While there is a consensus that the PCAOB’s existence has improved audit quality, it is also clear that the PCAOB has contributed an unhealthy level of hysteria to the auditing profession. That hysteria has led some professionals to make horrible choices (as seen in the KPMG inspection selection leak scandal). That hysteria has also driven […]
Open communication, face-to-face exposure, accountability: These are just some of the tenets of an effective relationship between the corporate controller and the audit committee. But after reading a couple of articles on what audit committees want from CFOs, I was curious to find out what audit committees expect from controllers. So, I asked a handful […]
Over the past six months on Going Concern, more than two dozen corporate controllers have shared their experiences and provided practical advice to CPAs and other accounting professionals on certain aspects of the controllership, including talent retention, fraud, cybersecurity, leadership, month-end close, continuing education, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and initial public offerings. But one part of their […]
Marvell Technology Group's audit committee launched an investigation into the company's revenue recognition policies last September. They didn't find any funny business but did learn that “internal controls were not fully followed,” “revenue was recognized prematurely for some transactions,” and the real bombshell: The committee also said there was "significant pressure" on sales and finance […]
Apparently companies are having trouble finding people who want to serve on an audit committee. Candidates probably lose interest once they hear about all the boring reading that's required. [WSJ]
As you've probably heard by now, the definition of materiality is up for debate. Back in September, the FASB said they'd like to go with the Supreme Court's definition and investor advocates think that's a terrible idea. Businesses claim that disclosure overload is making everything less informative and and some scholarship agrees. The latest in […]
Chief Accountant James Schnurr let it slip that the Commission is preparing a concept release that will, "[seek] formal feedback from investors about whether they are getting enough information from audit committees." Former Deloitte CEO Jim Quigley, may be one of the few audit committee members who are saying, "BRING IT ON." [CFOJ]
According to a piece from Michael Rapoport and Joann Lublin in the Wall Street Journal today, audit committees are the "junk drawer" of corporate boards. The workload of the powerful committees has expanded sharply beyond their core role of overseeing a company’s financial reporting. They are grappling with new regulations, whistleblower claims and issues like […]
According to CAQ's YouTube page, this was posted back on July 30 (SOX's birthday, no less) but was tweeted earlier this afternoon so we figured it was worth sharing:
It is a little fun to read S-1s because companies have to talk about "Risk Factors" and "Critical Accounting Policies" and a bunch of other stuff people don't care about. But when a fancy tech company like Twitter releases an S-1 it's completely different because the financial media goes into a rabid lather over it. They just […]
Our friends at Audit Analytics have all the fun info: 445 companies have reported #DisclosureControl issues with their Board, Audit Committee, or Corporate Governance thus far in 2013. #SOX302 — Audit Analytics (@AuditAnalytics) September 9, 2013 (cont.) Of those 445 companies, 401 determined that the Audit Committee, Board, or Corp. Gov. issue led to ineffective […]
After Citigroup announced that Jim Turley would be joining its Board of Directors in order to give it a slightly more credible appearance, St. Louis-based Emerson Electric Co. has managed the good fortune to have JT on their BOD. Turley will serve on the audit, and corporate governance and nominating committee. For those curious, Emerson's […]
U.S. government parolee, Citigroup, announced today that it's expanding its board of directors to include Gary Reiner, a former CIO at GE, and Jim Turley, EY's beloved former DJ, fashion-forward footwear-er, and Chuck Norris nemesis. This transition is par for the course when it comes to Big 4 CEO/Chairs, with Tim Flynn and Sharon Allen serving […]
Every year, my mailbox gets cluttered up with huge proxy statement packets filled with a bunch of crap I won't read. And every year, I vote against the Big 4 accounting firm recommended by the Board. Why? Because it's the only way to stick it to the man now that I've sold out, obviously. In […]
It's been a couple years since the PCAOB issued an auditing standard so I guess they wanted to squeak something in before this Mayan thing took a hold. Shall we cram this in before the fires start? Yes. Let's. Here's a piece of the official screed from the Board: The new standard and related amendments […]
Maybe, "Oh, that's fascinating." Perhaps, "Can't say that I'm surprised." Or, probably more likely, "Will this affect my raise?" Jonathan Weil has the story of Mary Stone, who is a trustee of the Financial Accounting Foundation, but prior to her appointment was an audit committee of Morgan Keegan & Co. when a bunch of their mutual […]
Cripes, this Facebook IPO thing has people going bonkers so we figured digging up a little relevant information for you all was in order. Most of you probably knew that Ernst & Young was the auditor of Zuckerberg's playland but you probably aren't yet clued in to the members of the audit committee that E&Y […]
Back in August, the PCAOB issued a concept release on audit firm rotation and invited anyone who had the time and/or energy to comment on it (as did we). In the wonky little corners of the accounting blogosphere, there was strong opposition to rotation from Jim Peterson and Francine McKenna (although their reasons differ from your […]
As we’re all aware, the Audit Committee is supposed to be one of the key tools in corporate governance. If management is messing around with financial reporting, disclosures or there’s trouble with the auditors, the audit committee should be all over it like stink on a monkey. The audit committee also is in charge of appointing/firing the auditors to prevent management from throwing out auditors who tell them things that they don’t like.
