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Are the Big Four accounting leviathans about to be tamed?

Even as their revenues ascend to fresh records, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY are struggling to navigate new legal and regulatory pitfalls in two of their most important markets – China and the European Union.

On Wednesday the four networks’ Chinese affiliates were preparing to appeal a US decision to bar them from working for any US-listed Chinese companies for six months. The spat between the two countries threatened to check progress for the accountancies in one of their fastest-growing regions, as well as souring broader commercial relations between the nations.

Separately, this spring the European Union will push through its boldest attempt to shake up the industry, with a package that claims to rip apart cosy relationships between audit firms and clients and prise the market open to fresh competition. The new rules come despite ferocious lobbying by industry advocates, who complain the reforms will pile as much as €16bn of extra costs on major companies by forcing them to regularly switch auditors.

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