I am pleased that the SEC’s Office of the Chief Accountant’s thoughtful study recommends retention of Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes Oxley Act for companies whose market capitalization is between $75 and $250 million. Section 404(b) requires independent auditors to attest to management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal controls over financial reporting […]. The study concluded that costs of Section 404(b) compliance have declined and financial reporting is more reliable when the auditor is involved with ICFR assessments. Importantly, the study found that investors generally view the auditor‘s attestation on ICFR as beneficial. [Cindy Fornelli/CAQ]
After all the hubbub over the PCAOB inspection report that was brought to light by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil, including two recommendations by proxy advisors Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., Alterra Capital Holdings has recommended to its shareholders that they vote “FOR” the ratification of KPMG as the company’s independent auditor.
From th c.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1141719/000093041311002842/c65254_defa14a.htm”>SEC Filing dated April 19th (all emphasis is original):
TO THE SHAREHOLDERS
We are writing to bring your attention to a disagreement between Alterra Capital Holdings Limited (the “Company”), on the one hand, and each of ISS Proxy Advisory Services and Glass Lewis (each, a “Proxy Advisor”), on the other hand, with respect to the recommendation by each of the Proxy Advisors to vote “against” the Company’s proposal to ratify the appointment of KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s independent auditors for fiscal year 2011 and authorize the Company’s board of directors (the “Board”) to set the remuneration of the independent auditors at the Company’s Annual General Meeting of Shareholders scheduled to be held on May 2, 2011. The Proxy Advisors’ recommendations are primarily related to a report issued by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the “PCAOB”) regarding the Company’s auditors, KPMG Bermuda. The PCAOB is a nonprofit corporation established by the U.S. Congress to oversee the audits of public companies. One of the principal roles of the PCAOB is to perform inspections of the audit files of accounting firms that conduct public company audits. Each audit firm is selected by the PCAOB for inspection at least once in every three years.
In November 2009, the PCAOB reviewed KPMG Bermuda’s 2008 audit files of a public company client located in Bermuda in connection with a routine periodic inspection. In March 2011, the PCAOB publicly issued its findings in a report dated January 28, 2011 (the “PCAOB Report”). Although the PCAOB Report did not identify the public company by name, an article posted on Bloomberg News on March 30, 2011 alleged that the public company client at issue was the Company (formerly Max Capital Group Ltd.). The Company confirmed that it was the client referenced in the PCAOB’s Report in a Current Report on Form 8-K dated March 31, 2011.
The Proxy Advisors’ recommendations also cite concerns that certain of the Company’s directors and officers previously worked at KPMG.
For the reasons set forth below, the Board disagrees with the Proxy Advisors’ recommendations to vote “against” the Company’s independent auditor proposal. The Board unanimously recommends that you vote “FOR” the ratification of KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s independent auditor.
Since this decision by the Board might not sit well with a few people, they’ve carefully laid out the case as to why sticking with the House Klynveld is the right thing to do. They are as follows:
1. The PCAOB Report did not question the Company’s valuations that are reflected in its financial statements.
2. The PCAOB Report did not impact KPMG Bermuda’s unqualified opinions on the Company’s financial statements in 2008, 2009 and 2010; there was and is no restatement issue.
3. The PCAOB made similar findings regarding all four major accounting firms.
4. The Audit and Risk Management Committee was aware of the PCAOB review and made an informed decision in recommending KPMG Bermuda as the Company’s Independent Auditor for 2011.
5. KPMG Bermuda is independent from the Company.
6. The Audit and Risk Management Committee will reassess KPMG Bermuda’s qualifications and suitability in 2012.
Just a few thoughts on some of these:
• It’s not the job of the PCAOB to question the Alterra’s valuations. That’s what KPMG was supposed to do. The PCAOB said KPMG did a lousy job of getting enough evidence to support those valuations.
• Just because there wasn’t a restatement doesn’t mean the auditors did their jobs correctly.
• Admitting that “all four major accounting firms” had similar findings says a lot about what the Board thinks of auditors.
• Is point #5 supposed to be a reminder for the shareholders that have no business acumen whatsoever?
• Point #6 could be better stated as “Our Board is getting good at jumping through hoops. See you next year.”
Any other thoughts? Leave them below.
Remember Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd? They’re were exposed by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil last month as the KPMG-Bermuda audit client that was selected by the PCAOB for inspection. The audit didn’t go so hot as the inspectors found “the firm did not obtain sufficient competent evidential matter to support its opinion on the issuer’s financial statements.” To put this in context, Weil explained that available-for-sale securities were the largest asset on Alterra’s balance sheet and it accounted for “half of the company’s $7.3 billion of total assets as of Dec. 31, 2008, and a little more than half of its $9.9 billion of total assets at the end of last year.”
In wake of this little revelation, research firm Glass Lewis & Co. has recommended to Alterra Capital Holdings that they kick KPMG-Bermuda to curb (after nine glorious years), according to a copy of the “Proxy Paper” sent to Going Concern. The report rehashes the whole story and then concludes with this:
Despite the lack of any restatements of previous financial statements, we believe that shareholders should be concerned about the reappointment of KPMG following the lapses uncovered by the PCAOB. Therefore, we believe that shareholders should hold the audit committee responsible for reappointing the same audit firm.
Glass Lewis also wanted to make shareholders “aware” of the fact that Alterra’s Audit Committee Chair, CFO and CAO are all KPMG alumni but stopped short of citing it as a reason to oppose KPMG at the meeting on May 2. According to the report, Glass Lewis had recommended that Alterra retain KPMG as auditor prior to the last shareholder’s meeting which the shareholders did by an overwhelming margin with nearly 91 million votes voting “For,” 182k voting “Against” and 32k abstained.