BT's chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, has publicly denounced the cost of complying with the new Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, brought into law in the US following the Enron, WorldCom and other accounting scandals.
BT is reluctantly spending £10 million on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and wishes it didn't have to, Bland told the Financial Times. The company's New York listing had become a "great burden" following the introduction of the regulations, Bland complained. It costs "a hell of a lot of money and it's not money well spent," he said. "I think they've just gone too far."
A Korn/Ferry International survey revealed that average-sized US businesses spent $5.1 million (£2.7 million) implementing Sarbanes-Oxley compliance in the first year and $3.7 million annually thereafter.
Bland reckons a split between the chairman and CEO role would be a far more cost-effective way of preventing accounting scandals. For the two to collude to produce an Enron abuse would be pretty near impossible, he asserted.
But such moaning seems pointless. The US authorities are hardly going to reconsider their position because one British company doesn't like the cost involved, and Bland admits BT has no intention of delisting from New York. The company is currently on a business push into the US, buying Infonet for what some view is a daft $965 million earlier this month.
Money is clearly on his mind with Ofcom finally making it clear this month that it was not prepared to put up with BT's stalling tactics anymore and was going to open up BT's UK phoneline monopoly. Bland portrays himself as stoic however: "We have American shareholders and US dollar-denominated bonds as well. We've just to grit our teeth and get on with it."
Nevertheless, Sarbox compliance remains a prime example of US bureaucrats spending other people's money. And while it has certainly boosted storage system and compliance software sales, Accountancy Age has calculated that Sarbox compliance will cost UK companies £122 million in total. It is causing a lot of resentment among European firms that feel that are being punished for the sins of their US counterparts.
The FT has recently reported that many German companies want to delist from New York to avoid the cost and complications of US regulatory regime compliance. Whether they do or not is a completely different matter.