Two Big Five firms this week signalled their interest in monitoring professional firms conducting investment business for the Financial Services Authority, which could pave the way for one of the biggest battles the profession has ever seen. The intervention follows last week's revelation that the FSA is looking to outsource its newly acquired powers of monitoring professional firms of accountants, lawyers and solicitors where investment advice constitutes a central part of the business. Although the accountancy institutes already regulate their members in this area, the FSA told Accountancy Age that it would consider any institute or firm for the job - as long as it could prove that they could fulfil the criteria of visiting, inspecting and reporting on compliance to the FSA. Head of recognised professional bodies Roger Purcell said: 'It has been left quite flexible. It may be that one institute may bid for everyone or just their own members, and we may get bids from firms such as PwC or KPMG.' Both PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG may soon throw their hats into the ring. They already have in-house regulatory arms that perform outsourced monitoring work for a number of different bodies and could easily take on the additional responsibilities. PwC performs this task for two bodies. It provides voluntary regulation of intermediaries for the Mortgage Code Compliance Board and acts as the legal watchdog for insurance agents on behalf of the Association of British Insurers. Chairman of the firm's financial services regulatory consulting group John Tattersall said PwC had been working for the ABI for four years and would be interested in principle in carrying out the work for the FSA. He said: 'This is interesting work for us. It draws on our existing skills and we also have a network of offices around the country already in place.' A spokesman for KPMG confirmed that the firm was also attracted to the work and was studying the tender. KPMG already works for the Jersey Financial Services Commission monitoring stockbrokers. But the news could fuel the flames of a major war between the institutes and what they see as Big Five interference in a role that both ACCA and the English ICA are likely to bid for. Although ACCA has made it clear that it would only be willing to monitor small firms, the English ICA, as part of the Joint Monitoring Unit, has said it is capable of taking on all of the registered professional bodies. This would cover members of ACCA, the Institute of Actuaries, the English, Irish and Scots ICAs, and the Law Society of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This would certainly bring it up against PwC, although Big Five firms are likely to place self-imposed barriers on themselves as to how many people they are prepared to monitor to avoid conflicts of interest. PwC's Tattersall said it would be unlikely for the firm to offer to monitor members of the other Big Five firm as they are competitors - though he did not rule out monitoring smaller firms or other professionals. Parties have until 13 December to express an interest, which will be followed by an official tendering process that should be completed by 1 April 2000.
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