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Why Do Audit Reports Have Such a High Deficiency Rate?

Indicators of Audit Quality

Forty percent of the audits inspected by audit firm regulators had at least one finding indicating a serious problem, according to a new survey. A recent report from the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators, a group of national audit regulators including the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) in the U.S. and the Financial Reporting Council in the U.K., reported findings from 918 audits of listed public companies performed by 120 audit firms, and found that 40 percent of the audits inspected had at least one finding.

The two areas with the highest rate and greatest number of findings in the 2017 survey were accounting estimates and internal control testing. In the area of accounting estimates, most of the findings pertained to a failure by auditors to assess the reasonableness of assumptions by management, including considering any contrary or inconsistent evidence.

On the topic of internal control testing, the most common type of finding among the audit regulators was the failure to obtain sufficient persuasive evidence to support a reliance on manual internal controls. The next most common type of finding was the failure to sufficiently test controls over, or the accuracy and completeness of, data or reports produced by management. PCAOB

Calderon and his co-authors examined PCAOB inspection reports published from August 2004 to November 2013 for inspection years 2002 through 2012. The authors used Audit Analytics data to categorize five types of internal control-related audit deficiencies, and then collected detailed descriptions from the inspection reports. The authors reviewed 2,047 completed inspection reports during the period. Of the 1,025 inspection reports with audit deficiencies (about 50%), the authors identified 131 ICFR-related deficiencies: 89 U.S. inspection reports by U.S. auditors and 42 foreign inspection reports (31 foreign auditors). The following deficiencies were found: 

1.      Testing the design of controls or operating effectiveness of controls (i.e., management review controls)


2.      Application of the top-down risk-based approach to the audit of internal control (i.e., thought process auditors should employ in identifying risks)


3.      Identifying information technology risks (i.e., obtaining an understanding of specific risks to the ICFR resulting from information technology)


4.      Performing extensive testing of the work done by third parties in high-risk areas involving significant judgment and fraud risk


5.      Evaluating identified control deficiencies


In a speech on the “PCAOB’s Role in Improving Audit Quality,” PCAOB Board member, Jeanette Franzel, addressed the importance of audit quality indicators to monitor on a regular basis audit quality and help to identify possible fraud risks and deficiencies in internal controls over financial reporting.

Franzel stated that the Board has seen significant improvements in audit quality as evidenced by the large firms dedicating significant resources toward remediating deficiencies and improving quality control systems. She also pointed to improvements in tone at the top, coaching and support to audit teams, and training and monitoring of audit quality.

These results are encouraging although I believe the accounting profession still has a long way to go to fully address why such a high deficiency rate exists in the inspections of audit reports some sixteen years after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and formation of the PCAOB.

What’s taking the profession so long to comply with the public’s expectation for audit quality?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 8, 2018. Visit Steve's website and sign up for his Newsletter.