Dismissal of Auditor.
On August 17, 2011, Morris Publishing Group, LLC (“Morris Publishing”, “we”, “our”, “us”) dismissed Deloitte & Touche LLP (“D&T”) as its independent registered public accounting firm.
The decision to allow our management, at its discretion, to change auditors had been unanimously approved by our Board of Directors and its Audit Committee on July 18, 2011. [this is my emphasis]
The audit reports of D&T on our consolidated financial statements as of and for the years ended December 31, 2010 and December 31, 2009, did not contain any adverse opinion or disclaimer of opinion, nor were they qualified or modified as to uncertainty, audit scope, or accounting principles, except:
(A) The audit report as of and for the year ended December 31, 2009 included the statements, “As discussed in Note 6 to the consolidated financial statements, on January 19, 2010 the Company filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. On February 17, 2010 the Bankruptcy Court entered an order confirming the plan of reorganization which became effective after the close of business on March 1, 2010.”
(B) The audit report as of and for the year ended December 31, 2010 included the statement, “As discussed in Note 10 to the financial statements, the accompanying 2009 financial statements have been restated to correct a misstatement.”
During the two fiscal years ended December 31, 2010 and December 31, 2009, and during the subsequent interim periods through June 30, 2011, there were no (1) disagreements with D&T on any matter of accounting principles or practices, financial statement disclosure, or auditing scope or procedures, which disagreements if not resolved to the satisfaction of D&T would have caused D&T to make reference in connection with their report to the subject matter of the disagreement, or (2) “reportable events” as defined in Item 304(a)(1)(v) of Regulation S-K; except as follows:
(A) We reported in April 2011 that management discovered errors in the accounting treatment for debt extinquishment such that our financial statements as of and for the year ended December 31, 2009, and the interim periods ended March 31, 2010, June 30, 2010 and September 30, 2010, should no longer be relied upon, and that the correction of these errors will be reflected within our Form 10-K for 2010 and subsequently filed interim reports; and
(B) as reported in our Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2010, we identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting with respect to the operational effectiveness of controls in the area of accounting for complex non-recurring transactions. As a result of this material weakness, we concluded that our disclosure controls and procedures were not effective as of December 31, 2010.
We provided D&T with a copy of this Current Report on Form 8-K, and requested that D&T furnish us with a letter addressed to the Securities and Exchange Commission stating whether D&T agrees with our statements made in response to the disclosures required by Item 304(a)(3) of Regulation S-K. We subsequently received the requested letter, and a copy of such letter is filed as Exhibit16.1 to this Current Report on Form 8-K.
So it appears that Morris Publishing is definitely one of those clients. The kind that makes you wish that you had chosen a career that’s less likely to make you want to jump out of a window. Anyway, the aforementioned letter from Deloitte states the following:
We have read Item 4 of Morris Publishing Group LLC’s Form 8-K dated August 16, 2011, and we have the following comments:
1. We agree with the statements made in paragraphs 1 and 3 through 12.
2. We have no basis on which to agree or disagree with the statement made in paragraph 2.
In other words, Deloitte is saying, “Yes, we agree that your financial reporting is a mess and that your internal controls are awful. And if you want to admit that your audit committee is a bunch of lackeys for management, we’re not going to stop you.”
By now you’ve probably heard that Rupert and James Murdoch had a little Q&A with some Members of Parliament in London today. You may have also heard that things got a little interesting when a man opted to put a cream (origin unknown) pie in the elder Murdoch’s face only to have his wife, Wendi Deng, get a little medieval on the Three Stooges impersonator.
Before all the excitement, things were getting a little awkward, as Rupes came off as very unprepared and on at least one occasion, was slapping the table not unlike your own octogenarian grandfather wanting to know if someone could pass the goddamn mashed potatoes. At one point, the questioning turned to legal settlements and MP Therese Coffey asked the Murdochs if they knew “how much has been paid out in legal settlements.”
James Murdoch [said] he [did] not know total number but said its customary to try to reach out-of-court settlements in many cases. Rupert Murdoch points out News Corporation had a strong audit committee to review all these things.
