Starting in 2018, new rules required disclosure of auditor tenure in audit reports. (See this PubCo post.) And, for some companies, those tenures can stretch over a century. For example, KPMG reported that it has audited GE since 1909. (See this PubCo post.) According to this press release from the American Accounting Association, for “the first 21 companies of the Dow 30 to release their reports this year, the average auditor tenure is 66 years.” But long auditor tenure has its critics and its fans. Some argue that long tenure can adversely affect auditor independence and objectivity, while others contend that long tenure avoids the time loss and distraction of having to “onboard” new auditors, provides deep institutional knowledge—leading to higher audit quality—and offers cost savings resulting from that familiarity. However, a couple of recent academic studies call those suggested benefits into question. The press release cited above and this article in CFO.com report on new academic research that concludes that, among the Big 4 at least, the longer the tenure, the greater the fee, notwithstanding the reduction in effort required of the auditor over time. And this press release from the American Accounting Association reports on another academic study that, contrary to popular assumptions, found a positive correlation between relatively short audit tenure and the speed of discovery of financial misreporting. Will these studies renew calls for mandatory auditor rotation?
As discussed in this PubCo post, both ISS and Glass Lewis recommended voting against a proposal to ratify the appointment of GE’s auditor, KPMG, at the 2018 GE annual shareholders meeting, a pretty unusual event in itself. The shareholders meeting was held yesterday, and, in an even more rare occurrence, as reported by the WSJ, 35% of the shareholders did not vote to retain KPMG. Not exactly token opposition. According to Audit Analytics (reported here), that vote level “represents one of the highest levels of shareholder opposition to an auditor at any company in recent years.” What‘s a company to do? KPMG signed on to audit GE’s books 109 years ago—as CNN Money points out, that was back when William Howard Taft was president of the United States.
It’s certainly a rare event, but both ISS and Glass Lewis have recommended voting against a proposal to ratify the appointment of GE’s auditor, KPMG, at the GE annual shareholders meeting. Most often, the issue of auditor ratification is not very controversial—in fact, it’s usually so tame that it’s one of the few matters at annual shareholders meetings considered “routine” (for purposes of allowing brokers to vote without instructions from the beneficial owners of the shares). Are we witnessing the beginning of a new trend?
In what were surely unprepared remarks to the American Institute of CPAs conference on SEC and PCAOB developments, as reported by Bloomberg BNA, SEC Chair Jay “the Dude” Clayton commented on the impact he expects the new form of auditor’s report could have on his mood: “‘If it results in quality, I’ll be happy….And if it results in boilerplate, I’ll be really bummed out.’”
Yesterday, the SEC approved the PCAOB’s proposed rules requiring changes to the auditor’s report, AS 3101, The Auditor’s Report on an Audit of Financial Statements When the Auditor Expresses an Unqualified Opinion, along with related amendments to other auditing standards. The new auditing standard for the auditor’s report, 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 audit committee and that: (1) relate to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements; and (2) involved especially challenging, subjective, or complex auditor judgment.” The new CAM disclosure requirement will apply (with some exceptions) to audits conducted under PCAOB standards, including audits of smaller reporting companies and non-accelerated filers (although at a later phase-in date). The SEC also determined that the new standard, other than the provisions related to CAMs, will apply to emerging growth companies. As Commissioner Kara Stein observed in her statement, the new “standard marks the first significant change to the auditor’s report in more than 70 years.”
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.”
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 […]
by Cydney Posner The SEC is expected to issue its concept release on improving audit committee reports “soon” (whatever that means) according to Compliance Week, and among the topics the SEC will examine is whether those “reports should include the audit firm’s tenure and the name of engagement partners.” If this […]