies whose books they audit.
These conceerns, discussed at an open meeting of the commission, will be spelled out in a release that should be issued soon.
Essentially, the commission worries whether an accountant can remain truly independent if he also is collecting big fees from a corporation for non-auditing functions.
"If they're not sensitive," Commissioner Irving Pollock said of accountants, "they may become ordinary hucksters in the market place."
Independent accountants audit corporate books and, if they are satisfied, certify that the records are in compliance with generally accepted accounting principals.
In recent years, major accounting firms have sought to broaden their income base by offering companies a variety of management advisory services.
As SEC attorney listed some of the more troubling of these: actuarial services, psychological testing, consumer surveys, opinion polls, plant layout services and employe compensation and benefits consulting.
What bothers the SEC is not that auditing firms offer these services, but that they offer them to corporations whose books they also audit.
There is no reliable data about how much income accounting firms derive from nonauditing services, an SEC attorney said after the hearing. But estimates range from 10 percent to 20 percent, he said.
Chairman Harold Williams at a news conference after the hearing noted the potential conflict of an independent accounting firm that also gives tax advice to its corporate client. "The auditor ends up reviewing his own work," he said.
In an unrelated matter, the SEC heard an appeal yesterday by an attorney for Ray Dirks, a security analyst who blew the whistle in 1973 on the Equity Funding Corp. fraud, but who was later accused by the agency of acting on inside information.
The SEC alleged that before going public with the information, Dirks shared it with big institutional investors with major stock positions in Equity Funding. An administrative law judge ruled to suspend Dirks from the securities business for two months.
Yesterday, attorneys for Dirks, who now runs a profitable stock analysis business in New York, sought reversal of the decision, arguing that he has "suffered enough" for his role in exposing the Equity Funding fraud. CAPTION: Picture, Security Analyst Ray Dirks, after his attorney appealed Dirks' suspension from the securities business to an SEC hearing here yesterday. By Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post