What Does an Auditor and Reviewer Do?
Australian law requires some types of entity to undertake a comprehensive process of financial reporting, review, and auditing to ensure that financial statements comply with standards and legislation. As part of this process, entity’s such as listed companies and non-listed companies over a certain size are required to have their mid-year financial statements reviewed by a financial professional qualified to undertake reviews and audits of financial statements.
These entities are required to submit their full-year financial statements for a more thorough examination, known as an audit of financial statements, which is also conducted by an audit and review practitioner.
These requirements are set out in legislation known as the Auditing and Assurance Standards, which lay the framework for financial reporting of financial statements as well as a set of minimum requirements for the regular audit and review of financial statements. The audits discussed here are external audits, which are required by law and involve the engagement of an independent auditor who meets the ethical requirements set by the minimum standards.
Auditors and Reviewers – Are They Independent?
Comprehensive professional and ethical standards ensure that audit and review practitioners are able to operate with bias or external influence. This is ensures that financial statements are reviewed and audited by practitioners capable of forming an independent judgement or conclusion with regard to the financial statements, and can inform stakeholders whether or not these statements provide a fair and truthful depiction of the entity’s financial position.
These standards ensure that auditors and reviewers in independent from the relevant entity’s both in terms of professional practice and in appearance. The assurance process is vital in the function of our capital markets and the economy more broadly, so stakeholders need to be sure that they can trust the advice of an auditor or reviewer and take it at face value when making important decisions.
Different legislation dictates the different auditing and reviewing requirements for different entities. As an example, the Corporations Act 2001 sets out the following requirements for auditors and reviewers of listed company financial statements:
• That the position of lead auditor be rotated every five years
• That auditors are restricted from holding positions on the board of companies whose financial statements they review or audit.
• That the auditor produce a declaration of independence to be issued to the company’s board of directors, and that this declaration of independence be published in the company’s annual report.
The Audit and Review Processes for Listed Companies
The task of assurance practitioners carrying out the auditing and review of listed company financial statements is to identify instances where material has been misstated or is unverifiable. As stated previously, the process is governed by a set of minimum requirements and standard framework for financial reporting and the review or audit of financial statements.
For listed companies, financial statements are released twice-yearly in the form of half-year and full-year financial statements. Mid-year financial statements are required by the legislation to undergo review by a qualified auditing and review practitioner, and it is often the same practitioner who conducts the complete audit required for full-year financial statements.
The auditor/reviewer is engaged prior to the end of the reporting period, and spends much time performing an initial assessment of the listen company’s financial reportage. The practitioner is then required to conduct an assessment on whether they meet the requirements for independence and professional ethics, only after these requirements have been met are they able to agree on the company’s terms of engagement and begin the task of review.
Once the terms of engagement have been agreed upon, the practitioner must take the time to understand the company whose financial statements they are reviewing. This involves a comprehensive analysis of micro and macro factors involved in determining the company’s financial position, so that they are able to later apply this data to their review and audit of the financial statements. It is during this stage that the reviewed will identify and examine any substantial risks for material misstatement that they come across during their examination of the company’s financial position.
Once the reporting period is reaching a close, the practitioner will work closely with company management to reduce the risk of any material misstatements appearing in their financial statements. The work carried out during this stage depends heavily on the nature of the company involved, and whether the work is part of a review or an audit.
Within three months of the reporting period’s close, the practitioner is required to finalize and sign their report, which may then be issued to the relevant stakeholders.
What Constitutes a Material Misstatement?
The purpose of assurance is to reduce the risk of an entity’s financial statements containing information that does not present a fair and truthful depiction of the entity’s financial position. For the purposes of auditing and reviewing, a material misstatement constitutes more than a mere oversight or mistake, it is a significant error or misstatement that may reasonable impact the decision-making process of those using the entity’s financial statements. Misstatements may be identified using qualitative or quantitative methods, as both are capable of identifying significant misstatements.
Qualitative misstatements – Relate to the nature of individual elements of the financial statements, such as a failure to disclose certain transactions or remuneration payments to management. These misstatements are important for stakeholders to be aware of, because they provide important information about how the entity is being managed.
Quantitative misstatements – Relate to dollar amounts or quantities included in the financial statements, such as revenue amounts (overstated), expenses (understated), and liabilities (missing or not recorded). Such misstatements seriously impact the ability of stakeholders to make informed decisions about an entity.
Assurance professionals conducting the audit or review of an entity’s financial statements are required to consider the possibility that fraudulent activity may affect the financial statements, such as by resulting in material misstatements. Therefore, auditors and reviewers must take fraud into account when planning their work and carrying out their review/audit.
