Category: Accounting and Auditing

Do material weaknesses point to fraud risk?

It’s not just Dodd-Frank that has been roundly disparaged in some quarters, SOX 404(b)—the requirement to have an auditor attestation and report on management’s assessment of internal control over financial reporting—has also recently been much maligned. For example, at a recent House subcommittee hearing devoted to the reasons for the decline in the number of IPOs and public companies, a majority of the subcommittee members attributed the decline largely to regulatory overload, with a number of the witnesses training their sights directly on SOX 404(b). (See the SideBar below.) And then there are the legislative efforts to limit the application of SOX 404(b), such as the provision in the Financial Choice Act to allow certain time-lapsed EGCs another five-year exemption from the audit-attestation requirement. (See this PubCo post.) Whether you view these efforts as heavy-handed or not enough of a good thing, the notion that internal controls might diminish fraud risk remains controversial: some maintain that they are a strong deterrent, while others challenge that contention in light of management’s ability to override controls. A recent study by academics in Texas analyzed whether the strength of internal control significantly affects fraud risk. The result: the study found “a strong association between material weaknesses and future fraud revelation,” leading to the authors’ conclusion that “control opinions that do cite material weaknesses provide a meaningful signal of increased fraud risk.”

EY study shows continued increase in voluntary audit committee disclosures among the Fortune 100

With the SEC now considering whether to approve AS 3101, the PCAOB’s new enhanced disclosure requirement for the auditor’s report (see this PubCo post), and SEC concept releases and other disclosure projects still hovering in the ether, there seems to be a steady march by companies toward inclusion of more supplemental audit committee disclosures on a voluntary basis, according to a new study  by the EY Center for Board Matters. The study, which reviewed audit committee reporting in proxy statements by companies in the Fortune 100 for 2017, showed that companies in that elite group have demonstrated “[y]ear-over-year growth in voluntary audit-related disclosures in 2017 filings … similar to that seen in 2015 and 2016, indicating that companies and audit committees continue to reflect upon and make changes to the information that they communicate to shareholders.”

What’s happening with those SEC proposals for Dodd-Frank clawbacks and disclosure of pay for performance and hedging? Apparently, not much.

As noted in this article from Law360, the SEC’s latest Regulatory Flexibility Agenda, which identifies those regs that the SEC intends to propose or adopt in the coming year— and those deferred for a later time—has now been posted.  The Agenda shifts to the category of long-term actions most of the Dodd-Frank compensation-related items that had previously been on the short-term agenda—not really a big surprise given the deregulatory bent of the new administration.  Keep in mind, however, that the Agenda has no binding effect and, in this case, could be even less prophetic than usual; the Preamble to the SEC’s Agenda indicates that it reflects “only the priorities of the Acting Chairman [Michael Piwowar], and [does] not necessarily reflect the view and priorities of any individual Commissioner.”  It also indicates that information in the Agenda was accurate as of March 29, 2017.  As a result, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the new SEC Chair, Jay Clayton, who was not confirmed in that post until May.

Task force provides framework and guidance for climate-related financial disclosures

The Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has recently issued its exhaustive final report—Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures—and supporting materials, designed to provide a standardized framework and detailed guidance for “voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.” To develop its recommendations, the task force spent 18 months consulting with a wide range of business and financial leaders.  According to the press release, “[o]ver 100 business leaders and their companies with a combined market cap of around $3.5tn and financial institutions responsible for assets of about $25tn have publicly committed to support the recommendations.”  The disclosure recommendations are organized around four core elements—governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets.  The Task Force also developed supplemental guidance for financial industries along with companies in energy, transportation, materials and building and agriculture food and forest products. This type of information is expected to enable markets to better “price risk” and allow investors to make more informed decisions.  The task force urged companies to include this information as part of their annual SEC or comparable filings to ensure the application of adequate governance processes. Although there is no specific timeframe for adoption, the task force encouraged companies to adopt as soon as possible, keeping in mind that climate reporting will certainly evolve over time.

SEC Chair Jay Clayton discusses principles guiding his tenure at the SEC

In his first public speech as SEC Chair, Jay Clayton outlined for the Economic Club of New York eight principles that he aims to guide his tenure as Chair. In discussing these principles and some ways in which he plans to put them into practice, Clayton seemed to stress the need to focus more intently on the various costs of regulatory compliance—in dollars, in time, in effort, in complexity and in economic impact.  In particular, Clayton drew attention to a reduction in the number of public companies in recent years—a “roughly 50% decline in the total number of U.S.-listed public companies over the last two decades”—attributing the decline at least in part to the expansion of disclosure requirements, in some cases beyond materiality.  To address this issue, he asserted, the SEC “should review its rules retrospectively” from the perspective of the cumulative effect of required disclosure, not just each incremental slice. Finally, he noted that the SEC “has several initiatives underway to improve the disclosure available to investors, “ including implementation of recommendations contained in the SEC staff’s Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K (see this PubCo post).  According to Clayton, the staff “is making good progress on preparing rulemaking proposals based on this report….”

Form what? CAQ offers help for audit committees in understanding and using Form AP

Remember Form AP? That’s the form that the PCAOB is now requiring audit firms to use to name individual audit engagement partners. The form will also disclose the names and Firm IDs, locations and extent of participation of any other accounting firms, outside of the principal auditor, that participated in the audit, if their work constituted 5% or more of the total audit hours.  (See this PubCo post.) Should companies care? Yes, says the Center for Audit Quality: the disclosures made in Form AP can help audit committee members in satisfying their responsibilities to oversee the engagement audit firm as well as other audit participants.

The CAMs are coming: PCAOB adopts new standard to enhance audit reports

by Cydney Posner Yesterday, as anticipated, the PCAOB adopted, subject to SEC approval, a new auditing standard for the auditor’s report that, while retaining the usual pass/fail opinion, will require auditors to include a discussion of “critical audit matters,” that is, “matters communicated or required to be communicated to the […]