Alert: Updated Audit Risk

The 2019/2020 edition of the Audit Risk Alert (ARA) provides an overview for auditors of recent economic, industry and regulatory developments. The alert, General Accounting and Auditing Developments, was published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to give auditors context for their work. Here are some highlights in the alert to help private companies understand the auditor’s mindset in the current audit season — and beyond.

High and Lows of the Economy

The stock markets exceeded expectations in 2019, unemployment hit a 50-year low and consumer confidence was high. But not all news was positive. The Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate to 2% in July 2019, citing weak global economic growth, trade policy uncertainty and inflation pressure. Though U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increased 3.1% in the first quarter and 2.1% in the second quarter, it actually decreased in the second half of 2019.

Though the economic outlook for 2020 is generally positive, uncertainties abound. Moderate U.S. economic growth is likely to continue this year, but at a slower pace than in 2019. It's uncertain how the outcome of the 2020 elections will impact tax policy, government regulations, and global trade.

This audit season, auditors may ask what your company is doing to fortify its balance sheet against a possible downturn and possible strategies to reduce risk in today's uncertain environment. They might be increasingly cautious when setting materiality levels and skeptical when reviewing accounting estimates and going concern assessments.

New Accounting Rules

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has updated several major accounting rules in recent years. The updated guidance on recognizing revenue from contracts was the first major change. These rules went into effect for public companies and certain not-for-profits in 2018 and for private companies in 2019. So, this audit season, private companies can expect their auditors to give special attention to contract revenue and related disclosures.

In general, Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers, replaces the transaction- and industry-specific revenue recognition guidance with a principles-based approach for revenue recognition. Seemingly straightforward is the core principle of the revised standard: “An entity should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services.”

Implementing the updated revenue recognition guidance has been more difficult than expected. FASB has published additional updates to clarify the guidance on performance obligations, licensing, principal vs. agent considerations, and other narrow-scope improvements and practical expedients as a result. For many private companies, the implementation process has strained their accounting resources as they've struggled to update their systems, gather data and resolve implementation questions.

In October 2019, as a result, the FASB delayed the effective dates of other major updates as follows:

Private companies will be given more time to learn best practices from public companies with these deferrals. Private companies will generally be allowed to implement major updates two years after public companies going forward.

However, these deferrals aren't an excuse to procrastinate. Be ready for auditors to ask questions about what your company is currently doing to implement the updated leases standard. It goes into effect for fiscal years ending in 2021, but companies may need to identify leases and gather the requisite information now in order to report comparative results by the effective date.

Amendments to Auditing Standards

Going into effect for fiscal year 2020 are recent amendments to the auditing standards, which bring renewed attention to relationships and transactions with related parties. Expect your auditors to enhance their procedures for 1) identifying previously unidentified or undisclosed related parties, and 2) testing the accuracy and completeness of the related party relationships and transactions.

The amendments will require additional procedures to evaluate the business purpose of “significant unusual transactions.” These are “outside the normal course of business for the entity or that otherwise appear to be unusual due to their timing, size, or nature.” Auditors must perform procedures to assess whether the transactions may be used to engage in fraudulent financial reporting or conceal misappropriation of assets.

Technology on the Rise

Technology is eventually expected to move the accounting profession toward real-time reporting, real-time analysis and continuous access to data. Technological advances — such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation — will revolutionize the audit process, altering such tasks as planning, sampling and data analysis.

Some applications of technology, on the flip side — like cloud computing, online transactions and data-sharing with third parties — may expose organizations to cyber-risks. Auditors are expected to play a critical role in identifying those risks and helping safeguard against potential losses of data and intangible assets.

More to Come

CPAs must stay on top of changes in market conditions, accounting and auditing standards, and technology — and adjust their audit procedures accordingly to accurately assess audit risk. For the latest developments in these areas and how they'll affect audit fieldwork in the future, contact a Weaver professional today.

© 2020