Hot on the heels of Christopher Cox”s emphasis on Auditing Standard 5 at the recent US Chamber Briefing, Compliance Week reports that the PCAOB will be making sure that auditors are using the new standard with their clients and using it well, via its inspection process.
Well… Call me skeptical.
The PCAOB is conducting crash courses for its inspectors in AS5, teaching them how to spot whether judgment and a risk-based approach was used in conducting the audit and internal controls assessment which is now embedded in it. They are charged to call out any rote, tick-the-boxes type of audits and cite them in inspections of auditor’s work.
Unfortunately, Auditing Standard 5 assumes a level of confidence and trust in the company’s controls that will allow auditors to depend on that company’s decisions regarding vendors to support them, their organization of the projects required to complete SOx documentation and testing, their tone at the top, the controls over their IT organization, assuming they have sufficient IT infrastructure for their business, and their past record, or lack thereof, of quality financial reporting.
Since many companies are still new to the process and many more will cycle in and out as their status as listed companies changes, there will always be stubborn holdouts to “the program.” Hell, there are still multibillion dollar companies that are stubborn holdouts to “the program”, still kicking and screaming about someone forcing them to have policies and procedures, adequate internal controls over financial reporting and executives that walk the talk.
The auditors are going to keep doing as much work as they deem necessary to cover their tush, unless or until they get liability relief. And when the PCAOB cites the first firm for doing not enough work because they followed AS5 and trusted their client instead of doing additional tests and procedures, you’ll hear the auditors yell and scream about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
And they are.
Are the auditors required to implement Auditing Standard 5 even when a client isn’t ready for it? It sure seems like it from this article. However, I highly doubt that they will. The auditors hold the final judgement over the financial statements and it’s the only real card they hold. They should use it judiciously to bring more companies “on the program” and all of our lives will be easier. When audits go back to being routine commodities, like in the 90’s before dot-com, the audit firms will find something else to make money on.
If they ever do and if the audit firms are still around.
PCAOB Promises Hard Push on AS5
With year-end financial reporting now winding down, audit inspection teams are hitting the ground under strict orders to see whether Auditing Standard No. 5 is indeed taking root at audit firms.
The Public Company Accounting Board went so far as to hold a special two-day training session for its inspectors in April to indoctrinate them in the ways of AS5. They will now be checking audits of 2007 financial reports to assess how auditing firms embraced the standard, which was issued last year to alleviate companies’ struggles with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.
This will be the first round of audit firm inspections following the arrival of AS5. Given the backlash against its much-maligned predecessor, Auditing Standard No. 2, the PCAOB is under pressure to get things right this time around.
“There’s been some effort to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymnal,” PCAOB board member Daniel Goelzer admits. “We can’t just issue a standard and then sit back and see what happens.”