Preparing for the possibility of a remote audit

The coming audit season might be much different than seasons of yore. As many companies continue to operate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, audit procedures are being adjusted accordingly. Here’s what might change as auditors work on your company’s 2020 year-end financial statements.

Eye on technology

Fortunately, when the pandemic hit, many accounting firms already had invested in staff training and technology to work remotely. For example, they were using cloud computing, remote access, videoconferencing software and drones with cameras. These technologies were intended to reduce business disruptions and costs during normal operating conditions. But they’ve also helped firms adapt while businesses are limiting face-to-face contact to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When social distancing measures went into effect in the United States around mid-March, many calendar-year audits for 2019 were already done. As we head into the next audit season, be prepared for the possibility that most procedures — from year-end inventory observations to management inquiries and audit testing — to be performed remotely. Before the start of next year’s audit, discuss which technologies your audit team will be using to conduct inquiries, access and verify data, and perform testing procedures.

Emphasis on high-risk areas

During a remote audit, expect your accountant to target three critical areas to help minimize the risk of material misstatement:

1. Internal controls. Historically, auditors have relied on the effectiveness of a client’s controls and testing of controls. Now, they must evaluate how transactions are being processed by employees who work remotely, rather than on-site as in prior periods. Specifically, your auditor will need to consider whether modified controls have been adequately designed and put into place and whether they’re operating effectively.

2. Fraud and financial misstatement. During fieldwork, auditors interview key managers and those charged with governance about fraud risks. These inquiries are most effective when done in person, because auditors can read body language and, if more than one person is present during an interview, judge the dynamics in a room. Auditors may request video conferences to help overcome the shortcomings of inquiries done over the phone or via email.

3. Physical inventory counts. Normally, auditors go where inventory is located and observe the counting process. They also perform independent test counts and check them against the inventory records. Depending on the COVID-19 situation at the time of an audit, auditors may be unable to travel to the company’s facilities, and employees might not be there physically to perform the counts. Drones, videoconferencing and live video feeds from a warehouse’s security cameras may be suitable alternatives to on-site observations.

Modified reports

In some cases, audit firms may be unable to perform certain procedures remotely, due to technology limitations or insufficient access to data needed to comply with all the requirements of the auditing standards. In those situations, your auditor might decide to issue a modified audit report with scope restrictions and limitations. Contact your CPA for more information about remote auditing and possible modifications to your company’s audit report.

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Avoiding conflicts of interest with auditors

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A conflict of interest could impair your auditor’s objectivity and integrity and potentially compromise you company’s financial statements. That’s why it’s important to identify and manage potential conflicts of interest.

What is a conflict of interest?

According to the America Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), “A conflict of interest may occur if a member performs a professional service for a client and the member or his or her firm has a relationship with another person, entity, product or service that could, in the member’s professional judgment, be viewed by the client or other appropriate parties as impairing the member’s objectivity.” Companies should be on the lookout for potential conflicts when:

  • Hiring an external auditor,
  • Upgrading the level of assurance from a compilation or review to an audit, and
  • Using the auditor for a non-audit purposes, such as investment advisory services and human resource consulting.

Determining whether a conflict of interest exists requires an analysis of facts. Some conflicts may be obvious, while others may require in-depth scrutiny.

For example, if an auditor recommends an accounting software to an audit client and receives a commission from the software provider, a conflict of interest likely exists. Why? While the software may suit the company’s needs, the payment of a commission calls into question the auditor’s motivation in making the recommendation. That’s why the AICPA prohibits an audit firm from accepting commissions from a third party when it involves a company the firm audits.

Now consider a situation in which a company approaches an audit firm to provide assistance in a legal dispute with another company that’s an existing audit client. Here, given the inside knowledge the audit firm possesses of the company it audits, a conflict of interest likely exists. The audit firm can’t serve both parties to the lawsuit and comply with the AICPA’s ethical and professional standards.

How can auditors prevent potential conflicts?

AICPA standards require audit firms to be vigilant about avoiding potential conflicts. If a potential conflict is unearthed, audit firms have the following options:

  • Seek guidance from legal counsel or a professional body on the best path forward,
  • Disclose the conflict and secure consent from all parties to proceed,
  • Segregate responsibilities within the firm to avoid the potential for conflict, and/or
  • Decline or withdraw from the engagement that’s the source of the conflict.

Ask your auditors about the mechanisms the firm has put in place to identify and manage potential conflicts of interest before and during an engagement. For example, partners and staff members are usually required to complete annual compliance-related questionnaires and participate in education programs that cover conflicts of interest. Firms should monitor conflicts regularly, because circumstances may change over time, for example, due to employee turnover or M&A activity.

For more information

Conflicts of interest are one of the gray areas in auditing. But it’s an issue our firm takes seriously and proactively safeguards against. If you suspect that a conflict exists, contact us to discuss the matter and determine the most appropriate way to handle it.

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Gifts in kind: New reporting requirements for nonprofits

On September 17, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued an accounting rule that will provide more detailed information about noncash contributions charities and other not-for-profit organizations receive known as “gifts in kind.” Here are the details.

Need for change

Gifts in kind can play an important role in ensuring a charity functions effectively. They may include various goods, services and time. Examples of contributed nonfinancial assets include:

  • Fixed assets, such as land, buildings and equipment,
  • The use of fixed assets or utilities,
  • Materials and supplies, such as food, clothing or pharmaceuticals,
  • Intangible assets, and
  • Recognized contributed services.

Increased scrutiny by state charity officials and legislators over how charities use and report gifts in kind prompted the FASB to beef up the disclosure requirements. Specifically, some state legislators have been concerned about the potential for charities to overvalue gifts in kind and use the figures to prop up financial information to appear more efficient than they really are. Other worries include the potential for a nonprofit to hide wasteful use of its resources.

Enhanced transparency

Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2020-07, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation and Disclosures by Not-for-Profit Entities for Contributed Nonfinancial Assets, aims to give donors better information without causing nonprofits too much cost to provide the information.

The updated standard will provide more prominent presentation of gifts in kind by requiring nonprofits to show contributed nonfinancial assets as a separate line item in the statement of activities, apart from contributions of cash and other financial assets. It also calls for enhanced disclosures about the valuation of those contributions and their use in programs and other activities.

Specifically, nonprofits will be required to split out the amount of contributed nonfinancial assets it receives by category and in footnotes to financial statements. For each category, the nonprofit will be required to disclose the following:

  • Qualitative information about whether contributed nonfinancial assets were either monetized or used during the reporting period and, if used, a description of the programs or other activities in which those assets were used,
  • The nonprofit’s policy (if any) for monetizing rather than using contributed nonfinancial assets,
  • A description of any associated donor restrictions,
  • A description of the valuation techniques and inputs used to arrive at a fair value measure, in accordance with the requirements in Topic 820, Fair Value Measurement, at initial recognition, and
  • The principal market (or most advantageous market) used to arrive at a fair value measurement if it is a market in which the recipient nonprofit is prohibited by donor restrictions from selling or using the contributed nonfinancial asset.

The new rule won’t change the recognition and measurement requirements for those assets, however.

Coming soon

ASU 2020-07 takes effect for annual periods after June 15, 2021, and interim periods within fiscal years after June 15, 2022. Retrospective application is required, and early application is permitted. Contact us for more information.

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