Right! The audit committee, that’s who you want to talk to. Of course, that’s a pretty lame answer, as Dennis Howlett noted:
Who, exactly, are these capable audit committee members? Here’s the crew from the company’s most recent proxy:
• Sir Roderick I. Eddington, Chairman – currently the non-executive chairman for Australia and New Zealand of J.P Morgan. Also former CEO of British Airways. Director since 1999.
• Peter L. Barnes – Chairman of Ansell Limited. Director since 2004.
• Andrew S.B. Knight – Chairman of J. Rothschild Capital Management Limited. Was also the Chairman of News International (James Murdoch’s current position) from 1990 to 1995. Director since 1991.
• Thomas J. Perkins – Partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital company. Director at News Corp since 1996.
I’m sure all these dudes (News Corp has one woman on their board – Natalie Bancroft) are all quite capable but it doesn’t strike me a terribly robust audit committee. Having said that, it’s been reported that News Corp’s independent directors have retained Debevoise & Plimpton to represent them. The audit committee is comprised entirely of independent directors (calling Mr. Knight “independent” seems like a stretch but whatevs) and maybe they could rattle off the laundry list of legal settlements but at least it appears they’re sorta on top of things now.
Chinese companies certainly have had their share of problems with financial reporting in the U.S. but I had no idea that it would come to this.
The Audit Committee of the Board of Directors of Weikang Bio-Technology Group Co., Inc. (OTC Markets: WKBT.PK – News) (“WKBT,” “Weikang” or the “Company”), a leading developer, manufacturer and marketer of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Western prescription and OTC pharmaceuticals and other health and nutritional products in the People’s Republic of China, today announced that Grant Thornton (“GT”), one of the world’s leading organizations of independently owned and managed accounting and consulting firms, has verified that the cash amounts listed on the Company’s SEC filings for 2010 and the first quarter of 2011 are consistent with account statements obtained from WKBT’s banks directly by GT.
“Given the recent change in auditors and my new chairmanship of the WKBT Audit Committee, we authorized the Grant Thornton review to take place last week, and are now releasing the results,” said Jeffery Chuang, independent director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of WKBT. “Weikang continues to advance as a U.S. publicly-traded company and we are committed to high standards in the thoroughness of our financial information,” said Mr. Chuang, a U.S. CPA who is based in Southern California.
Obviously this is completely harmless compared to, say, threatening to take auditors hostage but as far as giant wastes of time go, it’s right near the top.
That said, it’s not as if investors can be everywhere at once. Audit committees could stand to get better at sharing information.
Liz Murrall, director of corporate governance and reporting at the Investment Management Association, strongly refutes this claim. “Investors do care”, she insisted, saying “no one wants to see an auditor in place for 50 years”.
However, Murrall warned that investors cannot engage with every company, and therefore cannot be expected to watch over audit committees’ shoulders to check every appointment. “Shareholders want the option of being involved, but don’t want consultation to be mandated – they don’t always have the time or resources.”
Transparency is the order of the day, according to the IMA. If audit committees increased disclosure about the tender process, shareholders would be more motivated and able to engage, boosting choice and competition in the market.
Investors ‘do care’ about audit competition [Accountancy Age]
A reader – who is a partner at a Big 4 firm – sent this to me awhile ago and I dug it out this week:
Question for you. Why is it OK for audit committee members to be selected and paid by management? Why is it OK that they are paid in the stock of the Companies that they govern? Considering the fact that the SEC has such disdain for the slightest perception of a lack of independence on the part of the auditors that report “directly” to the Audit Committees, it is odd that the governing body can be owners of the company as well. [By the way, let’s be real, management hires the auditors. The audit committees just accept it.]
Time to jump in – These questions feel rhetorical but I’ll take a stab at answering them anyway. If you look at a brief history of audit committees, you’ll see that the idea goes back nearly as far as the Securities and Exchange Acts of ’33 and ’34, first being endorsed by the NYSE in 1939. The SEC first made the recommendation that public companies compose their audit committees of independent directors in 1972. That was followed by the NYSE’s requirement for audit committee members to be independent in 1977. What does all this mean? Basically, it appears that it’s okay that management selects and pays audit committee members because it’s always been done that way. Similarly, it’s okay to pay them in stock because companies have always issued shares to directors, regardless of their respective committees. As far as who “hires” the auditors, our source has a better frame of reference than I but this probably varies from company to company. While many companies have audit committees that have no problem throwing their weight around, there are others whose members probably couldn’t find cash on a balance sheet.
