auditor

Evaluating going concern issues

Financial statements are generally prepared under the assumption that the business will remain a “going concern.” That is, it’s expected to continue to generate a positive return on its assets and meet its obligations in the ordinary course of business. But sometimes conditions put that assumption into question.

Recently, the responsibility for making going concern assessments shifted from auditors to management. So, it’s important for you to identify the red flags that going concern issues exist.

Make the call

Under Accounting Standards Update No. 2014-15, Presentation of Financial Statements — Going Concern (Subtopic 205-40): Disclosure of Uncertainties about an Entity’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern, management is responsible for assessing whether there are conditions or events that raise “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date that the financial statements are issued — or available to be issued. (The alternate date prevents financial statements from being held for several months after year end to see if the company survives.)

When going concern issues arise, auditors may adjust balance sheet values to liquidation values, rather than historic costs. Footnotes also may report going concern issues. And the auditor’s opinion letter — which serves as a cover letter to the financial statements — may be downgraded to a qualified or adverse opinion. All of these changes forewarn lenders and investors that the company is experiencing financial distress.

Meet the threshold

When evaluating the going concern assumption, look for signs that your company’s long-term viability may be questionable, such as:

  • Recurring operating losses or working capital deficiencies,
  • Loan defaults and debt restructuring,
  • Denial of credit from suppliers,
  • Dividend arrearages,
  • Disposals of substantial assets,
  • Work stoppages and other labor difficulties,
  • Legal proceedings or legislation that jeopardizes ongoing operations,
  • Loss of a key franchise, license or patent,
  • Loss of a principal customer or supplier, and
  • An uninsured or underinsured catastrophe.

The existence of one or more of these conditions or events doesn’t automatically mean that there’s a going concern issue. Similarly, the absence of these conditions or events isn’t a guarantee that your company will meet its obligations over the next year.

Comply with the new guidance

Compliance with the new accounting standard starts with annual periods ending after December 15, 2016. So, managers of calendar-year entities will need to make the going concern assessment starting with their 2016 year-end financial statements. Contact us for more information about making going concern assessments and how it will affect your financial reporting.

© 2017

Use qualified auditors for your employee benefit plans

Employee benefit plans with 100 or more participants must generally provide an audit report when filing IRS Form 5500 each year. Plan administrators have fiduciary responsibilities to hire independent qualified public accountants to perform quality audits.

Select a qualified auditor

ERISA guidelines require employee benefit plan auditors to be licensed or certified public accountants. They also require auditors to be independent. In other words, they can’t have a financial interest in the plan or the plan sponsor that would bias their opinion about a plan’s financial condition.

But specialization also matters. The more training and experience that an auditor has with plan audits, the more familiar he or she will be with benefit plan practices and operations, as well as the special auditing standards and rules that apply to such plans. Examples of audit areas that are unique to employee benefit plans include contributions, benefit payments, participant data, and party-in-interest and prohibited transactions.

Ask questions

Employee benefit plan audits are a matter of more than just compliance. The auditor’s report highlights any problems unearthed during the audit, which can serve as a springboard for improving plan operations. The conclusion of audit work is a good time to ask such questions as the following:

  • Have plan assets covered by the audit been fairly valued?
  • Are plan obligations properly stated and described?
  • Were contributions to the plan received in a timely manner?
  • Were benefit payments made in accordance with plan terms?
  • Did the auditor identify any issues that may impact the plan’s tax status?
  • Did the auditor identify any transactions that are prohibited under ERISA?

Experienced auditors can also suggest ways to improve your plan’s operations based on their audit findings.

Protect yourself

Employee benefit plan audits offer critical protection to plan administrators and employees. Your company can’t afford to skimp when it comes to hiring an auditor who is unbiased, experienced and reliable. Contact us for more information on hiring a plan auditor.

© 2017

Are you ready for audit season?

It’s almost audit season for calendar-year entities. A little preparation can go a long way toward facilitating the external audit process, minimizing audit adjustments and surprises, lowering your audit fees in the future and getting more value out of the audit process. Here are some ways to plan ahead.

The mindset

Before fieldwork begins, meet with your office team to explain the purpose and benefits of financial statement audits. Novice staff members may confuse financial audits with IRS audits, which can sometimes become contentious and stressful. Also designate a liaison in the accounting department who will answer inquiries and prepare document requests for auditors.

Reconciliation
Enter all transactions into the accounting system before the auditors arrive, and prepare a schedule that reconciles each account balance. Be ready to discuss any estimates that underlie account balances, such as allowances for uncollectible accounts, warranty reserves or percentage of completion.

Check the schedules to reveal discrepancies from what’s expected based on the company’s budget or prior year’s balance. Also review last year’s adjusting journal entries to see if they’ll be needed again this year. An internal review is one of the most effective ways to minimize errors and adjusting journal entries during a financial statement audit.

Work papers
Auditors are grateful when clients prepare work papers to reconcile account balances and transactions in advance. Auditors also will ask for original source documents to verify what’s reported on the financial statements, such as bank statements, sales contracts, leases and loan agreements.

Compile these documents before your audit team arrives. They may also inquire about changes to contractual agreements, regulatory or legal developments, additions to the chart of accounts and major complex transactions that occurred in 2016.
Internal controls

Evaluate internal controls before your auditor arrives. Correct any “deficiencies” or “weaknesses” in internal control policies, such as a lack of segregation of duties, managerial review or physical safeguards. Then the auditor will have fewer recommendations to report when he or she delivers the financial statements.

