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PCAOB Discovers That Some Firms Consider Audit Quality to Be a Nice Idea That Doesn’t Work in Real Life
PCAOB Board Member Jeanette Franzel, CPA, CIA, CMA, CGFM, gave a speech at University of Tennessee […]
To mark tomorrow night’s “Jobs Speech” by President Obama, the Ronald Reagan-possessed imps over at Americans for Tax Reform are providing some entertainment to get you through what will be, in all likelihood, a message that will be big on rhetoric with virtually no chance of anyone (Joe Biden included) breaking into song. And because most of the people that will be watching the speech will be either journalist/blabby pundit-types and people who are physically unable to remove themselves from the couch, they went with the simplest (yet oddly enjoyable) game possible. BINGO.
As you can see, ATR has studiously selected the words and phrases they think will be spoken most often by the President and have created five different cards so that you can play with your fellow lovers of liberty. They even took the trouble to define many of these terms in case you can’t keep everything straight. Based on ATR’s interpretation, you are more or less going to be listening to the President utter “tax hikes” on a loop. Of course if BINGO isn’t your thing, you simply could just turn this into a drinking game, although it’s conceivable this could result in several cases of alcohol poisoning.
The added (surely unintentional) bonus is that you can use this card as a template for tonight’s Republican Presidential candidate debate where many of these terms will applicable. You’ll have to throw in “God,” “Tax cuts,” “Small Businesses,” “Ronald Reagan,” and perhaps a few others I’m forgetting but this more or less will cover the bases.
Unheard-of GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman isn’t doing so well in the race for his party’s nomination. This is probably due to the fact that he seems like a fairly pragmatic fellow and pragmatism isn’t really something that fits in the GOP agenda. I mean, COME ON, the man believes in evolution and trusts scientists on climate change. Clearly he’s going nowhere with those kinds of policy positions.
So, in what will likely amount to another failed attempt to bring some sense to the GOP narrative, Huntsman will give a speech on tax reform and various other issues in New Hampshire.
Huntsman will lay out his plans for tax and regulatory reform, energy independence and free trade in a New Hampshire speech that’s being billed as perhaps the last best chance for Huntsman, who stands far behind the GOP frontrunners in polls, to establish himself as a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. “Meeting our challenges will require serious solutions, but above all, it will require serious leadership – a quality in high demand in our nation’s capital, and among my opponents on the campaign trail,” Huntsman will say, according to excerpts released by his campaign. The centerpiece of the plan is a proposal to reform tax rates. The Huntsman plan would eliminate all loopholes, deductions and tax exemptions in exchange for establishing three individual income brackets, taxed at eight, 14 and 23 percent. The Huntsman plan would also eliminate capital gains and dividend taxes, do away with the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.
Now all he has to do is mention God’s role in all of this and he’ll be the frontrunner.
Huntsman to unveil sweeping tax reform [The Hill]
PCAOB Chairman James Doty Is Concerned That Some Auditors Either Don’t Care or Are Completely Ignorant About the Notion of Independence
As you may have heard, PCAOB Chairman Jim Doty gave a speech at the University of Southern California yesterday where he discussed among other things, the possibility of mandatory auditor rotation and changing the standard auditor’s report. The prospect of these two changes aren’t exactly something auditors are stoked about but some people are of the opinion that a) auditors like to get a little too chummy with their clients which leads to b) not taking the “independence” thing too seriously and c) the auditor’s report, in its current form, its pretty much worthless.
You can read Doty’s entire speech over at the PCAOB website where touches on all of these but here’s one example around independence that probably qualifies for, in Doty’s words, “[an] approach [to] the audit with an inappropriate mindset”
[An] audit partner’s self-assessment claimed that he “overcame long-standing barriers against non-audit services at [two audit clients] with a series of well-planned meetings and supporting presentations with the Audit Committee Chair, the full Audit Committee, the CEO and the CFO at both companies.”
In response, his reviewing partner noted that he was –
highly alert to cross service line opportunities and has successfully penetrated both of his accounts where few services had been
provided in the past. The results of these efforts were a number of proposals and wins but the efforts will likely impact FY 11 in [a] more significant way.
Anyway, there are other stories of bad auditor behavior, so check the whole speech if you feel so inclined. And while Chairman Doty admitted that “We don’t see these problems in all the files we look at,” it causes he and others to wonder if “these audit partners are unaware of, or simply unconcerned about, the independence rule that should make such considerations irrelevant to their compensation, and why a firm would allow such unawareness or unconcern to continue unabated.”