Anyway, our source has some ideas:
If the regulators want to create a TRUE independent structure, why not create an Audit Committee Oversight Board (or the ACOB), and pay these members in shares of a Mutual Fund that’s tied to the overall performance of the stock market? Audit Committee members should be overseen by the SEC – perhaps indirectly by this ACOB. Now – this would empower the Committees, empower the auditors even further, and empower the shareholders of Companies with the knowledge that the Audit Committees were truly independent of management. This would be a stunning show of real governance in corporate America. Wouldn’t this be a true step toward preventing further financial crashes in America? What do you and your readers think?
I like the progressive ideas presented but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the massive amount of media I’ve consumed in the last 2+ years, it’s this – the ideal regulation and what it politically feasible are often miles apart and in the process of reconciling those differences, the final product is not at all what was intended. The SEC (who hasn’t exactly been on top of their game the last few years) is already fighting for every nickel and no amount of litigation releases will get representatives like Darrell Issa to back down from cutting their budget. Thus, a regulatory agency with shaky credibility has an uphill battle.
So would an Audit Committee Oversight Board, compensation changes and other reforms to the process be a “true step toward preventing further financial crashes”? Maybe. But as long as “fiscal responsibility” continues to be a political talking point, the SEC won’t have the ability to suggest reforms until we have another crisis and chances are, they’ll be the scapegoats…again.
A new survey of more than 300 chief audit executives (CAEs) by Grant Thornton LLP finds that while nearly half believe that the shifting regulatory landscape poses the greatest threat to their company, a vast majority (88%) do not believe that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) should be repealed. Of those that believe SOX should be repealed, the cost of compliance is the main reason for doing so. “Since the passage of SOX, organizations have had to dedicate significant resources to comply with a host of new laws and regulations,” noted Warren Stippich, a Chicago-based partner and Grant Thornton’s national Governance, Risk and Compliance solution leader. “Based on discussions with various CAEs during the survey process, many believe that SOX brings a continued focus by management on financial and governance-related controls. However, CAEs believe that compliance audit processes are now well-defined and are currently exploring ways to contribute value creation to the organization well beyond compliance monitoring and reporting.” [GT]
No, a for-real rocket scientist.
Apple Inc. named former Northrop Grumman Corp. Chief Executive Officer Ron Sugar as a director, adding an aerospace-technology expert to a board that includes leaders in retail, cosmetics, software and politics.
Sugar, 62, will serve as the board’s audit and finance committee chairman, Cupertino, California-based Apple said today in a statement. Sugar headed Northrop, the third-largest U.S. military contractor, from 2003 until last year, helping the company consolidate $26 billion in acquisitions.
Okay, accounting/auditing isn’t the most mind-bending of trades, so why does Steve Jobs feel the need to appoint someone who has spent most of their careers putting things into space as their audit and finance chairs? We’re sure Mr. Sugar is an extremely smart man – c’mon, A ROCKET SCIENTIST! – and is obviously good with numbers but doesn’t this level of irrelevant expertise seem a tad ridiculous? Just wondering out loud.
By “all kinds of screwed up” we mean “screwed 17 ways to Sunday”. After firing Deloitte last week, two top DY executives (CEO Christopher Holbert and CFO William Suh) have bailed, DYP shares are in the tank (down 47% as of publication) and, oh, they’re going to need to find a new audit committee chairman as their last one, James Zhang, ran for the hills.
Before running, however, he sent this really nice note explaining his motivations:
To: The Board of Duo Yuan Printing(DY).
6th Sept, 2010.
Dear Mr. Chairman and the follow directors of the Board:
Subject: My resignation as Company Audit Committee (AC) Chairman and Independent Director with immediate effect.
It has been almost one year since DY listed in the NYSE. I have to say that working closely with the Chairman, CEO and CFO of the company has been a great pleasure for me.
From Roughly one month ago, I got the phone call from Frank Li, the Audit Partner of Deloitte (DT) to express concerns to the Audit Committee over several financial irregularities and management control weakness. After hearing the full story, I immediately called an AC meeting and upon receiving unanimous approval from the AC as a well as support from the Chairman, the AC immediately engaged Latham Watkins, the US Law Firm, to handle the independent investigation not only to report back to the AC, but also as a part of the audit process requested by DT to give an opinion to the 2010 DY company financials. As our Chairman put it in the board Meeting just now that maybe due to the cross culture differences between US style work and maybe because of the second tier management don’t fully understand the US listing requirements, the investigation has not progressed in the last month. This delay could potentially render the company not filing its annual financial statements on time to the SEC.
In the past week, the Management has suggested to change the auditors of the company from DT to Frazer Frost (FF) who was the company prior auditors. This proposal has just been resolved in the full board meeting and Full AC meeting with voting taking place of 4 against 3 in favor and 2 against 1 in favor.