It is important to remember, however, that an audit of financial statements is by definition not intended to serve as an investigation into any and all instances of fraud that may have occurred within an entity. It is not unreasonable to expect that an audit would uncover fraudulent activities, though, due to the fact that such activities are likely to result in material misstatements being included on financial statements.
Going Concern Assumption
The assumption that a listed company will continue to engage in business operations for the foreseeable future is known as the going concern assumption. Unless evidence indicates otherwise, it is standard for this assumption to be adopted by assurance practitioners.
Assumption of going concern has a very significant impact on the presentation of a company’s financial statements, and the assumption is outlined in the financial statements presented by management. When conducting the audit, the practitioner will assess the going concern assumption adopted by company management as part of their work.
Going concern assumption does not always apply, as some entities are not a going concern and are subject to different reporting requirements than those that are assumed to be a going concern.
Where the assumption of going concern is adopted, the auditor will gather evidence and perform an assessment of this assumption. Once the assessment is complete, the auditor will produce a conclusion and include it in their final report. Auditors are required to determine whether or not a company that assumes going concern can in fact continue as such for the 12 months from the date on which the auditor’s report is signed.
Events that take place in the future are inherently uncertain, but where concerns over forecast going concern assumption exist, the auditor will include notes in their report that direct users to the relevant elements of the financial statements that have lead them to form this conclusion. It is standard practice for such content to be included in the emphasis of matter paragraph, if one exists, or in the modified opinion section should the auditor reject management’s assumption of going concern.
Where Will I Find an Auditor’s Signature in a Company’s Annual Report?
The Auditor’s report is included in the annual report, and relates specifically to the company’s financial statements in order to provide assurance. For Australian listed companies, the auditor also signs off on the remuneration report which lists payments to management staff.
The auditor is required to ensure that information presented to stakeholders is consisted with the information contained in the financial statements, and that these statements do not contain material misstatements.
It is difficult to measure or define the ‘quality’ of an audit or the associated report, which is why the auditing, reviewing, and assurance processes are governed by a set of minimum standards and regulated by legislation. This ensures that all audits conducted for Australian entities meet certain standards, and that a certain degree of quality is assumed.
Much of the hard work performed by auditing and assurance practitioners is carried out before an entity’s financial statements are released, so this is perhaps the most important period for quality with regard to the audit. It is during this time that the practitioner works to ensure the finalized financial statements are free of misstatements and provide a true and fair view of the entity’s financial position.
It is the practitioner and their firm who are ultimately responsible for the final quality of an audit, ensuring that they accept liability for mistakes or oversights that make it onto a final report. Seeing as the auditing and assurance process are such an integral part of the healthy functioning of our capital markets, regulators and industry bodies also work to ensure that minimum standards for audits of financial statements deliver a high degree of quality for stakeholders.
Internal and External Audits
External audits are largely what we have been discussing in this article, as they are the core component of the assurance system that we use to deliver confidence to stakeholders. An external audit is conducted by an assurance practitioner who meets the criteria or ethical and actual independence from the entity which they are auditing. Practitioners are engaged by the entity to conduct external audits, in line with regulatory requirements and accounting standards.
Internal auditing is a tool available to an entity’s management which enables them to achieve a comprehensive overview of their financial position, making internal audits an important part of the entity’s internal control system. Internal audits are conducted by a practitioner who is either working directly for the entity, under the supervision and direction of management, or who has been contracted with the task of conducting an internal audit. Internal audits are largely intended to evaluate the effectiveness and adequacy of the entity’s internal control measures and management system.
Other Forms of Assurance
The process of giving stakeholders the opportunity to make a fair and informed decision, or to act with an appropriate degree of confidence in their dealings with an entity, is not limited to auditing and review of financial statements.
Assurance practitioners may perform a range of other activities that are not focused on financial statements, as these are understandably not the sole source of concern and interest for stakeholders. Examples of other assurance practices include:
• Audits of Performance
• Compliance with Regulations
• Greenhouse Gas and Emissions Statements
• Sustainability Reports
It is increasingly important for a range of stakeholders to have access to credible and reliable information with which they can judge the impact and performance of the entity in relation to these key areas. For example, the financial statements of a listed company may be in-line with regulatory requirements and accounting standards, and be free of material misstatements, but it would be unwise to form a high-level of confidence on this basis if the company was in breach of other regulatory requirements. All these functions aim to increase the level of assurance available to stakeholders, allowing them to make an informed and confidence decision when they are required to do so.
Contact Kingston & Knight Accountants today on 1800 283 481 to learn more about our Melbourne accounting and auditing services, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.