So flagrantly bending the rules to the point where they might as well be breaking or stupidity? Neither is too flattering.
Mr. Ryan sat in a front-row seat in the George Washington University auditorium Wednesday while Mr. Obama unveiled his plan to constrain growing levels of federal debt. Mr. Ryan grew visibly annoyed during the speech, shaking his head in disgust. He feverishly took notes, and when Mr. Obama finished he stood up and bolted from the auditorium. The only person apparently running faster towards the exit tugged on Mr. Ryan’s sleeve near the doorway and reached out to shake his hand. “Hi, Mr. Chairman, Gene Sperling,” Mr. Obama’s director of the National Economic Council said to Mr. Ryan in what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture. “Oh, I thought you were a reporter,” Mr. Ryan said, explaining why he didn’t immediately turn around when his name was called. [WSJ]
Yesterday, prior to today’s excitement regarding Satyam and PwC, PCAOB Chairman James Doty spoke at the The Council of Institutional Investors 2011 Spring Meeting and he had some interesting things to say about the audit profession, specifically that auditors don’t always remember that “protecting investors” ≠ “client service”:
Time and time again, we’ve seen services that might be valuable to management reduce the auditor’s objectivity, and thus reduce the value of the audit to investors. While management may need the services, they just don’t have to get them from the auditor.
Audit firms call this “client service,” and it makes things terribly confusing. When the hard questions of supporting management’s financial presentation arise, the engagement partner is often enlisted as an advocate to argue management’s case to the technical experts in the national office of the audit firm. The mortgaging of audit objectivity can even begin at the outset of the relationship, with the pitch to get the client.
Consider the way these formulations of the audit engagement that we’ve uncovered through our inspections process might prejudice quality:
• “Simply stated we want management to view us as a trusted partner that can assist with the resolution of issues and structuring of transactions.”
• We will “support the desired outcome where the audit team may be confronted with an issue that merits consultation with our National Office.”
• Our audit decisions are “made by the global engagement partner with no second guessing or National Office reversals.”
Huh. Doty doesn’t name names but you could easily interpret those statements as one made by a client advocate, not a white knight for investors. He continues:
Or, to demonstrate how confusing the value proposition could be even to those auditors who try to articulate it:
• We will provide you “with the best, value-added audit service in the most cost effective and least disruptive manner by eliminating non-value added procedures.”
(What is a “non-value added procedure”? Whose value do you think the claim refers to? If a procedure is valuable to investors but doesn’t add value to management, will it be scrapped?)
In other words, “we promise that we won’t be pests” and “value” will be a game-time decision. And finally:
Or, consider this as a possible audit engagement formula for misunderstanding down the road:
• We will deliver a “reduced footprint in the organization, lessening audit fatigue.”
(What is “audit fatigue”? Does accommodating it add value to investors? How should investors feel about a “reduced footprint”?)
Yes, what is “audit fatigue”? Is that what happens to second and third-year senior associates every February/March? Or is this better articulated by “we know audits are annoying and our hope is that we won’t annoy you too much.”?
Taking this (the whole speech is worth a read) and everything else that happened today into account, it will be interesting to hear what Mr Doty has to say at tomorrow’s hearing.
Part of perpetually-acting PCAOB chairman Dan Goelzer’s speech at the AICPA’s Conference on SEC and PCAOB Developments had to do with the future and it kinda, sorta sounds like the Board might start asking for more than just the auditor’s opinion of yore. He spoke this afternoon at the conference, saying, “it is clear that there is considerable investor hunger for more insight from the auditor into the audit process and the company’s financial reporting. Further, the 2008 report of the Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession recommended that the Board reconsider the audit report.”
What kind of ideas? Glad you asked!
The Board will have to make some difficult choices next year if it decides to change the time-honored pass/fail report. There is no shortage of ideas. During a discussion of the reporting model at our Standing Advisory Group meeting last April, some suggested that the auditor should provide more information about the audit itself and how it was performed. Others want the auditor’s views on the management judgments embodied in the financial statements regarding such things as estimates and the selection of accounting policies. Auditors have proposed that their reports should be clearer about limitations on the ability to detect fraud. Some users have suggested expanding the auditor’s current opinion to include new material; others have suggested that the pass/fail report should be accompanied by a separate auditor’s report akin to the MD&A.
Do investors really want to know how the audit sausage is made? Some auditors have trouble pulling things together so we see little up side there.
If you’ve got your own suggestions on making audits even better, feel free to share them at this time.