A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a new bill, the Fostering Innovation Act of 2019 (S. 452), that would amend SOX to provide a temporary exemption from the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404(b) for low-revenue issuers, such as biotechs. The bill is designed to help those EGCs that will lose their exemptions from SOX 404(b) five years after their IPOs, but still do not report much revenue. For those companies, proponents contend, the auditor attestation requirement is time-consuming and expensive, diverting capital from other critical uses, such as R&D. According to the press release, the bill would provide “a very narrow fix that temporarily extends the Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404(b) exemption for an additional five years for a small subset of EGCs with annual average revenue of less than $50 million and less than $700 million in public float.” I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but does it also feel a bit like Groundhog Day? That’s because, in 2016, the House passed the Fostering Innovation Act of 2015—the very same bill. That bill went nowhere, but the question is: have we now reached an inflection point for SOX 404(b)?
Now back to work, SEC Enforcement once again takes up the issue of internal control over financial reporting. In this instance, the SEC announced settled charges against four public companies for failing to remediate internal control weaknesses—for years! We’re talking seven to ten years. The companies seemed to be under the misimpression that, as long as they disclosed the material weaknesses, they were in the clear. But they learned the hard way that that was not the case. According to Melissa Hodgman, an Associate Director in Enforcement, “Companies cannot hide behind disclosures as a way to meet their ICFR obligations. Disclosure of material weaknesses is not enough without meaningful remediation. We are committed to holding corporations accountable for failing to timely remediate material weaknesses.”
You may recall that at the end of last year, SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Corp Fin Chief Accountant Kyle Moffatt were warning at various conferences about some of the risks the SEC was monitoring, among them the LIBOR phase-out, which is expected to occur in 2021. As reported by the WSJ, Moffatt indicated that “to the extent that the phaseout of Libor is material to a company,…we would definitely expect a company to disclose that fact and describe the implications of the phaseout, including any associated risks, to investors.’” (See this PubCo post.) But, in making that assessment and any related disclosure, what should companies consider?
In case you were questioning whether the SEC continues (assuming it reopens at some point) to address the inappropriate use of non-GAAP financial measures with the same level of gravity as in prior years, you might take note of this recent (cusp of SEC shutdown) enforcement action against ADT. In the proceeding, the SEC sought a cease-and-desist order, alleging that the company violated the non-GAAP disclosure requirements. Interestingly, however, the allegations did not involve any of the more thorny issues regarding individually tailored recognition measures that the SEC sometimes considers misleading, but rather the more prosaic “equal or greater prominence” requirements.
CAQ discusses lessons learned from “dry runs” on critical audit matters and related questions for audit committees
As you may recall, auditors of large accelerated filers will be required to report on CAMs—critical audit matters—in their auditor’s reports for fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019 and in auditor’s reports for all other companies (except EGCs) to which the requirements apply for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020. (See this PubCo post.) As SEC Commissioner Kara Stein observed in her statement on approval of the new rule, the new “standard marks the first significant change to the auditor’s report in more than 70 years.” Because the selection of and disclosure regarding CAMs will certainly present a challenge for both auditors and audit committees, auditors have been taking steps to prepare for the coming change, including conducting “dry runs” to get a better handle on how the new CAM disclosures will look and how the process will affect financial reporting. To provide some lessons learned from these early dry runs and enhance the understanding of audit committees, auditors and other participants in the process, the Center for Audit Quality has published Critical Audit Matters: Lessons Learned, Questions to Consider, and an Illustrative Example.
A number of members of the SEC accounting staff addressed the 2018 AICPA Conference on Current SEC and PCAOB Developments. Some of the remarks provided helpful guidance for evaluating internal control over financial reporting.
Officials at the SEC all seem to be singing the same tune these days, emphasizing the need to amp up company disclosures regarding Brexit, the LIBOR phase-out and cybersecurity. As reported by the WSJ, Corp Fin Chief Accountant Kyle Moffatt, speaking at the FEI Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference, echoed the earlier informal guidance provided by SEC Chair Jay Clayton, Corp Fin Director William Hinman and Deputy Director Shelley Parratt that the SEC will be looking for enhanced disclosure on these topics where material. (See this PubCo post.) Given the onslaught of admonitions, companies would be well advised to pay attention.