As the AC chairman and independent Director of the company, I respect the company democratic decision process as stipulated by the company Memorandum and Articles of Association. However, as a qualified UK Chartered Accountant and a trained Professional, I have brought to the attention of the board the following potential risks related to the change of auditors. These risks can be summarized as follows:
1. FF has not yet signed engagement letter with the company which is a risk to the company.
2. Change of auditors during the investigation process could potentially lead to further investigation from the SEC.
3. To change from a Big4 audit firm to a non-Big4 could have very negative impact in the investment community in terms of corporate governance thus lead to potential share price drop and subsequent US class law suit.
4. Even the Company US counsel has indicated in the meeting against change of auditors at this particular time frame.
Keep it classy, JZ, and good luck wherever you end up after this disaster of a company.
Why? Apparently because they just considered the needs of auditors. Audit committee members were feeling left out (and are, presumably, just as uncomfortable conversing with humans as auditors) so it’s back to the drawing board:
At a July 15 meeting of the PCAOB’s Standing Advisory Group, Goelzer said comments reflected a wide range of views. “A number of comments suggested that we needed to do more homework, more outreach on this subject,” he said. “Some thought we approached the subject too much from the perspective of the auditor and without a full appreciation of what audit committee members wanted or needed.”
A briefing paper to set the stage for the Sept. 21 roundtable says the board is holding the roundtable to get more insight from investors, audit committee members, auditors, and management on the proposed standard. The briefing paper outlines a number of questions the board wants to explore focused primary on what information is most relevant to audit committees, and how auditors and audit committees should communicate on those issues.
PCAOB Reopens Comment on Communications Standard [Compliance Week]
BDO International CEO Jeremy Newman is a little concerned about the trend of lowball audit fees out there. Now, those aren’t his exact words, in fact he calls it ‘‘extreme downward pressure on fees’ which still seems far more than honest than “my US colleagues call ‘fee compression.’”
He’s worried because he thinks that all this slumming around for any little opining job will lead to shoddy audits:
There is increasing evidence that fees are being forced down to such an extent that one worries this will encourage audit firms to ‘cut corners’ to reduce their own costs and thereby reduce audit quality – particularly given that the buyers of audit services (ie clients) do not monitor or determine audit quality which is a role taken on by regulators who are not involved in the pricing discussion between the client and the audit firm.
Yes, the man has evidence, courtesy of:
Canadian Public Accountability Board – “CPAB has learned that certain audit committees are pressuring firms to significantly reduce audit fees. This stance may be incompatible with the audit committees’ important role … in helping to ensure the integrity of financial reporting.”
Australian Securities and Investments Commission – “We will also focus on audit quality for new or existing audits where audit fees appear low or appear to have been reduced for reasons other than changes in the underlying business of the entity being audited.”
And he rounds it out with a quote from a speech given by Stephen Hadrill, the Chief Executive of the UK’s Financial Reporting Council, “There is a role for the market in setting higher expectations of auditors. So far the market has not played that role. Quite the opposite. It is more likely to applaud lower audit fees than higher quality.”
So if you’re desperate to retain some business or provide “client service” through the Wal Mart method, you’ll be on your own. As long as Newman is running the ship at BDO, they will be choosing quality over quantity, “despite the pressure on us to reduce costs,” no matter what other firms (read: Igbay Ourfay) are doing.
A Bizarre Market [CEO Insights]
“The audit committee is essentially its organization’s financial conscience. The responsibilities have grown demonstrably, and committee members need appropriate guidance to carry out their essential charge. That’s the AICPA’s goal for its first audit committee forum.”
~ Carol Scott, AICPA vice president for business, industry and government thinks it’s about time we got down to business.
‘Big four’ auditors bring in independent directors in response to regulators [Guardian]
The Financial Reporting CouncCAEW, issued a new audit governance code back in January that recommended audit firms appoint non-executive directors to their UK firm however, Ernst & Young will go so far to appoint them to their global advisory boards.
“Although the code technically applies only to our UK business, as a globally integrated organisation, we believe it is most appropriate for us to implement the code’s provisions on a global basis also,” said Jim Turley, global chairman and chief executive of Ernst & Young. “Including individuals from outside Ernst & Young on the global advisory council will bring to the senior leadership of our global organisation the benefit of significant outside perspectives and views.”
BP Won’t Issue New Equity to Cover Spill Costs [WSJ]
But if you want to pitch in, they are happy to take you up on an offer, “BP would welcome it if any existing shareholders or new investors want to expand their holding in the company, she said. BP’s shares have lost almost half their value since the Deepwater Horizon explosion that triggered the oil spill April 20.
BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward is visiting oil-rich Azerbaijan amid speculation the company may sell assets to help pay for the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The one-day visit comes a week after Mr. Hayward, who has been criticized for his handling of the devastating oil spill, traveled to Moscow to reassure Russia that the British energy company is committed to investments there.”
Looking for a post-college job? Try accounting [CNN]
Happy times continue for accounting grads, according to the latest survey on the matter, this time from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The average salary listed for an entry-level accounting major is just over $50k and the article also notes that most accounting jobs go to…wait…accounting majors.
FASB, IASB Staff Describe Plans for New Financial Statements [Compliance Week]
As always, the two Boards are hoping that bright financial statement users will chime in with their suggestions but they’ve got the basic idea down, “The FASB and IASB are rewriting the manner in which financial information is presented to make it more cohesive, easier to comprehend, and more comparable across different entities. The proposals would establish a common structure for each of the financial statements with required sections, categories, subcategories and related subtotals. It would result in the display of related information in the same sections, categories and subcategories across all statements.”
Accounting rules “practically impossible to implement”, Barclays claims [Accountancy Age]
Barclays’ finance director, Chris Lucas isn’t too keen on these new loan valuation proposals. Besides the ‘practically impossible’ thing, he says, “The sensitivity disclosures…are highly subjective, difficult to interpret, and potentially misleading, particularly when the underlying data is itself highly subjective,” Lucas said.
“It is hard to see how sensitivity disclosures could be aggregated by a large institution to provide succinct data that avoids ‘boilerplate’ disclosure.”
Asking The Difficult Questions [Re: The Auditors]
“Audit committees too often rely on the auditors’ required disclosures without comment. They sometimes lack the independence, experience, or determination to ask the probing questions. It’s critical, however, that committees seek answers to vexing questions and not accept the response, ‘But that’s the way management has always done it.’ ”
Buffett Donates $1.6 Billion in Biggest Gift Since 2008 Crisis [Bloomberg]
WB continues his plan of giving away 99% of his fortune, “[Buffet] made his largest donation since the 2008 financial crisis after profits at his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. jumped.
The value of Buffett’s annual gift to the foundation established by Bill Gates rose 28 percent to $1.6 billion from $1.25 billion last year. The donation, made in Berkshire Class B stock, was accompanied by gifts totaling $328 million in shares to three charities run by Buffett’s children and another named for his late first wife, according to a July 2 filing.”
The case for cloud accounting [AccMan]
Dennis Howlett continues to provide evidence that switching to the cloud provides benefits that are simply too big to ignore, “This 2min 1 sec video neatly encapsulates why this is something you should be considering, especially if you are operating electronic CRM or e-commerce for front of house activities.”
While shareholders and Sarbanes-Oxley demand more independent directors on boards, a new study shows companies with boards that have at least one key insider, the CFO, are better at financial reporting than those without that executive on their boards. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all companies should appoint their CFOs to their boards, not at least without taking other considerations seriously into account. In fact, most companies probablelsewhere for the expertise that CFOs supply.
The study found that companies with CFOs on their boards have more effective internal controls over financial reporting, higher accrual quality and a lower likelihood of restatements.
The study measured the quality of financial reporting by examining the incidence of material weaknesses reported under Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley. The provisions require companies to document and test internal control over financial reporting, and the company’s independent auditor to independently test those controls and opine on internal control effectiveness.
“One overarching benefit we saw was that there was an improvement in financial reporting when a CFO was on the board,” Rani Hoitash, a professor in the department of accountancy at Bentley University and co-author along with professors Jean Bedard of Bentley and Udi Hoitash, of Northeastern University, “Chief Financial Officers on Their Company’s Board of Directors: An Examination of Financial Reporting Quality and Entrenchment,” told CFOZone.
From 2004 to 2007, 12 percent of those with a CFO on the board reported problems with their internal controls, compared with 15 percent of those without their CFOs on the board, according to the study. Companies with their CFOs on their boards were also 15 percent less likely to restate their results.
These results imply that having a CFO on the board is more likely to align management’s interests with those of shareholders. One reason, the study says, is that CFOs are more likely to share information with other board members about the status of the financial reporting function, and secure sufficient resources to invest in the establishment, documentation and testing of internal controls.
Yet only 8 percent of the more than 7,000 companies studied had their own CFOs on the board.
Of course, SarBox says a CFO can’t serve on his or her company’s audit committee because of the obvious conflict of interest. But as Hoitash points out, “they can have input.”
And SarBox also requires a board to have financial expertise. A CFO obviously fits that bill.
