Compliance Failure at the Oscars

PwC had a public failure last night, in the worst possible way, during the Oscars telecast. After running nearly 45 minutes over schedule, the final remaining award was for best picture. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were on stage with a red envelope. The duo was presenting the best picture award in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde. 

Mr. Beatty looked confused, perhaps trying to be funny. He passed the envelope to Ms. Dunaway who quickly looked at the movie title on the card and blurted out “La La Land”. She failed to note the mistake that had confused Mr. Beatty.

As Beatty explained onstage:

“I opened the envelope and it said, “Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you ― I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

The producers and cast of La La Land took the stage and began giving speeches. They managed to get through their speeches before a stage hand jumped into the fray and started looking at envelopes.

PwC has handled the balloting process at the Academy Awards for over 80 years. The failure came in the last step in the process: handing the correct envelope to the correct presenter for the correct award.

It seems clear that Mr. Beatty had the wrong envelope. He realized he had the wrong message inside the envelope. Re-watching the video, he looks into the envelope a second time realizing the card says Emma Stone for LaLa Land. He turned to Ms. Dunaway apparently looking for help, but she plunged ahead.

He didn’t know where to turn to when he had a problem.

PwC failed to monitor delivery of the envelope and failed to put a stop before things went too far. I’m sure critics of audit firms will be able to draw many parallels.