KPMG urges staff to issue alert to end ‘leaking sieve’ after CEO leaves

KPMG bosses are pushing staff to use its existing whistleblower technology to voice concerns about the Big Four company, instead of passing information to the press, after a leaked meeting recording caused the departure of former British boss Bill Michael.

Michael left the company in February after staff objected to comments he made about “unconscious bias” at an online town hall – a recording of which was later leaked to the public. media.

Dr Kay Swinburne, KPMG UK Vice President for Financial Services, said Financial news that following the incident, the company sought to discourage staff from disseminating information to the press.

“We’ve all been asked to make sure our teams understand the damage you can do to us as a business [by passing on company information]She said, adding that the firm had “become a bit of a leaky sieve”.

“It’s not just about leaking something to journalists, it’s actually about the long-term trust that we have with our customers, because we are trusted with customer data, we are trusted with confidential information. The idea that we can’t trust our own business information is not sending the right signal, ”she said.

Michael’s exit was the latest in a string of scandals for KPMG. The audit of outsourcing company Carillion in the run-up to its 2018 collapse is currently under investigation by the Financial Reporting Council. KPMG also faces a potential £ 250million lawsuit from Carillion directors for failing to report a number of issues regarding the company prior to its failure.

Swinburne said KPMG staff are encouraged to use the company’s Speak Up whistleblower app, launched in 2019, to raise any grievances they may have about the company.

“I hope the message got across,” she said. “On everyone’s work phone we have the Speak Up app, so if you see something that you’re not comfortable with, that you’re not happy with, just think that something is wrong, there is an app on the phone that literally tells you what your concerns are. You can anonymize it, or you can pass it along with the name.

READ Video of KPMG Chairman Bill Michael’s rant

A spokesperson for KPMG said the company’s efforts to improve its “Speak Up” culture began two years ago. “In this context, we have taken several important steps, including the appointment of 120 ethics champions, the simplification and visibility of our speaking processes, and the organization of regular open forums with colleagues and leaders. “said the spokesperson.

“Our new CEO Jon Holt and President Bina Mehta have spoken since taking office about the importance of our employees speaking out and reiterated our commitment to listen and act where people see or experience a behavior that is not in line with our values, ”added the spokesperson.

The follow-up to the outing

The decision by an unknown KPMG member to disclose the February video call met “a mixture of shock and disappointment” within the Big Four accounting firm, Swinburne said.

“It all happened at what we call a municipal forum, where literally anyone, regardless of level, could actually have time with the senior partner and senior management to talk about anything. they wanted to talk. So these were safe spaces, ”she said. “It was a real disappointment for us, that something that was created to support the team, especially the junior staff members so that they had access to the top, ended up being recorded and disclosed to the outside the organization. “

“If this had been handled internally and complaints had been raised and handled the way the system is designed, I don’t think anyone would have been so disappointed,” she said, adding that the leak arose as KPMG was in the early stages of an independent internal investigation into the matter following complaints filed internally by a KPMG employee.

“There is a full formal internal procedure that is triggered each time a complaint is lodged,” she said. “The fact that someone felt it was appropriate to take him out of the business, before he was dealt with, I think disappointed everyone.”

Despite this, she said the company decided it “was not going to be appropriate” to try to identify the employee who leaked the February video call.

“We didn’t want the rest of the company to feel like they couldn’t trust this situation,” she said. “And therefore, we decided that we had to sort out the trust issue. So all of our teams had long conversations to say, ok, how do you feel? Why do you feel like this? What more can we do? Because the underlying message was that someone looks unhappy.

Michael resigned from the company in February after calling the unconscious bias “complete crap” and telling staff not to complain about work life during the pandemic in a video meeting.

In a February 10 statement, a spokesperson for KPMG said: “Following the February 8 meeting, the company launched an independent investigation into the alleged comments in accordance with its usual procedures.

READ KPMG staff work from the office only two days a week

“Mr. Michael has decided to step down as President while the investigation is ongoing. We take this matter very seriously and will not comment further while the investigation is ongoing. “

In a February 9 statement, Michael said: “I am sorry for the words I have used, which do not reflect what I believe in, and I have apologized to my colleagues. Ensuring the well-being of our employees and creating a culture where everyone can thrive is of utmost importance to me and is at the heart of everything we do as a company.

KPMG’s board of directors appointed chief audit executive Jon Holt as the company’s new chief executive in April.

Swinburne said FN that Michael had misspoken and that his later departure was “an unfortunate thing”.

“Bill was a firm believer in the necessary change [within the firm], “she said.” But he saw that his stay would be a negative drag on the business, and that the fastest and easiest way to rebuild was for him to leave. ”

To contact the authors of this story with comments or news, email Lucy McNulty and James Booth

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