But having a CFO on the board is not without its drawbacks. CFOs serving on boards are more highly compensated than those in other companies, earning an average of $218,715, or 34 percent more in total compensation than their nondirector peers did. There was also a 35 percent lower turnover rate, 8.2 percent compared to 12.7 percent, among CFOs who sat on their own companies’ boards, an advantage that sometimes existed despite a decline in earnings. Hoitash said the findings were evidence that CFOs who serve on boards are more firmly entrenched than those who are not.
That can be a good or bad, depending on a company’s performance. While in many cases where companies are performing poorly, they will fire the CFO without addressing the underlying causes, Hoitash noted that the opposite is true in cases where the CFO is on the board, and that’s obviously not a good thing either. “If the CFO is on the board and the company is performing poorly we found that they sometimes don’t leave, because they have power and influence,” he said.
The question is, will they use the power to do good or bad?” asked Hoitash. If they see themselves as part of the board and work to achieve goals, that is clearly a good thing. However, that power could also be used in their interest to the detriment of shareholders.
That makes some observers wary of appointing CFOs to boards. Instead, say these observers, they should merely attend all board meetings so as to share their expertise without becoming entrenched. “Look back in history, what transgressions brought us to Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulatory reforms?” asked Marc Palker, a certified management accountant and director of CFO Consulting Partners. “Once the CFO was granted stock options in the same manner as the CEO, there was a possible partnership for crime,” Palker added.
Others go even further by recommending that CFOs not attend meetings devoted to discussions of the company’s finance functions. In that case, “it might be appropriate to hold them without the CFO present,” said Sue Mills, a consultant with Tatum, an executive services firm that provides interim CFOs.
Bottom line: CFOs don’t belong on boards unless they cannot otherwise get financial expertise. In that case, Hoitash said, “you might want” to consider the idea.
Director Resigns at Wellcare Health [WSJ]
Regina Herzlinger was the chair of the audit committee of WellCare Health Plans, Inc., a Tampa-based provider of Medicaid and Medicare plans, but resigned last week amid controversy around the company’s accounting practices. The Wall St. Journal reports that Ms Herzlinger said that internal audits discovered the company overbilled the Illinois Medicaid program by $1 million “and potentially overcharged states for almost $500,000 worth of maternity care.” She also stated that the company “ran afoul of Georgia’s requirements that it account for eachhich it paid providers, resulting in a $610,000 fine.”
WellCare also paid an $80 million fine to the State of Florida last May for a criminal investigation “into allegations that it had defrauded Florida benefits programs for low-income adults and children” as well as $10 million to the SEC for an investigation into its accounting. At least they’re keeping some attorneys busy.
Ms Herzlinger alleges that she was not renominated to her position on the board of directors for raising questions about the accounting practices at the WellCare as well as corporate-governance issues.
The Company claims that “good corporate-governance practices require it to bring in new board members periodically to provide a fresh perspective,” so at least they’ve got that point covered. The Journal also reports that the company is pulling the materiality card, saying that the “accounting errors Ms. Herzlinger identified were relatively small and the company’s own internal controls indentified them, indicating that its processes are working well.”
Lehman Investors Add Auditor Ernst & Young to Suit Over Deals [Bloomberg]
Charlie Perkins, the Lucas van Pragg of Big 4 accounting firms, has to be getting sick of repeating himself:
“Throughout our period as the auditor of Lehman, we firmly believe our work met all applicable professional standards, applying the rules that existed at the time.”
Countrywide Investors Said to Settle Lawsuit for $600 Million [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
KPMG is listed as one of fifty defendants in the lawsuit in California.
Companies Feeling More Pressure to Cut Iran Ties [NYT]
PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young have both cut their ties with Iran, following KPMG, the Times reports. This results in grand total of zero Big 4 firms with affiliates in Iran.
United Against Nuclear Iran (“UANI”) President Mark Wallace received letters from both PwC and E&Y:
This week, Mr. Wallace’s group received letters from both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young assuring the group that they had cut ties with Iranian firms. PricewaterhouseCoopers wrote that the Middle East member of the company’s global network had had a “cooperating firm relationship” with Agahan & Company, an Iranian firm, but that it expired last year. Ernst & Young said it cut its ties in 2001 to the Tadvin Company, one of Iran’s largest accounting firms, even though Tadvin was still listed on its Web site this year.
Mr. Wallace called that a breakthrough because by publicly avoiding Iran, the American accounting firms that audit so many other companies send an important signal. “What it says is if it’s too risky for the Big Four accounting firms,” he said, “it should be too risky for other companies.”
Repo 105 Explained With Numbers and Detail [The Summa]
“Right now, I just don’t see what the big fuss is all about. The number differentials are just too small. Although a repugnant practice, Lehman didn’t accomplish much of anything with Repo 105 use.”
