盡管“四大”的在華合作所給予了中國巨大幫助，盡管政府要求它們在 2017年轉變為由中國本土公司持有大多數所有權的企業，但它們與北京金融監管部門的關系似乎並不好。對於那些認為基於全球銀行賬簿標準進行的獨立、負責 任審計是改善中國公司治理的第一步的人，這可以說是個壞消息。
2010年，中國財政部發布了銀行審計規定，似乎意在不公平地擴大經驗較 少、更容易受影響的中國本土會計師事務所的利益。幾乎與此同時，香港聯合交易所(Stock Exchange of Hong Kong)修改了規定，允許由中國財政部和証監會挑選的純中國審計機構審計中國上市公司。
首 先，為銀行審計項目招標選擇三個最佳投標的任務現在由一個小組承擔，這當中包括由招標銀行指派的、未作出明確身份界定的外部“專家”。此外，法律規定，這 些小組要根據選擇標準來確定最終入圍的幾個投標，這個標準將投標價格和審計人員規模視為優先考慮因素，而專業道德、質量監控和資格認証則被置於較為次要的 位置。這種選擇標準過於重視成本，顯然是錯誤地將本地審計公司與“四大”合作所擺在了同等位置上。
審 計規定將使中國的金融改革進程倒退回上世紀80年代，而這一切都是打著締造有財政部支持的審計行業“國家隊”的旗號進行的。這不是一個合理的金融政策，而 是中國官僚們為撈取政績而做出的努力。他們認為既然中資銀行能夠被視為全球贏家，那麼中國羽翼未豐的審計機構也能如此。
（編 者按：本文作者CARL WALTER和 FRASER HOWIE著有《紅色資本主義：中國非凡崛起之脆弱金融基礎》（Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise）一書）
CARL WALTER / FRASER HOWIE
Chinese central bankers' slow response to the recent interbank credit crunch struck many as a change of course after five years of freewheeling lending. Here too, perhaps, was a preview of new Premier Li Keqiang's plans for financial reform: less tolerance for bad loans and bailouts, and more emphasis on economic fundamentals and accountability.
Nice as that would be, optimists should temper their expectations. Rather than speculate too wildly about future policies, they should consider one so-called 'financial reform' already underway偉the Chinese government's dangerous meddling with its bank auditing system.
China's major state banks are currently audited by joint partnerships between the Big Four Western international accounting firms and local Chinese firms. Since 1998 these partnerships have enabled the restructuring and public offerings of banks once regarded by the Chinese government as nearly unfixable. This has not been an easy task. The first-ever professional audit of China Construction Bank, 601939.SH +3.61% for instance, required more than 1.2 million man-hours.
For all the help they have given China偉and despite their state-mandated conversion in 2017 to majority local ownership偉the Big Four partnerships nevertheless appear to be on the outs with Beijing's financial stewards. That's bad news for those who believe that independent, responsible auditing based on global standards of banks' books is a first step to better Chinese corporate governance.
In 2010, China's Ministry of Finance issued bank auditing regulations that are seemingly designed to unfairly promote the interests of" less-experienced and more easily influenced "local accounting firms. At almost the same time, the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong amended its rules to allow purely Chinese auditors, as selected by China's Ministry of Finance and Securities Regulatory Commission, to audit listed Chinese companies.
One effect of the 2010 rule change is that many Chinese banks will soon need to choose a new auditor. The banking measures specify that consecutive engagements between accounting firms and Chinese banks shall not exceed five years. Three out of China's four major state banks will need a new auditor next year.
Although not explicitly stated by law, it is also understood (in an informal understanding between banks and audit firms and perhaps the Ministry of Finance itself) that the major banks each require a dedicated auditor. In other words, a single firm can audit only one of China's four major banks.
When these banks select a new auditor in the coming years, it is entirely possible that a purely Chinese accounting firm will win. That's because the 2010 rules don't simply prod Chinese banks to start shopping for a new auditor. They also give banks regulatory cover to hire less-reputable accounting firms willing to overlook bad balance sheets.
For one thing, the task of selecting the best three bids for a bank's auditing business now falls to a panel including unspecified outside 'experts' appointed by each bank. What's more, these panels are directed by law to choose final bids according to selection criteria that prioritize bid price and auditing staff size over professional ethics, quality control and qualifications. By overweighting cost, these criteria falsely equate local accounting firms with the 'Big Four' joint partnerships.
The fact is that no purely local firm has the experience required to audit some of the largest and most important banks in the world. Similarly unprepared are local firms who have partnered with obscure international auditors in order to acquire a veneer of respectability.
Together, the Chinese government's regulatory changes represent the end of its 15-year efforts to raise the standards of Chinese banks to international levels. Nothing good can come from having banks' boards of directors relinquish authority over auditors to an unaccountable bidding committee.
In the future, bank management will not only face interference from their bank's internal communist party committees. The Chinese Ministry of Finance bureaucracy will also get a chance to assert its will. By creating the outside bidding committees and marginalizing banks' boards, the ministry has rendered Chinese corporate law and corporate governance meaningless. This is purely a power play by the ministry to sponsor home-grown, favored accounting forms.
The accounting rules will send China's financial reform process back to the 1980s偉all in the name of creating Ministry of Finance-sponsored 'national champion' auditors. This is not sound financial policy. It's a bid for political achievement by bureaucrats who think that if China's banks can be seen as global winners, so too should China's nascent audit firms.
The question before Li Keqiang is whether he wants to know the true extent of the difficulties facing China's state banks, or whether he believes that their political power should trump financial accountability. Though positioned as reforms, the Finance Ministry's auditing rules provide banks with the means to obscure balance sheets from the prying eyes of Chinese and foreigners alike. They must be reversed.
Messrs. Walter and Howie are the authors of 'Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise' (Wiley).