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lend even more confidence to the financial reports emanating from public companies, the cost of this marginal benefit is high Risks can migrate from deep in an organization to the financial statements For a multinational company to document the control structure for all of these potential sources at a detailed level is a tremendous undertaking In many cases, internal swat teams are added to consulting resources as they scope, document, and test controls across the company Since a material deficiency would be reported to the public, smart companies err on the side of caution and include any system or process that could remotely contribute to financial presentation misstatements In effect, Congress is underwriting an environment of corporate risk aversion as opposed to prudent risk-taking According to AMR Research Inc, US companies will spend $55 billion on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance in 2004 Financial and system consultants, tracking software, and increased audit fees can quickly add up to millions of dollars Yet it is unlikely that these efforts will stop a management team determined to circumvent existing controls Clearly Congress believed the benefits of ensuring a strong control structure outweighed the cost borne by our public companies Or it could be that they did not foresee how expensive Section 404 could be or the full impact its implementation could have on our companies Regardless, it is now law While the largest companies have the resources to comply, smaller companies may have to make some hard choices between the costs of compliance and the need to access public markets According to a survey by Foley & Lardner LLP, the average cost of being a public company with revenue under $1 billion in the wake of corporate governance reform has increased 130 percent from the inception of Sarbanes-Oxley through 2003 Survey participants overwhelmingly cited Section 404 as having the most significant financial impact And this is before the full costs of Section 404 have been tabulated Companies are still preparing, and still spending The deadline for large companies is their first filing after November 15, 2004, and after July 15, 2005 for public companies with a market cap less than $75 million (recently delayed to November 15, 2005) Even if one is supportive of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as a whole, we need to closely monitor the impact Section 404 will have on our small companies and private entities wishing to go public If the regulatory environment has become too burdensome, then policy
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makers need to exempt small companies from Section 404 of the Act or risk losing this engine of growth We may already have evidence that this is occurring A study cosponsored by the Wharton School and the University of Maryland revealed that the number of companies delisting from US exchanges nearly tripled in 2003 The study found that most companies did so to avoid the high cost associated with complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act Even Mike Oxley, the Ohio Congressman who was the cosponsor of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, recognizes this problem In a recent interview, he was asked if he could change one thing about the law, what he would do differently He replied, I would make it more flexible for the SEC and the Public Accounting Oversight Board relating to small- and medium-sized companies 12 However, reversing such legislation will not be easy It took over 70 years to address the overly onerous sections of the Glass-Steagall Act It stood for decades despite widespread recognition that it was too broad a solution for the particular problem it was designed to address That put our banking system at a competitive disadvantage compared to our foreign competitors The reason for lack of action may have been the absence of competition in the wake of World War II, but the emergence of European banking powerhouses by the late 1990s had made the case for reform more acute One of the United States greatest competitive advantages lies in our small public companies While heavily regulated European companies tend to be quite large before they can afford the costs associated with going public, the United States has been able to provide relatively low-cost access to liquid markets for thousands of smalland mid-cap public companies Money to a business is like water to a plant In good soil and climate, the plant may grow from rainwater alone, but add irrigation, and crop yields dramatically improve Likewise, choke off access to capital, and you inhibit the growth of our small companies Provide access to public markets for companies of this size and you not only get the opportunity for faster growth, but also job creation, more tax revenues into public coffers, and better, cheaper goods and services to consumers The key is legislative restraint Let the markets self-correct wherever possible, and legislate where business is incapable of selfpolicing or cannot meet society s safety goals Objectives, such as board independence, benefited from Congressional guidance It is
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