Last week the PCAOB announced that it was getting serious about audit committee communication after it was revealed that Ernst & Young kinda sorta didn’t think the Repo 105 sitch was worth brining up to the Lehman Brothers audit committee. Granted, Dick Fuld is pretty scary dude and has probably eaten plenty of Big 4 partners for breakfast in his day but avoiding the awkward convo this time around almost resulted in everyone fighting over stale hot dog buns in the street.
Oh sure, the PCAOB has been kicking this around for awhile but something needed to happen to get their motors going and it appears that the LEH/E&Y fallout has done the trick. We might be completely wrong on this but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the PCAOB has lost faith in auditors to do their jobs and will continue to inundate them with rules until they get an “Uncle.”
How about that statement? It’s the typical press release whathaveyou including quotes from the bigshots:
“The proposed standard on audit committee communications is intended to enhance the relevance and effectiveness of the communications between an auditor and audit committee throughout the course of an engagement,” said PCAOB Acting Chairman Daniel L. Goelzer.
“The proposed standard contains appropriate requirements to achieve effective, two-way communication between the auditor and the audit committee, which we believe would improve audit quality,” said Chief Auditor, Martin F. Baumann.
So if we take Goelzer and Baumann at their word, audit committee communication has been pretty ineffective up to this point? That’s good to know.
And here’s the gist of the required communication:
• Communication of an overview of the audit strategy, including a discussion of significant risks, the use of the internal audit function; and the roles, responsibilities, and location of firms participating in the audit;
• Communication regarding critical accounting polices, practices, and estimates;
• Communication regarding the auditor’s evaluation of a company’s ability to continue as a going concern; and,
• Evaluation by the auditor of the adequacy of the two-way communications.
So there’s your checklist people. Sorry to ask but were these items not being discussed previously? One could assume that since these items are on the list, they weren’t always being discussed in practice. Does standard audit committee communication revolve around Gossip Girl? Tiger Woods’ mistresses?
This really appears to be an example of the PCAOB taking away auditors’ “professional judgment” and making them “professional inquisitors.” Further, as Jim Peterson has pointed out, checking off required communication will do nothing to protect auditors from liability in the future, “there is no legal defense or ‘safe harbor’ in American law based on proof of compliance with professional standards – box ticked or otherwise.”
In other words, make all the professional requirements you want, auditors are still going to get sued and claiming “But we checked the box!” will not work as a defense. So the rationale must have been checklists are fun and easy to follow? Sigh. You’ve got until May 27th to get your thoughts in on this thing before it gets rubber stamped. Get on it.
Press Release [PCAOB]
The Sue Sachdeva wrecking ball continues to do damage as we learn today that Michael Koss has resigned as the audit committee chair of Strattec Security Corp. Oh, and Strattec also dismissed Grant Thornton from its audit duties for the Company, saying that “[it] decided to consolidate all of its outside accounting/auditing work with Deloitte”.
And yesssss, Michael Koss resigned, at least in part, due to the uesay achdevasay tealinsay oneymay:
David Zimmer, Strattec’s new audit committee chairman, said the problems at Koss Corp. played a role in Michael Koss’ decision to step down as the committee chair at Strattec. He said audit committee chair is a demanding and time-consuming job. “Everyone has to evaluate how much time they have to spend on things,” Zimmer said.
So in other words, you’re saying that Mr Koss, who by all accounts wasn’t spending any time keeping an eye on his own company, can’t be expected to serve as the audit committee chair of this company since it’s kinda sorta an important position. We get that.
As for GT, Pat Hansen, Strattec’s CFO said that this was something the Company was ‘mulling’ over anyway and that the Koss fiasco and the timing of this dismissal were ‘more coincidental’. Okay but it the made the decision a helluva lot easier, didn’t it?
And the Sue trainwreck rumbles on…
Koss resigns as audit committee chair at Strattec [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
Recent Koss/Sue Sachdeva News:
Koss Sues AMEX for Sachdeva Spending Spree
Koss: Financial Results Will Be Better Now That the Whole Fraud Thing Is Over
• Allyson Baumeister Elected to Board of Directors, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants – The best perk of such a position would be the opportunity to rub elbows with Ben Bankes. [Sanford Baumeister & Frazier Press Release]
• Audit Committee Comp Influences Auditor Support – “The study found that audit committee members are more likely to support the auditor, as opposed to management, in an accounting disagreement when audit committee compensation includes long-term stock options.” [Web CPA]
• The Mid-Quarter Trap – More year-end wisdom from Joe Kristan. [Tax Update Blog]
• GM board moving fast on CEO, CFO hires – Spencer Stuart is on the hunt if you’re interested… [Reuters]
• G.M. Will Consider Lump Sum Payment to U.S. – …but you’ll have to deal with this. [DealBook]