Value-added
Financial statement audits should be seen as a learning opportunity. Preparing for your auditor’s arrival not only facilitates the process and promotes timeliness, but also engenders a sense of teamwork between your office staff and external accountants.

© 2016

Related-party transactions: Think like an auditor

Issues between related parties played a prominent role in the scandals that surfaced more than a decade ago at Enron, Tyco International and Refco. Similar problems have arisen in more recent financial reporting fraud cases, prompting the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to unanimously approve a tougher audit standard on related-party transactions and financial relationships. To prevent your company from issuing financial statements with undisclosed or misleading information about these relationships, think like an auditor.

It’s all relative

Under PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 18 (AS 18), Related Parties, Amendments to Certain PCAOB Auditing Standards Regarding Significant Unusual Transactions, and Other Amendments to PCAOB Auditing Standards, related parties include the company’s directors, executives and their family members.

Ultimately, companies are responsible for the preparation of their financial statements, including the identification of these related parties. However, auditors are on the lookout for undisclosed related parties and unusual transactions.

Where to look

Certain types of questionable transactions also might signal that a company is engaged in related-party transactions. Examples include contracts for below-market goods or services, bill-and-hold arrangements, uncollateralized loans and subsequent repurchase of goods sold.

Where can you find evidence of undisclosed related parties? Auditors are trained to consider these types of source materials:

  • Proxy statements,
  • Disclosures contained on the company’s website,
  • Confirmation responses, correspondence and invoices from the company’s attorneys,
  • Tax filings,
  • Life insurance policies purchased by the company,
  • Contracts or other agreements, and
  • Corporate organization charts.

Auditors also scrutinize compensation arrangements and other financial relationships with executives that may create incentives to engage in fraud to meet financial targets.

Leave no stone unturned

AS 18 requires public company auditors to obtain a more in-depth understanding of every related-party financial relationship and transaction, including its nature, terms and business purpose (or lack thereof). Moreover, it requires auditors to communicate with the audit committee throughout the audit process about related-party transactions — not just at the end of the engagement.

Related parties present risks to all kinds of entities, not just public companies. Smaller companies and start-ups also tend to engage in numerous related-party transactions, such as rental and compensation arrangements. These arrangements increase the risks of fraud and legal violations, warranting increased attention for companies of all sizes.

© 2016

The Independent Auditor, Part II

by Frank Stover, CPA/CFF/CGMA, CFE

Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

DO’S AND DON’TS

What auditors do

The independent auditor is engaged to render an opinion on whether an entity’s financial statements are presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with a particular financial reporting framework (GAAP, GASB, FASB, regulatory basis, etc.) The audit provides users, such as the bond counsels and agents, regulatory bodies, and the general public, with a degree of confidence in the financial statements. An audit conducted in accordance with GAAS and relevant ethical requirements enables the auditor to form that opinion.

To form an opinion, the auditor gathers appropriate and sufficient evidence and observes, tests, compares and confirms until gaining reasonable assurance. The auditor then forms an opinion of whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error.

Some of the more important auditing procedures include:

  • Inquiring of management and others to gain an understanding of the organization itself, its operations, financial reporting, and known fraud and error
  • Evaluating and understanding the internal control system
  • Performing analytical procedures on expected and unexpected variances in account balances or classes of transactions
  • Testing documentation supporting account balances or classes of transactions
  • Observing the physical inventory count
  • Confirming bank accounts, receivables, and other accounts with a third party

At the completion of the audit, the auditor may also offer objective advice for improving financial reporting and internal controls to maximize a company’s performance and efficiency.

What auditors don’t do

For a clear picture of the role of independent auditors, it helps to understand what you should not expect auditors to do. Emphasis is placed on “independent.”

Firstly, your independent auditors do not take responsibility for the financial statements on which they form an opinion. The responsibility for financial statement presentation rests with management and those charged with governance of the entity being audited.

Auditors are not a part of management, which means the auditor will not:

  • Authorize, execute or consummate transactions on behalf of a client
  • Prepare or make changes to source documents
  • Assume custody of client assets, including maintenance of bank accounts
  • Establish or maintain internal controls, including the performance of ongoing monitoring activities for a client
  • Supervise client employees performing normal recurring activities
  • Report to the board of directors on behalf of management
  • Serve as a client’s bond or escrow agent or general counsel
  • Sign payroll tax returns on behalf of a client
  • Approve vendor invoices for payment
  • Design a client’s financial management system or make modifications to source code underlying that system
  • Hire or terminate employees

Stated briefly, the auditor may not assume the role and duties of management.

Speaking as a practical matter, there are a number of tasks you should not expect your independent auditor to perform:

  • Analyze or reconcile accounts
  • “Close the books”
  • Locate invoices, etc., for testing
  • Prepare confirmations for mailing
  • Select accounting policies or procedures
  • Prepare financial statements or footnote disclosures
  • Determine estimates included in financial statements
  • Determine restrictions of assets
  • Establish value of assets and liabilities
  • Maintain permanent records, including bond or loan documents, leases, contracts and other legal documents
  • Prepare or maintain minutes of the entity’s governance committee meetings
  • Establish account coding or classifications
  • Determine retirement plan contributions
  • Implement corrective action plans
  • Prepare an audit for audit

An audit is NOT a fraud examination, you may engage an audit firm to perform a forensic examination which is performed under different professional standards.

Your independent auditor may assist in the performance of some of these duties under some restrictive guidelines of the American Institute of CPAs, Department of Labor, Government Accountability Office, Securities and Exchange Commission or Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. However, these very same guidelines may also preclude the auditor from performing some of these functions.