Audit Committee Evolution

Over the last 15 years the role of the audit committee has been discussed, regulated and disclosed in ever increasing and expanding ways.

(Yes, this was true even longer than 15 years ago, but we will focus on the last 15 years for now! Maybe more history later?)

As you have likely heard, in the last several months the SEC and the PCAOB have both been active in developing the next steps of audit committee evolution. All public companies need to deal with these possible changes, and to do that well it helps to have a perspective on how these changes fit into the longer-term change process.

It was way back in pre-SOX years, actually December 1999, that the SEC enacted rules to require the S-K Item 407 Audit Committee Report and related disclosures. Even in this pre-SOX period the importance of the audit committee was clear. The final rule mentions the “Blue Ribbon Committee” that had been formed to deal with this issue:

“We are adopting new rules and amendments to current rules to improve disclosure relating to the functioning of corporate audit committees and to enhance the reliability and credibility of financial statements of public companies. As more fully described in the Proposing Release, the new rules and amendments are based in large measure on recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Improving the Effectiveness of Corporate Audit Committees (the “Blue Ribbon Committee”)”

The Sarbanes – Oxley Act continued the evolution of the audit committee’s role. SOX’s provisions went well beyond disclosure, actually impacting audit committee member qualifications, structure and function. It enacted provisions dealing with:

  • Independence of audit committee members
  • The audit committee’s responsibility to select and oversee the issuer’s independent accountant
  • Procedures for handling complaints regarding the issuer’s accounting practices (whistleblower provisions)
  • The authority of the audit committee to engage advisors
  • Funding for the independent auditor and any outside advisors engaged by the audit committee

Because SOX’s changes go well beyond disclosures, the SOX requirements were implemented by requiring the exchanges to put the provisions in their listing rules.

The PCAOB has also been involved in this process and Audit Standard 16, Communications with Audit Committees, formalized the content and timing of the auditor’s communications with the audit committee. This requirement became effective for years beginning after December 15, 2012.

That is all history, prelude to the future.

As audit committees strive to hold themselves to best practices looking to the future is crucial.

So, what might the future hold?

PCAOB “Dialogue”

In May of 2015 the PCAOB also issued a document titled “Audit Committee Dialogue” to formalize issues it considered important for audit committee members to be aware of and deal with in the evolving focus on audit quality. You can find the “Dialogue” at the PCAOB’s under the “Information for Audit Committee Members”tab.:

SEC Concept Release

The SEC issued a broad and potentially far-reaching Concept Release in July. It seeks comment on areas including audit committee oversight of the audit process, how the audit committee selects the auditor and the role of the audit committee in selecting and evaluating key audit team personnel. You can find the concept release at:

Auditor Independence

A kind of wild-card issue that is evolving with enforcement cases is how the audit committee deals with auditor independence issues. The days when this was an issuer for only the auditor are clearly over!

These are issues that need some deeper discussion! So, our next few posts will focus on the “Dialogue”, the concept release, independence and other issues.

If you have any topics you would like to see included, as always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

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