In July, the (PCAOB) published two guides to help clarify a new rule that requires auditors of public companies to disclose critical audit matters (CAMs) in their audit reports. The rule represents a major change to the brief pass-fail auditor reports that have been in place for decades. One PCAOB guide is intended for investors, the other for audit committees. Both provide answers to frequently asked questions about CAMs.
What is a critical audit matter?
CAMs are the sole responsibility of the auditor, not the audit committee or the company’s management. The PCAOB defines CAMs as issues that:
- Have been communicated to the audit committee,
- Are related to accounts or disclosures that are material to the financial statements, and
- Involve especially challenging, subjective or complex judgments from the auditor.
Examples might include complex valuations of indefinite-lived intangible assets, uncertain tax positions and goodwill impairment.
Does reporting a CAM indicate a misstatement or deficiency?
Critical audit matters aren’t intended to reflect negatively on the company or indicate that the auditor found a misstatement or deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting. They don’t alter the auditor’s opinion on the financial statements.
Instead, CAMs provide information to stakeholders about issues that came up during the audit that required especially challenging, subjective or complex auditor judgment. Auditors also must describe how the CAMs were addressed in the audit and identify relevant financial statement accounts or disclosures that relate to the CAM.
CAMs vary depending on the nature and complexity of the audit. Auditors for companies within the same industry may report different CAMs. And auditors may encounter different CAMs for the same company from year to year.
For example, as a company is implementing a new accounting standard, the issue may be reported as a CAM, because it requires complex auditor judgment. This issue may not require the same level of auditor judgment the next year, or it might be a CAM for different reasons than in the year of implementation.
When does the rule go into effect?
Disclosure of CAMs in audit reports will be required for audits of fiscal years ending on or after June 30, 2019, for large accelerated filers, and for fiscal years ending on or after December 15, 2020, for all other companies to which the requirement applies.
The new rule doesn’t apply to audits of emerging growth companies (EGCs), which are companies that have less than $1 billion in revenue and meet certain other requirements. This class of companies gets a host of regulatory breaks for five years after becoming public, under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.
Critical audit matters may change from year to year, based on audit complexity, changing risk environments and new accounting standards. Each year, auditors determine and communicate CAMs in connection with the audit of the company’s financial statements for the current period.
A significant event — such as a cybersecurity breach, a hurricane or the COVID-19 pandemic — may cause the auditor to report new CAMs. Though such an event itself may not be a CAM, it may be a principal consideration in the auditor’s determination of whether a CAM exists. And such events may affect how CAMs were addressed in the audit.
More information on critical audit matters
For more information on critical audit matter reporting contact us.