Global auditor watchdog sets up home in Tokyo as Japan hopes to attract more institutions

Commercial buildings in the Marunouchi and Otemachi districts in Tokyo, Japan.
Commercial buildings in the Marunouchi and Otemachi districts in Tokyo, Japan.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan has high hopes that it will attract more international institutions after a global financial watchdog forum opened its permanent home in Tokyo on Monday (April 3).

Tokyo was once Asia's dominant financial hub but its status has been eroded by the rise of Singapore and Hong Kong due to Japan's sluggish economic growth, language barriers and legal obstacles.

While an overwhelming majority of international financial organizations have head offices either in Europe or America, none had such an office in Tokyo.

That's no longer the case after the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators (IFIAR) opened a permanent secretariat in the Japanese capital, thanks in part to strong lobbying by Kiyotaka Sasaki, the top bureaucrat at the securities watchdog arm of Japan's Financial Services Agency (FSA).

The IFIAR is the auditor version of international regulatory committees, such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) for banks and the IOSCO (International Organization of Securities Commissions) for brokerages.

It provides members with a platform for exchanging views and experiences on global issues relating to audit oversight, with the aim of promoting stronger collaboration and enhancing audit quality.

The organization was established in 2006 following accounting scandals in leading markets, such as Enron and WorldCom in the United States and Italian food giant Parmalat and Dutch retailer Ahold. It had no permanent base previously.

Ironically, Japan is no stranger to accounting problems, with electronics-to-nuclear conglomerate Toshiba becoming the latest to join the long list of companies that have problematic record keeping.

Officials at IFIAR and FSA hope that having the headquarters in Tokyo could help boost its presence in Asia. At the moment, only 10 out of its 52 members are from the region, with big economies such as China and India yet to join.