PwC taps Ziggy Switkowski to lead internal tax scandal review

19 May 2023 5 min. read
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Former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski has been tapped to lead PwC’s internal review in response to its government tax scandal, but the action is unlikely to curb deepening scrutiny of the Big Four.

As the fallout from the Australian government tax policy leak continues, embattled professional services firm PwC has tapped former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski to lead an independent internal inquiry.

While PwC is hoping the step will help to draw a line under the affair, it’s still doubtful an internally-directed review will satisfy those gunning for wholesale change, and comes amid reports a similar investigation at rival EY has stalled.

PwC taps Ziggy Switkowski to lead internal tax scandal review

In the latest developments, PwC has announced former CEO Tom Seymour will now depart the firm at the end of September after having stepped down from the top role last week, his retirement to roughly coincide with when Switkowski is due to report back. PwC also said it intends to publicly release a summary of the investigation’s findings, and will “not hesitate to take the recommended actions” – including “exiting further people and partners from the firm.”

“We are committed to learning from our mistakes and ensuring that we embrace the high standards of governance, culture and accountability that our people, clients and external stakeholders rightly expect,” said acting CEO Kristin Stubbins. “Ziggy will have access to all the people and information he needs to conduct a rigorous and robust review. We look forward to receiving his report and acting swiftly on its recommendations.”

According to PwC, the internal review will look into how decisions are made and overseen at the firm – including how “financial goals, values and strategic objectives are balanced and prioritised” – and examine the way in which “partners and staff are held accountable for their responsibilities”. PwC has pushed the inquiry as a means to “rebuild trust” since the scandal broke wide open, but the political class has to date remained unmoved by the measure.

Predictably, the latest announcement has done little to appease those calling for greater accountability. “Regardless of who they put in charge, it’s still paid for and run by PwC,” Greens Senator Barbara Pocock said in response. “Promising to release a summary of the findings is not the same thing as making the findings available to the public. This is a matter for the National Anti-Corruption Commission where it will be properly investigated.”

The local branches of Big Four have weathered a number of scandals in recent times and largely dodged extensive scrutiny – including a previous senate inquiry in 2018 which was ultimately nixed by the former government and faded from view without a final report – but there is a sense now that the jig is up, with the quartet facing pressure from multiple fronts. Any hope PwC might harbour that the current saga could get lost in the wash of a lengthy inquiry appears slim.

Growing scrutiny

The firm and its global power-brokers who are presently in town need only look across the street for a potential demonstration that the public’s patience may have now dried up.

While a cross-party selection of senior politicians and the former Fairfax stable have the bit between their teeth over the PwC confidentiality breach, the Murdoch press has now returned its sights to Ernst & Young in respect to its own long-ago announced internal inquiry into workplace culture.

EY brought in strategy and transformation consultancy Broderick & Co. – headed by former Australian sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick – to lead a wide-ranging review into the firm’s culture, work practices and psychological health and safety protocols following the tragic death of audit employee Aishwarya Venkatachalamat in its Sydney office last August, but very little has been communicated in the nine months since.

Speaking with industry publication Accountants Daily, EY spokeswomen Melanie Kent said the review should be finalised within the next few weeks and would be released to the public, but that the firm had been advised not to comment on the matter in the interim. She added: “There’s been really high engagement from our people with the review. We’re really, really happy that people have been willing to share their views and stories and opinions.”

Sources cited by the Daily Mail however contradict that contention, stating that the review had been hampered by a lack of engagement due to fears among staff that open participation could negatively impact their careers – the supposedly anonymous survey linking to a unique URL with the potential to identify individual employees.

This version of the story is backed by an email sent from Broderick and Co. to staff in recent weeks, noting the review hadn’t received as many responses as hoped for.

“They had to extend the survey period due to lack of interest,” one employee told the publication, who expressed their frustration with the process. “There’s been no changes and no updates. There’s also been no mention of the two other culture reviews which were supposed to be underway. No update on the Aishwarya event, no SafeWork NSW results, no coroner report, no police report. Zero updates on what happened that night and how we responded as a firm.”